Savannah — The blunt-spoken chairman of the Republican National committee told delegates to the state GOP convention this morning that they need to open the doors to fresh faces and fresh ideas, or risk becoming irrelevant to “the heartbeat of America.”
“Unfortunately, for a lot of folks in our party, they feel that to be in that rhythm compromises what we believe, compromises what we stand for, compromises our values. And I’m here to tell you, you’re wrong,” Michael Steele told several hundred Republicans gathered for an early breakfast.
Elected earlier this year, Steele himself is enmeshed in a struggle at the RNC over how best to recover from a four-year series of defeats. A meeting in Washington next week will include a challenge to Steele’s control over party finances, and whether Republicans should be obliged to refer to Democrats as “Democratic Socialists.”
“I inherited a party as chairman that was stuck in a 1980s philosophy using a 1990s strategy to win campaigns. You and I are going to change that. We’re going to make this a 21st century parties and we’re going to win elections that reflect the communities that we’re from,” Steele said.
Otherwise, the RNC chairman said, “Our party will not win. We will lose. Big. Do you want to be relevant? Then engage.”
The Associated Press chose to lead on this portion of Steele’s speech:
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele recast the gay marriage debate as a fiscal issue Saturday, saying allowing same-sex couples to marry places a financial burden on business.
In a breakfast speech to delegates of the Georgia Republican convention, Steele put himself in the shoes of a small business owner having to pay for health care and life insurance for a same-sex couple.
“Now all of a sudden I’ve got someone who wasn’t a spouse before, that I had no responsibility for, who is now getting claimed as a spouse that I now have financial responsibility for,” Steele said. “So how do I pay for that? Who pays for that? You just cost me money.”
Steele was not kind to President Barack Obama and what he called “the lie of bipartisanship.”
“It does not exist. You have Mr. Obama and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid going out talking about how bipartisanship they’re trying to be. Well, it is a crock,” the chairman said.
But Steele, the party’s first African-American chairman, spent most of his time urging fellow Republicans to rethink their audience.
Steele admitted his direct, sometimes slang-ridden speech has made some Republicans uncomfortable. The chairman has taken criticism for his insistence that Republicans take their message “to the streets,” and focus on the creation of “hip-hop Republicans.”
“No, you don’t have to wear your pants down here, and the big bling,” Steele said this morning. “That’s not what I was talking about. It’s a metaphor for engagement. It’s a metaphor for talking this party to places and to people that we’ve either forgotten about, ignored or who don’t want to engage with us.”
“We can no longer be afraid that to open up, to invite someone in, diminishes us. I don’t know how that works. If you are true to your convictions, to your core, why are you so afraid to share that?
“When people are invited in we have to understand this is a chance to welcome them, not push them away. But it’s their choice to come in. And in their coming in, they understand what we’re serving.
“The question is, do you? Have you forgotten who we are? Have you forgotten to be a Republican?”
Steele made a direct reference to the GOP struggle to re-elect U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Last year’s contest was forced into a run-off.
“He should never have been in that position, period,” Steele said. “Because we weren’t paying attention. We weren’t watchful of what our opponents were doing around us, to us, defining us, diminishing us, making a joke of us.”
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