Who would’ve thunk it? On Friday, the Republican Party elected its first African-American chairman with the selection of Michael Steele, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland. Steele won even though fellow Republicans suspected he was too moderate. Sophia Nelson, a political analyst and ESSENCE.com contributor, sat down with Steele to discuss what’s next for the GOP.
SOPHIA NELSON: How does it feel to be a historical first; the first Black person to lead the RNC? Is this emotional, how are you reflecting on this moment?
MICHAEL STEELE: It’s a historical year; it’s a historical time, but what it says is we as African-Americans can play on both fields. It represents a political maturity on our part and as a community. But now the hard work has to begin. It’s good to be part of a historical moment but more important to seize the moment.
NELSON: What is your first priority with regard to changing the image of the RNC?
STEELE: Yes, we do have an image problem and the first thing I am going to do is take the GOP’s message to Black community. We are going to show up, spend time, and spend money. And most importantly, if we want our message to be heard, we have to talk to the Black media.
NELSON: Aside from the image problem, what other changes or priorities do you have for the Republican Party?
STEELE: We are going to win again in the Northeast. We are going to win the South. We are going to create a storm in the Midwest and empower the state parties and committee so that they can effectively spread the conservative message throughout the United States. We will cede no ground to anyone on matter of principles or on anything that matters to the people of the U.S.
NELSON: What response have you received from members of your Party for saying recently that the GOP “doesn’t give a damn” about new voters, especially minorities?
STEELE: None. Zero. No backlash.
NELSON: Do you anticipate any backlash from racists who will be upset about Black men leading both major political parties?
NELSON: You have accused by the GOP as rolling out token Black members as a way to lure in more African-Americans. Do you suspect that some people voted for you for this reason?
STEELE: No. (Laughs.) You saw the vote. It took six ballots. What impressed me was that the party did not vote for me because I am Black. It never really raised the issue of my race. What the party cares about right now is coalition building and grassroots and getting our message out and they felt I was the best person to do that.
Cynthia Gordy, Washington correspondent for ESSENCE, contributed to this report.
Sophia A. Nelson is a popular blogger and political analyst. She is a regular guest commentator on Fox News, CNN, NPR and POTUS08. She also has written opinion articles for TheRoot.com, Politico.com, The Washington Post, and ESSENCE.com.