An official with the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland on Friday declared that former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele was only elected because he’s black.
“This is a terrible thing. We elected Mike Steele to be the RNC chair ’cause he’s a black guy, and that was the wrong thing to do,” said Ian Walters, a spokesperson for the American Conservative Union, the organizers of CPAC.
Steele served as chairperson of the RNC from 2009 until 2011, taking office during President Obama’s first term. He lost his attempt at a second term to Reince Priebus.
Walters’ comments, made during the Reagan dinner event on Friday night where tickets started at $250, drew gasps from some in the audience.
Steele told MSNBC he was standing outside of the room when the racist sentence was said. Immediately afterwards, Steele spoke to The Observer and called the comments “painfully stupid.”
“I wanted to talk to [CPAC chair] Matt Schlapp first, but I think it’s painfully stupid what he said,” said Steele. “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.
“I can’t believe an official of CPAC would go onstage in front of an audience and say something like that. I’ve been a strong supporter of CPAC for many years and I thought they raised them better than that here,” he said.
On Saturday, Steele spoke on his SiriusXM show “Steele & Ungar” about how to comments regarding him speak to the wider issues of race in the Republican Party.
“It’s the groupthink that has emerged within the party that has now poisoned the national dialogue,” he said.
“To hear it come from a young man … a minority himself … it makes it even crazier,” he said.
Walters wrote on Twitter after the dinner that his words did “not reflect what’s intended” and noted in a follow up tweet that he had spoken with Steele to apologize.
“His words came out exactly as they were intended, his words came out exactly as he felt them,” said Steele on MSNBC on Saturday, noting that it showed the wider racism in the Republican Party that the comments were said so freely.
“That’s the truth of this party right now. We have allowed this element to have voice, we have given countenance to it. We have given it the space to express itself. And there is no taking that back, you can’t deny that that has now been freed up,” he said.
“You don’t worry about saying it, because you think everyone outside that room, who carries the conservative label or considers themselves Republicans will agree with you,” he added.