Palin and Steele Represent the Same Problem
Palin and Steele are both being sent to stand in the corner--to pay for the failures of the actual leaders of the party. The whole party is essentially made up of old, stupid, white guy *gamblers*--just as McCain made a gamble that by picking Palin he'd get just enough support and excitement to get over the hump and get into the White House they thought that they could somehow, for a short time, parlay Steele's blackness into a short term benefit vis a vis the Democratic party and Obama. He was the default choice but he was their choice and that was fairly explicit in their public reasoning on why he was chosen--he was there to reassure suburban whites that the GOP weren't stone racists.
But just as with McCain's picking Palin, or Joe the Plumber, this form of "identity politics" will almost always push a cardboard cutout of a person into an important role (vp, spokesman, rnc chair) that you actually need a very talented person to fill. They've just run up against the limits of putting a figure head in to do a real job and are now trying to figure out how to get rid of him and put a technocrat in. This move won't hurt them with their base, because their base really hates token blacks. In the case of Palin the move will hurt them with their base, because Palin was sold to them, and believed to be, "one of them." Pass the popcorn.
**Edited to add that Steve M. rightly takes me to task for imprecise thought and language in this post. I absolutely misspoke when I said "their base really hates token blacks" and there is a longer discussion of this in comments that tries to take apart my casual usage of the words base and token. I think this is a good place for one of those strikeout thingies but I don't know how to do it. So consider "their base really hates token blacks" to be struck and replaced by the discussion in comments.
Because I always have one more "one more" thought I'd like to add that I think different parts of "the base" or of "people paying attention at any given time" which are, of course, not synonymous really value different things in public positions at different times. There's a huge populist/working class audience that assumes that drones like "officials who represent my party" are just party hacks of no particular talent. They neither know nor care who these guys are and have as much loathing and disrespect, based on a correct lower class assumption that the suits are assholes and dopes anyway, that probably isn't at all disturbed by Steele's race. Unless he falls to their ire as another version of that strange symbolic figure the "affirmative action hire" who "prevented some guy like me" from "getting that job." That figure is like the wandering jew of white ressentiment and pops up like a ghost even, or especially, when the two categories (the viewer and the affirmative action hire) were never in competition for the same job or school position at all.