BY REID WILSON – 10/20/20 06:45 AM EDT
Michael Steele, who led the Republican National Committee (RNC) during the first years of Joe Biden’s vice presidency, formally endorsed him Tuesday morning after joining a “Never Trump” GOP group in August.
Steele made his announcement on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” shortly before starring in an advertisement paid for by the anti-Trump group The Lincoln Project.
In an interview with The Hill on Monday, Steele, who has never been a fan of President Trump, said he thought it was important to make his support for the Democratic presidential nominee explicit.
“Given the role that I played in the party and the role that I think the party should play in the direction of the country, it was important to make a case that this is not the kind of leadership that the country needs. The character of the individual who sits in the chair behind the Resolute Desk matters. It’s not about policy, it’s not about a particular piece of legislation,” Steele said.
“I’ll disagree with a lot of the policy that Joe Biden puts out before the country, but that’s OK, you should have those debates,” he added. “That’s not what the last three and a half years have been about. The last three and a half years have been about the personality traits of one individual. Our entire culture and politics are consumed by one person, and the country can’t get anything done that way.”
Steele is the second former chairman of the Republican National Committee to say he will vote for Biden over Trump. Former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, who held the RNC chairmanship early in former President George W. Bush’s tenure, backed the Democratic nominee last month.
Steele, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland, took office as the RNC’s chairman just days after former President Obama and Biden were sworn into office, pledging to revamp a party that had lost the 2008 elections badly. He steered the RNC during the 2010 election cycle, when Republicans reclaimed control of the House.
He said he did not expect to endorse the former vice president, whose administration he had once campaigned against.
“I still believe in the things that drew me to the GOP at 17 years old. I still believe that the governing principles that we’ve espoused are valid. So yeah, it’s not lost on me at all the irony that here we are 12 years later at this moment. But then you have to look and see the trajectory of the party during that time, and how in so many ways it has moved away from those very fundamental and important things that still matter,” he said.
Steele said he also supported the Lincoln Project’s efforts to oust several Republicans who have been supportive of Trump, including Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Mitch McConnell (Ky.), all of whom were in office during Steele’s chairmanship.
“If you cannot see your way through to stand against a president who believes there are fine people on both sides, whose immigration policies involve putting children in cages … if you cannot speak up against a president who sees the death of over 200,000 Americans and speaks upon it as ‘it is what it is,’ and yet to this day still has no plan to effectively deal with it, where’s the leadership?” Steele asked. “All I have to say to them is OK, just take one episode in the last three years and imagine any Democrat, not just Barack Obama, any Democrat doing it. And how much these very same Republicans would lose their mind.”
“We are blinded by our partisanship to the point to which we do not see our responsibility to the American people, because we are so afraid of getting un-elected, we are so afraid of a primary, we are so afraid of a tweet from Donald Trump,” he said. “It’s that level of partisanship that at critical times I think has made us worse off. We’ve got to break the cycle.”
Steele said he had spoken with Biden in recent days and that the two men had occasionally run into each other on the Acela between Washington, Wilmington, Del., and New York. He had predicted early on that Biden would win the Democratic presidential primary.
“I’ve watched how he’s talked to the country,” Steele said. “Principle, character, leadership, these things still matter. This is not about just getting your tax cut and sitting back fat and lazy.”