Did Michael Steele pull the wool over the eyes of the Tea Partiers he met with last night? Or is the RNC chair just not so up on what his party’s doing? Or was there just a big misunderstanding?
An Indiana Tea Partier, Greg Fettig, said he asked Steele whether national Republicans had recruited Dan Coats into the GOP Senate race, CNN reports. There were already several Republican candidates before Coats entered the race, and Fettig said Tea Party activists in the state are “adamantly against” Coats, a former senator who now works as a Washington lobbyist.
Fettig said that Steele had assured him that national Republicans were not involved in recruiting Coats.
But news reports make clear that the National Republican Senatorial Committee was behind Coats’s candidacy from the start. Let’s look at the record:
• Roll Call reported last week that Sen. John Cornyn, the NRSC chair, had called Coats “in a long-shot recruitment pitch that was mostly intended to pick his brain about who might be willing to challenge Sen. Evan Bayh.” Roll Call continued: “With the filing deadline fast approaching in Indiana, Coats said he was interested - much to the surprise of [NRSC executive director Rob] Jesmer, Cornyn and the NRSC political staff. In all, the wooing of Coats lasted less than 48 hours.”
• The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, who knows this stuff as well as just about anyone, wrote Monday: “National Republicans had recruited former Sen. Dan Coats to challenge [Sen. Evan] Bayh in 2010.”
• A Politico story posted Saturday notes that the National Republican Senatorial Committee “helped to woo Coats and has played an active and public role in promoting and defending his candidacy.”
• The AP reported on February 3: “Republicans trumpeted a recruiting coup Wednesday, persuading former GOP Sen. Dan Coats to seriously consider running for a return engagement representing Indiana.”
• And the Indianapolis Star reported February 7: “Asked if the NRSC is helping Coats get the 4,500 petition signatures of registered voters he needs to be on the May 4 ballot, [NRSC executive director] Jesmer would not get specific, other than to say ‘we’re going to make sure he gets on the ballot.’”
The discrepancy may get at a larger issue. Steele pledged at yesterday’s meeting that the GOP would not intervene in local primary races against candidates backed by Tea Party activists — a key Tea Party concern. But CNN notes that staff for the NRSC and the National Republican Campaign Committee — who might be expected not to approve of such a pledge — didn’t attend. So there’s reason to think that Steele and the NRSC may not be on the same page about the Tea Party outreach in the first place.
That may suggest this was more likely a case of inter-GOP confusion, rather than deliberate deception. But either way, if Fettig’s account is accurate, the Tea Partiers appear to have been given false assurances on a key issue of concern. And no one responds well to that.
Late Update: RNC spokesman Doug Heye responds: “Chairman Steele was speaking for the Republican National Committee only, not other organizations.”
If that’s the case, Steele appears to have miscommunicated, since according to CNN, Fettig said Steele denied that “national Republicans” — not just the RNC — recruited Coats.