Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele on Friday refused an apology from a conservative official who said Steele had only been elected chairman “because he was a black guy.”
Ian Walter, communications director for the Conservative Political Action Conference, “did call and tried to explain himself,” Steele told MSNBC’s Joy Reid. “And he related it back to Barack Obama’s election. And he said at one point, ‘I apologize.’ And I said, ‘That’s not acceptable, that’s not enough.'”
While speaking at CPAC’s Ronald Reagan dinner on Friday night, Walters described former president Barack Obama’s election as a “big deal,” but said it led to the “terrible” selection of Steele to head the RNC back in 2009.
“We elected Mike Steele as chairman because he was a black guy,” Walters told the room, reportedly drawing gasps. “That was the wrong thing to do.”
According to the Observer, Steele was standing near the back of the room when the comment was made.
“I wanted to talk to (CPAC chairman) Matt Schlapp first, but I think it’s painfully stupid what he said,” Steele said. “If he feels that way, I’d like him to come say that to my face. And then I’d like him to look at my record and see what I did.”
He later addressed the remark again on MSNBC.
“We have allowed this element to have a voice, we have given countenance to it, we have given it the space to express itself,” he said. “There is no taking that back. You can’t deny that that has been freed up.”
He said Walters felt comfortable making the remark during the dinner because “you think everyone in that room is going to be in agreement with you.”
Steele served as RNC chairman from 2009 to 2011 and was the first African-American to hold the role.
He has been critical of the Trump administration. Recently, after President Trump made a reference to “shithole countries,” Steele was asked if he thought the president was racist.
“At this point, the evidence is incontrovertible, it’s right there,” he replied.
Following Walters’ remark, Steele said he believes that there is a racism problem within the Republican Party, but that he didn’t think that the party was “that way.”
“If it were, I wouldn’t stay in it,” he said. “What we want is clarity on that.”
SOURCE: USA Today – Jessica Estepa and Doug Stanglin