OXON HILL, MD. — National Republican Committee Chairman Michael Steele, in an effort to move beyond the woes of his party and his own gaffes, declared Tuesday that Republicans had turned a corner and were ready to step up their attacks on President Obama.
The "era of apologizing for Republican mistakes of the past is now officially over," Steele said, which could include his own missteps that have led to negative publicity and internecine bickering in his first four months in office.
In a speech to the party's state chairmen, Steele dismissed such criticisms as inside-the-Beltway chatter about "phony disputes and intraparty intrigue." But in an earlier, closed session with the party leaders, he conceded that he had made mistakes and learned from them, according to several people who were present.
Those errors included picking a fight with conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh and seeming to waffle on the party's antiabortion plank.
Steele continues to enjoy strong support from most of the 168-member national committee, which chose him in January.
"He's learning," said Robert T. Bennett, a Republican committeeman from Ohio. But in a reflection of the skittishness with which some party leaders still view their new chairman, Bennett coupled his praise for Steele's speech with an observation that he had "stuck to the script," unlike at past off-the-cuff performances.
At Steele's direction, the three-day gathering of Republican chairmen is taking place at a resort in Prince George's County, Md., where he was born and began a political rise that led to his election as the state's lieutenant governor.
The full Republican National Committee will hold a rare special session today. Members are expected to approve a series of resolutions, including one accusing Obama and the Democrats of moving the country toward socialism.
Steele succeeded in softening an earlier version of the resolution, submitted by a group of conservatives, which had called for the opposition to be renamed the "Democrat Socialist Party."
Obama's honeymoon "is over," Steele declared to enthusiastic applause from the chairmen.
Steele offered detailed criticism of the Democratic administration. He charged that Obama had benefited from overly favorable media coverage and the reluctance of some Republicans to challenge a personally popular president.
"He's young. He's cool. He's hip. He's got a good-looking family. What's not to like?" Steele said.
But, Steele said, Obama's policies are "increasingly unpopular with the American people" and deserve to be criticized for "taking us in the wrong direction and bankrupting our country."
Obama will have to raise taxes to pay for "the most massive expansion of the old Industrial Age model of government that our country has ever seen," Steele said.
In coming months, according to Steele, the Republicans "will offer real solutions" rooted in a return to the conservative principles of less spending and limited government.
The party has reached "a crucial juncture," he said, and by offering the country new ideas would spark a Republican comeback after two successive national election defeats. Opinion surveys show that the party's standing with the voters was devastated by eight years under President George W. Bush.
Steele skirted the social issues that are dear to many Republicans but have cost the party support among moderate and independent voters, polls show. And in a nod to his own attempts to broaden the party, the first black RNC chairman criticized Obama's budget for cutting funding for historically black colleges and universities.
Less than a week ago, Steele was forced to apologize for saying that conservative Republicans had rejected Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign because of his Mormon faith.
John H. Sununu, the New Hampshire Republican chairman and a former White House chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush, said Steele was articulating the right message, but he added that "the devil's in the details and the implementation."