Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele hit the road in a big red bus Wednesday. And not because some in the GOP would like to see the back of him as their party’s chief spokesman (although that’s also true).
No, Steele’s latest ploy to rev up his party as it tries to figure out what to do about the "tea party" movement is the “Fire Pelosi Bus Tour.” Over the next six weeks, the bus will cover 14,000 miles, visiting more than 100 cities and towns in its quest to help oust House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) of California. And oh yes, Steele hopes, raise a lot of money along the way through its special website.
“The next six weeks will be entirely devoted to firing Nancy Pelosi, standing up to the Democrat’s big-government agenda, and diving into the trenches to do the hard work of turning out the vote and winning races up and down the ballot,” he said in a statement.
Speaking to CNN, Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami managed to get a lot into a one-sentence rebuttal sound bite: “Republicans can ride around the country, but they can't run away from their record of privatizing social security, shipping American jobs overseas, and busting the budget to give tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.”
In taking on the House Speaker, Steele is aiming his bus at a huge political target.
Pelosi is, as Monitor congressional correspondent Gail Russell Chaddock put it in a recent profile, “the most powerful woman in American politics and the most powerful House speaker since Sam Rayburn a half century ago.”
“She is also one of the most partisan,” Chaddock added.
But as effective as she is on Capitol Hill, Pelosi also has become a lightning rod for mainstream Republicans and – perhaps more to the point – for the increasingly powerful tea party movement.
As a result, she has become as controversial – and as unpopular – as the other end of today’s female political spectrum: Sarah Palin.
In a CNN/Opinion Research Poll this month, Pelosi and Palin had (respectively) unfavorable ratings of 51 percent and 52 percent. On the “favorability” scale, Palin was slightly ahead of Pelosi (38-33 percent).
“That arguably makes [Pelosi] the least popular Democrat in the country," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
A month earlier, a Rasmussen Reports survey showed 59 percent holding at least a “somewhat unfavorable” view of Pelosi. It’s this kind of thing that the RNC is hoping to capitalize on.
Meanwhile, some Republicans worry that Steele may try for a second term as RNC chairman. He’s made some embarrassing gaffes, and fund-raising has become a major issue as donors shift to other political entities such as House and Senate campaign committees and the Republican Governors Association.
“I haven’t met anyone who thinks [Steele running for a second term chairing the RNC] is a good idea,” a veteran GOP lawmaker told CQ Politics. “Mike had a real chance to transform the party, and it’s been one mistake after another. It’s a shame.”
“What was the cornerstone of our Republican electoral machine is gone. It doesn’t exist,” another senior Republican operative told the website.
Steele’s future may well depend on how well his bus tour goes. Other Republicans have hinted that they might be interested in his job, including former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) of Minnesota. Coleman, who lost in 2008 by a few hundred votes to Democrat Al Franken, now heads the conservative American Action Network.
Steele says he hasn’t decided whether to run for a second term.
"This is less about one individual and more about taking the ideas of our party and moving this country into the future," he told Fox News earlier this month. "At the end of the day, I have one job requirement and that’s to fire Nancy Pelosi, and we are going to do everything we can to get that done.”