Michael Steele, Roland Martin Discuss Santorum’s “Blah People” Comments, GOP Presidential Race And More (VIDEO)

The race for the Republican nomination is full steam ahead. The Iowa caucus weeded out Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and made Rick Santorum a credible contender, even though he lost — just by eight votes. Well, next up is New Hampshire, and we’ll see who’s in, who’s leading and who’s out this week.

Former RNC Chairman, Michael Steele joined Roland Martin on the set of Washington Watch to discuss the GOP presidential race, Santorum’s “Blah People” comments and more.

MR. MARTIN:  Folks, the race for the Republican nomination is full steam ahead.  The Iowa caucus weeded out Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and made Rick Santorum a credible contender, even though he lost – just by eight votes.  Well, next up is New Hampshire, and we’ll see who’s in, who’s leading and who’s out this week.

But let’s be real.  Does any of this really matter to the majority of the African-American community?  Most of us haven’t identified with the Republican Party since the Depression era – and, quite frankly, the Republican Party is generally not real African-American-friendly.  Here’s what the hottest “anybody but Mitt” candidate, Rick Santorum, had to say about African-Americans and welfare.


MR. RICK SANTORUM:  Bottom line is I don’t want to – to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.  I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.


MR. MARTIN:  Here’s an example of what Newt Gingrich thinks of the first African-American president.


MR. NEWT GINGRICH:  Pres. Obama is the most successful food stamp president in American history.


MR. MARTIN:  Even though there are more White people on food stamps than Black folks, he is speaking certainly in code his supporters understand.  And in case you doubt me, take a look at what Gingrich said on Thursday.


MR. GINGRICH:  If the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.


MR. MARTIN:  Can you understand what they’re talking about?  I certainly can’t. Hopefully, my next guest can explain what in the world they’re talking about.  He is the former head of the Republican National Committee, and we certainly welcome him back to “Washington Watch,” MSNBC contributor and former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele.

Michael –

MR. MICHAEL STEELE:  Good to be –

MR. MARTIN:  — how you –

MR. STEELE:  — with you.

MR. MARTIN:  — doin’?

MR. STEELE:  I’m doing well.  Doing very well.

MR. MARTIN:  First of all, le- — let – let me deal with Rick Santorum first.  His response – or, his defense was, “No, I didn’t say ‘Black people.’  I said ‘blah people.’”

I never met the “blah people.”  I never met them.

MR. STEELE:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  And so w- — whe- — when you heard that response, what did you say?

MR. STEELE:  I say that it’s a national campaign, and people step in and out of it every – every moment of the day.  Look, the – the reality is –

MR. MARTIN:  And did you hear “Black”?  I mean I –

MR. STEELE:  I – no, I – I heard “Black.”  I – yeah, I heard – yeah, I heard “Black.”  But the –

MR. MARTIN:  — [chuckles].

MR. STEELE:  — I unders- — I – I think I understand where he wa- — what he was trying to say there, and – and the point is that, you know, what he – what he’s talking about is self-empowerment and – and how we can create an environment where individuals tap into their own resources and their own abilities, and they are able to take that and – and move those as goals –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. STEELE:  — towards the American Dream.  And so the idea of a r- — of a redistributive society, where I take from one and give to another through various means – whether it’s a program, whether it’s a – a policy –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. STEELE:  — is not the way we’re going to grow communities that are – that have largely been underserved and, quite frankly, ill-served.

MR. MARTIN:  But – but – I – I t- — I totally get that –

MR. STEELE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — and – but it’s not like – first of all, the only Black person in that room was a camera –

MR. STEELE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — guy right behind him –

MR. STEELE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — and so –

MR. STEELE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — the pr- — issue for me was, “Wait a minute.  You’re talking to a room full of White folks.”

MR. STEELE:  Well, you know – and I think – and when you go back, and you do liste- — listen to it, it is – it is a little bit slurred.  And I’ll tell you why I think it was slurred, and I think what happened was that the words were coming, about to leave his mouth.  He realized that, okay, statistically, he’s in a state with 9 percent Black population, and overwhelming

MR. MARTIN:  Ninety percent White population.

MR. STEELE:  — [crosstalk] – yeah –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. STEELE:  — overwhelming number of folks who would be on welfare, or would be a part of that redistributive system –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. STEELE:  — are White.

MR. MARTIN:  Right!

MR. STEELE:  So, “I can’t” – “I can’t narrow that so much to this portion of the population” – [chuckles] – “when the significant numbers are” – and I think it kind of caught him, so it[?] came out, “Bla-a-ah-ahck,” you know.

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MR. STEELE:  But I understood – I understood, from a philosophical standpoint, where Rick was coming from; and I know he – I know he wasn’t saying anything, you know, ill towards the Black community, or – or – overall.  I think he was just trying to make the point that, at present, he wants an economy in which everyone is – is elevated.  All p- — you know, he’s part of that Kemp – that Kempian –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. STEELE:  — part of our party that talks about a “rising tide.”

MR. MARTIN:  But when –


MR. MARTIN:  — you hear him, when you hear Gingrich’s comments, when you hear these kind[s] of comments –

MR. STEELE:  — yeah –

MR. MARTIN:  — do – do – do you get the sense that they are trying to s- — first of all, kind of push a certain button –

MR. STEELE:  — no.

MR. MARTIN:  — on the Republican side?  I mean wha- —

MR. STEELE:  I – I don’t think –

MR. MARTIN:  — what are they doing?

MR. STEELE:  — I don’t think it’s that.  I just think it is – it’s part of a stereotyped view that is generally held by White politicians, period, Black – I mean Democrat or Republican, about the Black community a- — and how they – how they feel they either need to address the concerns we have, or the problems that we have; or, how they feel, you know, they’ll get them to lis- — will – will listen, you know, because “we’re” – “we’re connecting.”

And you’re not connecting, really.  You’re – you’re – really, if – a lot of Black folks are, “Look,” you know, “we’re” – “we’re all not lumped into some group where,” you know, “everybody is poor, everybody’s on welfare, everybody’s,” you know, “a victim of crime.  Like every other community in this country, we have those elements and those issues, so talk to us like you would talk you would talk to all – that 91 percent in that room who’re White.  Talk to us the same way.  If you want to talk about empowerment, tell me how you’re gonna do it.”  Don’t – don’t carve out exceptions.  Don’t make it seem like you’re going the extra mile.

MR. MARTIN:  Um-hum.

MR. STEELE:  And that has always been a problem for the GOP.  In fact, I’m writing a piece now for “Ebony” that’ll be out in a few months about, you know, Black conservatism and the party’s struggle to try to make that conversation work.  And – and my attitude is, “Just relax.”  You know?  “You” – come on shows like yours.  Have the conversations directly to the community, where you can tell – talk to them about economics, emp- — and –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.  I mean –

MR. STEELE:  — national –

MR. MARTIN:  — I – I – I –

MR. STEELE:  — security –

MR. MARTIN:  — I’ve even made –

MR. STEELE:  — and the like.

MR. MARTIN:  — that point to White – to White Republicans, that – precisely –

MR. STEELE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — we want to have the exact, same conversation.

MR. STEELE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  Talk to us about educa- — I say, “If” – “Look, don’t come with that ‘party of Lincoln’ crap.  Talk to me about” –

MR. STEELE:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  — “education.  Talk to me about economics.”

MR. STEELE:  [Chuckles.]  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  “Talk about empowerment zones.  Talk about small businesses.”  When you look at the growth of small businesses, Black women – significant numbers.  “Have a – same conversation” –

MR. STEELE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — “but don’t sit here and play down” –

MR. STEELE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — “play” – “play down to me.”

MR. STEELE:  Yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  I do want to ask you about this here.

MR. STEELE:  Sure.

MR. MARTIN:  Voter I.D. laws.

MR. STEELE:  Yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  We see these all across – we’ve been hitting the whole issue of voter suppression quite some time, and Republicans have been saying, “Well, look.  This is about voter fraud.”  Yet, even when Republican lawyers came out, they showed basically 350 or so voter fraud cases over –

MR. STEELE:  That were reported, and – [crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  — right.

MR. STEELE:  — and I think that’s a very important distinction to make.  You have to understand and – and – having been in the – in the voter side of this for a long, long time in terms of po- — party politics, you have to understand the pressures that are – that are felt by folks when they encounter a situation in a voting environment.  In a lot of cases, you’re outnumbered if you’re a Republican –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. STEELE:  — and – and so forth.  There’s less – less of a desire to report the fraud, and so there’re many more instances that are – than[?] are being reported.  And – and there’re systemic problems in the system to begin with.  And so I think that there’s some – some good that can come from a re- — an overall review of voter laws around the country to make sure that everybody’s vote is counted.  I mean it’s like, you know – [crosstalk]- —

MR. MARTIN:  I mean I – I – I g- — I get “review.”  I get –

MR. STEELE:  — right.

MR. MARTIN:  — “review.”

MR. STEELE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  But what I’m talking about is when you have the – the imposing of laws where, first of all, you talk about voter I.D. laws that – that disproportionately affect senior citizens –

MR. STEELE:  Well[?], I –

MR. MARTIN:  — and African-Americans.

MR. STEELE:  — but – but – [crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  And then –

MR. STEELE:  — [crosstalk]- —

MR. MARTIN:  — [crosstalk] – voter I.D. laws.  I’m also talking about like in Ohio, when you put in the bill –

MR. STEELE:  — right?

MR. MARTIN:  — that if you – that you give a poll worker the option to tell somebody if – if they’re at the wrong polling station, that I don’t have to actually tell you what your new one is.  So, in the Ohio law, they literally passed it in the law; and luckily, they got the signatures to put it on the ballot next year, so it’s not in law right now –

MR. STEELE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — that a poll – if Michael Steele walks in and [the poll worker] says, “I’m sorry.  You’re at the wrong polling station,” the poll worker can say, “Okay” – and turn around.

MR. STEELE:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  You do – and –

MR. STEELE:  Well –

MR. MARTIN:  — you don’t have to tell –

MR. STEELE:  — right.  And – and – and – you know, quite frankly, that’s crazy.  I mean the whole idea – and – and, again, this is the point I made when I was chairman of the state party and chairman of the national party.  Why do we always put ourselves in a position where we look like we’re anti-vote?  And[?] –

MR. MARTIN:  Right!

MR. STEELE:  — [crosstalk]- —

MR. MARTIN:  I mean I – I’ve been asking Republicans –

MR. STEELE:  — and it’s like it – it’s – it’s the craziest thing.  We want to be able to ju- – we’re encouraging people to vote.  On Election Day, I go – I remember when running for the U.S. Senate, running for – for lieutenant governor, I made sure my team – we – we went into the Black community to make sure:  “Get out the vote.”  Now, I said to some folks – [unintelligible] – “I know you’re not going to vote for me, but vote!”  That’s the important thing.

MR. MARTIN:  I’ve –

MR. STEELE:  Make your case to the voters.

MR. MARTIN:  — I’ve –

MR. STEELE:  You don’t have to worry about how they’re going to vote.

MR. MARTIN:  — I’ve pushed Republicans by saying, “Fine.  Give me an example where you’re actually trying to broaden voting rights.”

And folks go, “No, we’re just tr-” – “trying to protect the vote.”

I’m going, “Wait a minute.  Explain to me how stopping early voting on Saturdays and Sundays makes sense.”

They’re like, “We-e-ell, you know” –

MR. STEELE:  And –

MR. MARTIN:  — but I – I just – I mean I – I don’t understand –

MR. STEELE:  — stopping it doesn’t make sense.  How you – how you monitor it and how you protect the – the voters and that vote does, and that’s – that’s where the battle’s going to be.  More and more –

MR. MARTIN:  [Crosstalk]?

MR. STEELE:  — states – oh, I think so.  More –

MR. MARTIN:  I mean 40 states have had some type of laws, and a lot of them are literally outlawing early voting on Saturdays and Sundays, and the opposition says, “You want to keep Black churches and others from going en masse.”

But I don’t get it.  If we’re talking about sending troops overseas for –

MR. STEELE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — democracy –

MR. STEELE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — and then you are literally putting up roadblocks to voting, how in the world is that so-called “America”?

MR. STEELE:  But – but did[?] – you make the very – very interesting point with that analogy, because we have the same problem with the men and women we send overseas, who can’t have their votes, necessarily –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. STEELE:  — counted, and that’s a real big problem as well.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. STEELE:  So, it doesn’t necessarily boil down to race as much as it boils down to process and – and the outcome from that process, and – and both parties are genuinely concerned about what that process looks like.

MR. MARTIN:  All right.  Well, Michael, always good to have you back.

MR. STEELE:  It’s good to be here, man.

MR. MARTIN:  [I] certainly look forward to it again.

MR. STEELE:  Absolutely.

MR. MARTIN:  And tell your – the person who followed you, Reince Prebus, that he can show up on the show.  It’s okay.

MR. STEELE:  [Chuckles.]  That ain’t – that ain’t happenin’.

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

MR. STEELE:  I – trust me.  There’re a lot of things I know won’t happen in this life, and that’s one of ’em.

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

MR. STEELE:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  Well, [I] appreciate it.  Thanks a lot.