GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. – In his first public remarks since his widely condemned comments on Afghanistan, Republican Party chairman Michael Steele said Thursday he “ain’t goin’ anywhere” despite calls for his resignation.
Steele’s appearance before Colorado Republicans was his first since he came under fire last week from within the GOP for calling the nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan a mistaken “war of Obama’s choosing.” The gaffe prompted criticism of Steele’s leadership, and some calls to resign.
“Every time something happens, people say, ‘Oh, you should step down. You should step down.’ The reality is, that’s not happening, so stop the noise on that,” Steele told about 100 volunteers and state GOP leaders.
Steele added that stepping down from his post is a bad idea with November’s general election just a few months away. “We have too much work to do,” he said.
Although he didn’t apologize for his Afghanistan comment, Steele affirmed his support for the war effort and told the crowd he is “foursquare, 1,000 percent with these troops on the ground … and that should’ve been very, very clear.”
He also joked about his outspoken nature, referring to it as his “individuality.”
That individuality, he said, “you know, from time to time gets me in a little trouble, but that’s OK, we understand how that works,” Steele said to laughter from the volunteers.
In his remarks captured July 1 on camera and posted online, Steele criticized President Barack Obama and his handling of the Afghan war and suggested it can’t be won. Republican officials later confirmed Steele made the comments at a Connecticut fundraiser, which was closed to the news media.
“If he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that, you know, that’s the one thing you don’t do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? All right? Because everyone who’s tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed,” Steele said in the remarks last week. “And there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan.”
“This was a war of Obama’s choosing,” Steele said. “This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.”
Since the remarks, Steele has drawn sharp criticism from within the GOP, including calls for his resignation from some prominent conservatives. Responding to that, he issued a statement stressing his support for U.S. troops but did not acknowledge his factual error about a war launched by former President George W. Bush in response to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Steele’s gaffe was not his first. In the last year, he predicted the GOP won’t win House control this fall and criticized fellow Republicans in a book that party leaders didn’t know he was writing until it was published.
Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, who attended the Colorado event Thursday, was asked by reporters about Steele’s Afghanistan comment and said, “I certainly wasn’t happy about it.” But after a private meeting with Steele, Coffman said he supports him staying in place.
“I think he should stay on. He gave me the confidence he can lead this party forward,” said Coffman, who served with the Marines in Iraq, but added that Steele is charged with running the GOP, not making national defense decisions.