Former RNC chair speaks at Washington County Republican Club gala
Michael S. Steele encourages listeners to take action and fight for their ideals
Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael S. Steele speaks at a Washington County Republican Club gala at Hager Hall Conference and Event Center. (By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer)
Steele was the featured speaker at a Washington County Republican Club gala at Hager Hall Conference and Event Center. He said it was his first speech since leaving office, and he was glad to be back among old friends.
Steele, Maryland's lieutenant governor from 2003 to 2007 under Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., served two years as RNC chairman, starting in 2009.
In January, he lost his bid for another term; the party chose Reince Priebus instead.
Speaking broadly and vaguely about the controversy that marked his time as RNC chairman, Steele said: "You can't please everyone. But you can certainly tick them all off at the same time, and I became famous for that."
But Steele and state Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who introduced Steele, focused on national and local successes during his term — namely, seats the GOP picked up in Congress and in state legislatures, including Maryland's.
Last fall, Republicans won back control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
For more than a decade, Steele said the Republican Party had lost its touch with core values, such as limited spending and government.
"Big government Republicanism was on the rise," he said.
Deep dissatisfaction within the GOP galvanized the newly formed Tea Party movement.
Steele said his goal was "to shake this institution to its roots."
"The backbone of everything we do begins and ends with the people in this room," he told the crowd of about 130 people.
Steele — who lost a 2006 U.S. Senate race to Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin — spoke plainly and firmly as he encouraged Republicans to take action and fight for their ideals.
He told them that gains in Congress from the 2010 elections are "a lifetime ago in politics."
Steele's stop in Hagerstown came days after news surfaced that he was becoming a commentator for MSNBC — a network that is seen as a liberal counterpart to the conservative Fox News Channel.
Shank praised Steele for adding a new Republican perspective to MSNBC, a network he hasn't been inclined to watch.
"I have to say my remote control generally skips over Channel 64 (MSNBC's slot on Antietam Cable) out here," Shank joked.
Steele said he's been asked why in the world he'd join MSNBC.
"Because that's where the action is," he said.
Joining a network with an opposing political slant gives him a chance to "plant a flag" and not let opponents "dictate the terms of engagement," he said.
Steele stayed out of the GOP's early scramble for the presidential nomination. People making too many early demands and pronouncements need to "shut up," he said, winning applause from the crowd.
"Leave these guys and gals alone," he said. "Let them come onto the playing field."