Priebus vs. Steele battle intensifies

Even as the Republican Party searches for a way forward, its leaders continue to fight over its recent past.

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Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and the man he unseated to win that job, Michael Steele, are engaging in an increasingly ugly war of words just as Priebus proposes his plan for how to get the GOP back on track.

Over the weekend, Steele took to Twitter to respond to a speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference who asked why the GOP nominated such bad candidates in 2012.

"Ask Reince," Steele tweeted.

This morning at his news conference, Priebus noted that the RNC's two credit cards had both been suspended when he took over from Steele as chairman -- an allusion to the financial problems that plagued Steele's chairmanship and led to his ouster, even after historic gains for the party in the 2010 election.

Asked whether Priebus was saying that Steele ruined the party financially, Priebus didn't say no. "I'm not going to go there," he said. "I think the numbers speak for themselves."

Steele has now fired back, accusing the GOP of having "no message" and "no focus" in the 2012 election.

"I won, and he didn't," Steele said on MSNBC on Monday afternoon. "We didn't have to go through the hype and hoopla of press conferences. We just went out and did the heavy work of rebuilding the party coming off of massive losses in 2006 and 2008. So Reince is just being silly. And I understand that."

Steele added: "He wasn't complaining about debt and concerned about debt when I was writing checks to Wisconsin when he was chairman and wanted to win the state legislature, which they did, win the governorship, which they did." Priebus is the former chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party.

Steele noted that Priebus didn't go into debt in 2012, as he had in 2010, but said Priebus had "nothing to show for it" either.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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Aaron Blake · March 18, 2013