TACOMA – The embattled national chairman of the Republican Party insisted he is behind American troops in Afghanistan “1,000 percent” as he urged GOP faithful here to fight for election victories in November.
Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman who drew criticism from some of his party’s senior congressional leaders last week for describing Afghanistan as “a war of Obama’s choosing,” sought to mute that criticism in an area with a heavy military presence.
“I am 1,000 percent for victory for our men and women in the service,” Steele told about 100 people gathered for an event called the Republican Resurgence Rally. “We cannot leave them on the battlefield.”
During a speech on July 1 in Connecticut, Steele questioned America’s chance of success in Afghanistan, saying that a student of history should know that “the one thing you don’t do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan, alright, because everyone who’s tried over a thousand years of history has failed.”
Saturday, he was offering a much more optimistic assessment: “We are fighting in a tough place. With the right commitment to win, we will.”
The rally was held at the Tacoma Convention Center, just a few miles from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, an Army and Air Force facility with troops deployed in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
“This party stands with them. I stand with them. Period. No excuses. No exceptions,” Steele said.
Washington state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser said he thought Steele did a good job of clarifying his earlier remarks about Afghanistan, and doubted the RNC leader was in any risk of losing his job.
“I don’t think there’s any support for changing horses in midstream,” Esser said.
His stop in Tacoma Saturday evening, and an earlier stop in Wenatchee, showed Steele still has support from the rank and file, Esser said. Turnout at the Tacoma event did not fill the room, but Esser thought it was a good showing for a summer weekend night.
Most of Steele’s speech was devoted to exhorting the crowd to get behind an array of Republican candidates and give the party a chance of recapturing majorities in Congress and the Legislature. It’s the only way to control and cut back on a government that seeks to take over every aspect of their lives, he said.
“You can let freedom slip through your fingers, or you can grab on to it,” Steele said. “Stand up, raise this fist and say ‘Enough is enough.’ ”
Preceding Steele on the platform were two of the main Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate seat held by three-term incumbent Democrat Patty Murray. Clint Didier, a former NFL tight end turned Eltopia farmer, said he wanted to “start cutting this government back to the size it was intended to be by our founding fathers.”
Paul Akers, a Seattle-area businessman, said he wanted the federal government to cut taxes by 10 percent and spending by 10 percent and “go lean.”
Apparently realizing that the party faces a potentially bruising election in the Aug. 17 top two primary, Steele urged the candidates and their supporters not to fight with each other.
“Whatever candidates they may have supported in the primary doesn’t matter on general election day,” he said.