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The Fix: The RNC's image problem (again)

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By Chris Cillizza
Thursday, April 22, 2010; 4:38 PM

Reporting from the Washington Times' Ralph Z. Hallow that alleges -- among other things -- that the Republican National Committee's major donor program is insolvent is sure to set off another round of chatter within GOP circles about the committee and its chairman Michael Steele.

The RNC, smartly, sought to quickly push back on Hallow's reporting -- based on an internal document produced by RNC treasurer Randy Pullen -- that said that $1.09 was spent for every dollar raised from the major donor program.

RNC communications director Doug Heye sent the full memo to reporters in attempt to dispute the Hallow story, noting that the dollar figures show that 70 cents is being spent on every dollar collected from major donors and that Hallow's story contained a series of factual inaccuracies.

A senior party strategist loyal to Steele also noted that the memo was "one person's opinion" and added: "Everyone on the RNC knows that Randy enjoys firing darts at Chairman Steele and this is no different."

Another party source suggested that the real issue is that Steele lacks relationships of any kind -- good or bad -- with major donors and that the fundraising success of the committee, such as it is, has been built on low-dollar donors angry at President Obama and the Democratic-led Congress.

Regardless of the back and forth -- and there will almost certainly be more to come -- the story is no good for an RNC that needs desperately to stay out of the news.

Context matters in politics and the environment in which this story lands is not terribly friendly -- to put it mildly -- for Steele.

He has weathered one of the rockiest RNC chairmanship in recent memory, beset by verbal gaffes, staff departures, high-profile spending issues and an overall lack of confidence in his ability to do the job among the political professional class inside the Beltway.

While that group contains very few actual voting members of the RNC (and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone among that chattering class who believes Steele won't be chairman through 2010), they still carry significant influence over how the Chairman is perceived. And even his most ardent allies acknowledge that his relations with that group is strained.

Who's to blame for that situation remains a matter of much debate -- some suggest it's Steele's fault, others put the blame on a small cadre of consultants who once surrounded him -- but it is clearly at the root of why so few people are willing to jump in to defend him when stories like this come up.

And, that is Steele's real problem. In the course of an election cycle, there will be bad stories and the best/only way to weather them is to have a loyal group of defenders on which to rely. Steele is a man without a political country at the moment. And that's a lonely place to be in politics.

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