Saltsman, who is seeking the job, has defended himself with suggestions that the media are trying to stir up a false controversy by focusing on the flap. But that argument hasn't convinced some top Republicans, who have been critical of Saltsman for, in the words of Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer, "promot[ing] divisiveness."
Saltsman ran Mike Huckabee's (surprisingly long-lasting) presidential campaign, and now Huckabee himself has weighed in on the issue with a largely supportive statement.
"Chip should have been more careful in his selection of Christmas gifts, but no one who knows him would ever suggest that he in any way would purposely disparage other people," Huckabee said. "Chip knows how sensitive such issues are. It shouldn't be the main factor in the RNC race."
Were Saltsman's to take the reins at the RNC, it would likely benefit Huckabee, who is reportedly mulling another run for president.
Meanwhile, Politico is suggesting that the flap might actually help Saltsman in his bid for the RNC's top job, since it has prompted some members to rally around the embattled former Tennessee GOP leader.
Mike Duncan, the current RNC chair who is seeking another term, was an early critic of Saltsman, a move that one committee member derided, suggesting it amounted to "pandering to the national press." By contrast, candidate and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell has reportedly been contacted by at least 12 uncommitted members thanking him for supporting Saltsman instead of "throwing a good Republican under the bus."
The flap certainly put Saltsman's name on members' lips, and Republicans have traditionally been sympathetic to the argument that a biased national media are the real culprits in controversies like this.
"Chip probably could have thought it through a bit more, but he was doing everyone a favor by giving us a gift," Alabama Republican committeeman Paul Reynolds told Politico. "This is just people looking for something to make an issue of."