With Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele facing a barrage of calls to resign, North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Gary Emineth, a social conservative, told The Washington Times on Friday he is quitting his post to prepare a possible challenge of Mr. Steele after November's midterm elections.
Also on Friday, prominent neoconservatives led by William Kristol and Liz Cheney began a growing chorus demands that Mr. Steele step down now, before the Nov. 2 midterm congressional and gubernatorial elections and before he can decide whether to seek reelection to a second two-year term in January.
Mr. Emineth said what moved him to consider a bid for national chairman is what he called Mr. Steele's dismal failure with big donors who are giving to other, more trusted GOP campaign organizations as polls continue to show Republicans, if adequately financed, stand a good chance of regaining control of Congress.
"I was shocked at the last RNC meeting to learn how little money we got from our major donors," Mr. Emineth told The Times.
Mr. Emineth said he is resigning as state chairman to devote more time to his expanding burrito-manufacturing business. Resigning now has the added advantage of freeing him to campaign for national party chairman after Nov. 2.
Like other RNC members, Mr. Emineth has refrained from criticizing Mr. Steele until now, and until now no prominent Republican has called for Mr. Steele's head.
What suddenly triggered resignation demands from the influential neoconservatives wing of the GOP -- its foreign-policy hawks -- was Mr. Steele's saying in Connecticut on Thursday that Afghanistan is President Obama's war and one that should not have been fought in the first place. (Click here to see the video.)
The social and neoconservative wings of the party, with their shared concern for the safety of Israel and focus on "Islamo-fascism," have decided that Mr. Steele -- the author of numerous gaffes in the past -- has crossed the line this time.
On Friday, Mr. Kristol, editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard, said in an open letter to Mr. Steele: "Your comment is more than an embarrassment. It's an affront -- both to the honor of the Republican Party and to the commitment of the soldiers fighting."
Ms. Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, told Politico that the "chairman of the Republican party must be unwavering in his support for American victory in the war on terror -- a victory that cannot be accomplished if we do not prevail in Afghanistan. I endorse fully Bill Kristol's letter to Chairman Steele. It is time for Chairman Steele to step down."
In his missive, Mr. Kristol pointed out that the "war in Afghanistan was not 'a war of Obama's choosing.' ... It has been prosecuted by the United States under Presidents Bush and Obama. Republicans have consistently supported the effort."
Saying on Fox News' Special Report that Mr. Steele "has to go," another prominent neoconservative intellectual, Charles Krauthammer, called Mr. Steele's apostasy on Afghanistan "a capital offense."
Skepticism about the war is shared by many traditional conservatives such as commentator George F. Will.
"There are, of course, those who think we should pull out of Afghanistan, and they're certainly entitled to make their case. But one of them shouldn't be the chairman of the Republican party," Mr. Kristol said.
Hinting that Mr. Steele's stand might undermine the war effort, the Democratic National Committee jumped on RNC chairman's remarks, circulated on a video of his appearance at a small GOP fundraiser in Connecticut.
Among members of Mr. Steele's own committee, however, the disappointment with him has grown in proportion to the disappointment with his fundraising efforts.
"I have raised more money per capita for my party in my tiny state than New York or any other big state has raised for its party, but North Dakota gets no financial support from the RNC," Mr. Emineth said,
"The real contribution from a chairman is the ability to raise money from major donors," said Mr. Emineth. "We raised $400,000 in a single night in Fargo, North Dakota. Chairman Steele has managed to raise only $2 million from major donors all told."
"At times his hands-off approach to managing the national committee and his miscues have hurt the party," Mr. Emineth said. "He has been disappointing to many members."
In later posting the following words on the RNC's website, Mr. Steele appeared to eat his earlier words on Afghanistan -- and stand by them at the same time.
"As we enter the Fourth of July weekend, I proudly remember standing with Maryland National Guardsmen on their way to the Middle East and later stood with the mothers of soldiers lost at war. There is no question that America must win the war on terror.
"During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama made clear his belief that we should not fight in Iraq, but instead concentrate on Afghanistan. Now, as President, he has indeed shifted his focus to this region. That means this is his strategy. And, for the sake of the security of the free world, our country must give our troops the support necessary to win this war.
"As we have learned throughout history, winning a war in Afghanistan is a difficult task. We must also remember that after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, it is also a necessary one. That is why I supported the decision to increase our troop force and, like the entire United States Senate, I support General Petraeus' confirmation. The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan."
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