Republicans try to control damage from fundraising document

"You don't defend it," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said of the document. "It was unfortunate."
"You don't defend it," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said of the document. "It was unfortunate." (Steven Senne/associated Press)
By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 5, 2010

National Republican leaders scrambled Thursday to control damage caused by an internal party document that caricatures President Obama as the Joker and stokes fear of socialism to raise money in a critical election year.

The 72-page PowerPoint presentation reveals the blunt appeal to emotion that both parties use to motivate donors and prefer to keep private. But its release online and consequent cable chatter became an unwelcome distraction for Republicans, because the strategy it outlined fit squarely with Democrats' portrait of the GOP as the party of "no."

"You don't defend it," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said Thursday in an interview on Fox News. "It was unfortunate. Those were images that were uploaded off the Internet. They've been out in the public domain for a while. A staffer was putting together a presentation for a small group of nine or 10 folks and thought they would intersperse their presentation with humorous shots. They're inappropriate."

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), a member of the Republican leadership, said: "There is no place for this. Obviously when you're fundraising . . . you want to make direct and succinct points, but using these sorts of tactics is certainly not something that any of us ought to condone."

Said Tom Rath, a former RNC member from Concord, N.H.: "We're not going to win the election by drawing those kinds of comparisons. We're going to win the elections because we have one view of government and how the economy ought to work and American security."

Some Republicans declared the largely mundane slideshow to be much ado about nothing. Several also derided the document as the work of an amateur and said that Steele bears responsibility for the controversy even if he didn't approve the use of the content.

Steele said he found out about document on Wednesday, when Politico obtained it and posted it on the Internet. His spokesman, Doug Heye, said he also had not seen the document and would not say who approved it beyond Robert Bickhart, RNC's finance director, who made the presentation to donors in Boca Grande, Fla.

Listed on the document is RNC Finance Chairman Peter Terpeluk Jr., a former ambassador to Luxembourg and the co-chairman of President George H.W. Bush's 1992 reelection campaign. Terpeluk, who lives in Chevy Chase, was a major fundraiser for Republican Sen. John McCain's White House bid in 2008. He did not return a phone call Thursday requesting comment.

Democrats jumped on the flap, distributing a fundraising letter of their own that referenced it. Brad Woodhouse of the Democratic National Committee, said: "Where was Michael Steele condemning these things in August during the 'tea party' protests? . . . The only reason Michael Steele seems to be offended by it now is that he was caught using it."

Steele has come under scrutiny from party leaders since his tenure as national chairman began last February for saying he did not think the GOP could take back the House and for RNC expenditures.

Some Republicans defended the chairman's leadership and said it helped win governors' races in Virginia and New Jersey last fall and a special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts last month.

"Throughout the campaign, he was extremely helpful," said Phil Cox, who ran Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's campaign last year. "They invested more than $7 million in Virginia. When they made a commitment, they followed through. They ran and invested in what was the most successful grass-roots operation in the history of this state."

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