It takes a lot for someone like Conservative Political Action Conference communications director Ian Walters to make headlines. Speaking at the end of a long day that featured President Donald Trump, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, and all manner of USDA-certified, grade-A bomb-throwers, Walters faced a pretty high bar for newsworthiness when he took the stage during dinner on Friday night. But like a great competitor, he rose to meet the challenge:
CPAC communication director Ian Walters at Reagan dinner
“We elected Mike Steele as chairman because he was a black guy, that was the wrong thing to do”
— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) February 24, 2018
Yes, that’s the spokesman for the premier conservative confab of the year lamenting that his party once hired a black man as RNC chair. Walters apologized to Steele afterward, and Steele told MSNBC on Saturday he declined to accept it. Steele later called the comments “painfully stupid.” Can you blame him?
Backsliding isn’t quite the right word for CPAC 2018. The crank national security analyst Frank Gaffney, who was banned from the conference a few years ago for accusing one of the American Conservative Union’s board members of working for the Muslim Brotherhood, spoke from the main stage on Friday; white nationalist writer Peter Brimelow roamed the halls; a speaker who briefly mentioned being moved by a naturalization ceremony for new citizens was booed.
In that context, lamenting that the African-American former lieutenant governor of Maryland was named RNC chair nine years ago seemed like the logical endpoint.
Steele has become a conservative apostate in recent years. Last fall, he publicly announced that he would not be voting for Trump, and it’s increasingly unclear what Steele did during his tenure to warrant becoming such an enduring punchline. Steele presided over the party’s most successful midterm election in half a century but was dogged by charges of financial mismanagement—including reimbursing a donor for a trip to a bondage-themed club, and spending on private jets. Nine years later the RNC is paying the president of the United States $440,000 a year in rent—or 226 trips to bondage-themed clubs, in layman’s terms—and put the vice president’s nephew on salary while its leading lights fly either in first-class or on private jets on the taxpayer’s dime.