RNC Chair: Critics Of Cruise Ship Analogy Are Engaging In "Political Gamesmanship"

January 30, 2012 4:09 pm ET — Brian Powell

Reince Priebus

During his circuit of the Sunday political talk shows, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus drew a startling analogy between the leadership of President Obama and that of Captain Francesco Schettino, the infamous Italian cruise ship captain who abandoned his ship, leaving behind at least 17 fatalities and more than a dozen people missing. The remark was criticized by everyone from Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to former RNC chair Michael Steele.

In an appearance on Fox News' America Live on Monday, host Megyn Kelly gave Priebus an opportunity to clarify or retract his remarks. Instead, he doubled down, saying it was a "fair analogy" and accusing his critics of engaging in "political gamesmanship."

PRIEBUS: The analogy was made. And it was an analogy of leadership in a time of crisis. In a time of crisis, this president is leaving the White House and campaigning nonstop all the time. I think it's pretty clear, but you know if people, you know, out there, you know, especially on the Democratic side, want to try make hay of it, I mean they're gonna be able to do that.

The reality is, it's a fair analogy in regard to leadership. In a moment of crisis, that this president is more interested in his own job, A-number one, than the jobs of the millions of Americans that are out there hurting right now, when he promised them that he would do better.

KELLY: The point Debbie Wasserman Schultz seems to be getting at — and it's not just the Democrats, and I'm gonna get to that in a second — is that 17 people are dead, 15 are missing on that cruise ship. The captain has been accused of criminal acts, charged with manslaughter. He is at best a coward, at worst a liar, perhaps a person guilty, essentially, if a jury says so, of killing people with his recklessness. And so there is a question about whether it was an apt analogy even though you were only speaking to the part about a captain leaving his ship.

PRIEBUS: Well, I made it very clear Megyn, in the comments twice, that what I was referring to — I didn't just make the comment and move on. I made the comment that I was referring to leadership. I was referring to acting like a leader in a moment of crisis, and I was referring to the fact that this president is in love with campaigning, and not in love with his job of getting the country back on track. Now, I think it's awful; I mean, people have died, of course. Terrible, and our prayers go out to those people without a question. But to take this comment and turn it into something that it was not — that's wrong, too. And that's political gamesmanship as well.