Given the state of American politics and the Republican Party, I had one question for Michael Steele: Why shouldn’t we blame him for the current condition of the country? After all, he was the chairman of the Republican National Committee who helped the tea party revolution take over the House in 2010.
“That’s right, baby, I built that bad boy out of steel,” Steele told me in the latest episode of “Cape Up.” “Now, having done that, I can’t help it if they went inside and started tearing up the floorboards and knocking out the windows, and crapping all over the house.”
As President Trump opines on the state of the union on Tuesday night, Steele looks back on the GOP and his frustration with how it has changed in the age of Trump. The tax bill is an example of how the party lost its way. After running around the country for 18 months, “[making] the argument for why Republican leadership and Republican governance was important as an A.) an important check on [President Barack] Obama and B.) to show that we had the capacity to govern,” Steele said, “I don’t know what the hell happened. … I sat there and watched them vote for a $1.5 trillion debt increase. … It made no sense because it was inconsistent and it has been inconsistent with what we said we wanted to do, how we would govern.”
The hypocrisy of the evangelical movement is especially bothersome for Steele, a Catholic who once studied for the priesthood. He deemed it “no different than any other lobbying group in town. It is in the business of getting something, and what they are willing to trade off for the something they want, whether [a] Supreme Court justice or a tax cut or whatever, is in my view, their soul, their moral underpinning, the character of who they are.” The pass being given to Trump — “a mulligan,” in the words of Tony Perkins — for his moral failings, including reports of an affair with an adult-film star, is especially maddening for Steele.
And the fact of the matter is, when you have spent the better part of 30 years telling the American people, as I said, how to behave, what to think, who to love, who not to love, what to do, what not to do, you’re wrong, condemn you, judge you. And now you’re going to come back because this man, the president, has given you a tax cut or a Supreme Court justice that you like, none of that matters when you find out that, while his wife was pregnant with his child, he was having an affair with a porn star. That did not just end once the child was born, but continued long afterwards. And yet you’re going to give a mulligan for that.
So I want Tony Perkins and others to give a mulligan to all those people that they condemned over the last 30 years. Where’s their mulligan? And if you’re going to be in the business of making these kinds of judgments, because I think the last place you need to be is in a place of judgment, ’cause the Lord said, “Thou shalt not judge,” you know? That’s not our role, that’s not our role. But if you want to go there, then check your hypocrisy. Because for me, it’s about being true to the Gospels, and certainly being true to yourself. …
So, the GOP has unmoored itself from its promises of governance and fiscal responsibility. It has turned a blind eye to the moral and character issues of its titular head. That left me with one question for Steele: Why are you still a Republican?
“I think about the 17-year-old kid who took the risk, went against the odds, went against the grain, growing up here in Washington, D.C.,” Steele said about himself. “I saw something that made sense to me, and I watched and learned and listened and understood that the Republican Party is the political home for the African American community. It was, and I still believe it should be.” Then he got to heart of the matter for him. “But what I see now, where I have a president who acknowledges the racism on the other side is okay, who refers to the homeland that my family came from as a ‘shithole,’ I know that’s not my party,” Steele told me. “I know that’s not conservatism. I know that’s not Republicanism. And so that, for me, engages up for me the fight. I just think it’s worth the fight to prove that that’s not who we are.”
Listen to the podcast to find out what Steele has to say about the Mueller probe, the fight over immigration, race and whether Trump actually likes being president.