Steele's Wrong on Rush, Say Past Rivals For RNC Chair

Two of Michael Steele’s former rivals in the race for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee voiced sharp disagreement with the RNC chairman’s recent characterization of Rush Limbaugh’s desire for President Obama’s liberal agenda to fail as “ugly” and “incendiary.”

In exclusive interviews with HUMAN EVENTS yesterday, South Carolina State GOP Chairman Katon Dawson and former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell weighed in strongly on the side of radioland’s Limbaugh.

“There are 13.5 million reasons why I wouldn’t kick an 800-pound conservative gorilla in the knee,” said Dawson, referring to the national listening audience of Limbaugh’s syndicated radio program, “Rush speaks for millions of conservatives and the liberal banter is against him 100%. There isn’t a whole lot of disagreement with him among conservatives.”

After six ballots and four other candidates in the race, Dawson lost the chairmanship to Steele by a vote of 91-to-77 at the RNC winter meeting in January. When I spoke to him yesterday, the South Carolina warned that a time when the Republican Party is “financially fragile,” its party leaders should “think a lilttle more about who they are going to pick fights with.”

Blackwell, a longtime conservative activist and the ’08 Republican nominee for governor of Ohio, withdrew from the RNC chair’s race on the fourth ballot and endorsed Steele—an action many pundits and pols say was pivotal to Steele’s eventual win over Dawson.

But Blackwell was clearly not pleased with what the candidate he finally supported was saying about Limbaugh. In his words, “Chairman Steele’s charges of Rush Limbaugh’s show as ‘ugly’ and otherwise divisive were unfortunate and wrong.

“Rush Limbaugh is a conservative leader with an amazing capacity to inspire and energize our conservative base. That’s exactly what he was doing Saturday in his address to CPAC [the Conservative Political Action Conference].”

Blackwell (whom I have known since he became a Republican while a Cincinnati city councilman in the early 1980’s) reminded me that he has “been on the frontlines of the conservative movement for thirty years and I am well aware of the contributions Rush Limbaugh has made to the cause of conservatism.”

Does this mean, I ask, if he regrets his decision to throw his support to Steele at the RNC election?

“No, not at all,” the Ohio man replied, “I honestly engage Republicans and conservatives in honest conversation. Just as I articulated my reason for my endorsement of Michael as chairman of the party, I will say to anyone and everyone who cares to listen that his words about Rush Limbaugh are unfortunate and wrong.”

Blackwell went on to good-naturedly challenge me to “ask [former Secretary of Education] Bill Bennett and [Fox News TV and radio personality] Sean Hannity what they think of Michael Steele’s remarks on Rush.” Both Bennett and Hannity, he reminded me, “praised Michael and strongly endorsed him for chairman.”

Another commentator on the Limbaugh-Steele controversy was a friend of both, Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder of Missouri. Kinder grew up in Cape Girardeau with Limbaugh and their families have been close friends for four generations. He was also elected lieutenant governor of his state two years after Steele won the same office in Maryland and the two worked closely together in the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association.

“As a friend of both Michael and Rush, I certainly wish Michael well in his stewardship of the RNC,” Kinder told me, “But he needs to be a little more careful when the drive-by media tempts him to broadcast their themes.”