Nagourney May Have Jumped the Gun on RNC's 'Lagging Fundraising'

On the morning the RNC announced impressive donation figures for the month of March, chief political reporter Adam Nagourney goes after beleagured RNC chairman Michael Steele for, among other things, "lagging fundraising." He later argued "Faced with so many races in play, the Republicans cannot afford to have a drop-off in contributions." Apparently, they haven't.

The latest Times story seemingly designed to deflate G.O.P. hopes for the 2010 elections appeared on Wednesday, in the form of chief political reporter Adam Nagourney's "Political Memo" profile of put-upon Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele: "G.O.P. Squirms as an Unwelcome Spotlight Focuses on Its Leader."

It's just the latest in a line of dispiriting pieces issued by Times reporters on concerns that Republicans could be blowing the 2010 elections. Usually it's the Tea Party movement that is the threat to Republican victory, but today the Times focus is on Steele's unsteady hand at the RNC.

Michael Steele was hardly the consensus choice to become chairman of the Republican National Committee, scrambling to the top early last year after surviving multiple ballots in a crowded field.

Mr. Steele's supporters rallied around him as a compelling advocate at ease making the Republican case on television and someone who would be the first African-American to lead the party. His opponents were apprehensive about Mr. Steele's equally strong reputation as a showboat, an inexperienced manager given to advancing his own ambitions and prone to bursts of indiscretion. Even as the committee settled on him at the end of hours of balloting, Republican leaders were never quite sure which Michael Steele they would get.

Fourteen months later, the answer has become clear. At a time when the Republican National Committee is looking to take advantage of Democratic troubles and make gains in Congressional elections, Mr. Steele is commanding attention mostly for questionable expenditures by the committee, lagging fund-raising, staff defections and dismissals, an aggressive round of paid speeches and speaking appearances and politically inopportune remarks.

"Lagging fund-raising"? That's bad timing on Nagourney's part, as the RNC announced on Wednesday morning a haul of $11.4 million in donations in March, the party's best March in a mid-term election year ever.

It can't be a Steele story without rehashing the $2000 "bondage club" expense scandal-ette:

On Monday, confronting criticism of the committee for picking up a $2,000 tab for donors and staff at a West Hollywood strip and bondage club, Mr. Steele said in response to a question on "Good Morning America" on ABC that he and President Obama were being held to tougher standards because they were black.

In the best of circumstances, the head of a party out of power is the voice of the loyal opposition; at worse, the chairman is an irrelevance barely known outside party headquarters, hustling for time on the afternoon cable news shows. But Mr. Steele, who did not respond to a request for comment, has become something else: a remarkably public presence that even some Republicans say is distracting his party at a moment of high opportunity.

That concern spiked as Mr. Steele fired his chief of staff, Ken McKay - a popular figure who, Republicans said, learned of his dismissal when his wife saw the report on MSNBC - implicitly blaming him for spending abuses, including the strip club, that Mr. Steele said he had only learned about by reading his committee's report to the Federal Election Commission.

The concern is evident in the extent to which big donors are writing checks to other Republican committees and how some prominent Republicans are voicing concerns about him.

Faced with so many races in play, the Republicans cannot afford to have a drop-off in contributions. The strip club episode could turn off conservative voters. And the questions about lavish Republican spending undercut the Republican Party as it seeks to present itself as the party of financial constraint and good governance.

Again, the donation part of this doom-laden tale appears already outdated, as the RNC announced impressive donation figures for the month of March on Wednesday morning.