Michael Steele makes history as the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee, and as a rare winner — at least in part — of an outside game in what is usually an insider’s contest. He won with 91 votes, 6 more than he needed, over South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson.
Steele’s victory also marks a decision by some GOP leaders that to elect a man associated with an all-white country club — when America just elected a black president, and the itself runs a risk of being branded an all-white club — was too big a risk to run.
Steele ran in large part on his ability to rebrand the party and to do battle on cable news. Though he is, in fact, quite conservative for the spectrum of American politics, he wasn’t the conservative choice, and his win marks a real defeat for elements of the party’s conservative wing. For younger Republicans and those seeking a dramatic break from the past, he was the choice, and his win suggests that the party is emerging from the phase of denying that, in the wake of its 2008 rout, it has a problem.