Steele delivered a speech on the future of the party to state GOP chairmen gathering outside Washington for a special meeting Wednesday of the Republican National Committee. But Steele steered away from addressing the lingering internal conflicts that could hinder his call for party unity.
A small, but vocal, minority of Republican National Committee members is trying to undermine Steele's authority over party funding, and Steele told FOX News ahead of his speech that if they, do he'll step aside.
"They can contemplate all they want to, but the reality is, if they want a figurehead chairman you can have a figurehead chairman, but it won't be Michael Steele," he said.
Steele aides insist the chairman was not threatening to quit, but merely to fight to retain his authority.
The issue comes up for a vote Wednesday. For now, RNC members are expected to re-establish standards that already had been in place before they lapsed last year. Among them is a requirement that Steele have a co-signer for all expenditures above $100,000 and that a comptroller-treasurer administer funding.
Steele already had agreed to those standards. What he objected to was the possibility of increasing the powers of the comptroller-treasurer, in turn minimizing his own authority. That issue will probably be pushed off until July, but it's not going away yet.
The Republican National Committee chief is seeking to re-establish himself as the head of the beleaguered party and set its course. His speech comes after a rocky start to his two-year term that drew criticism from some longtime RNC members as well as a sustained Democratic campaign tagging conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh as the GOP's titular head.
In Tuesday's speech, Steele likened President Obama's popularity to that of a celebrity and said Republicans can't be afraid of criticizing him head-on if they want to regain their relevance.
"He's young. He's cool. He's hip ... he's got all the qualities America likes in a celebrity, so of course he's going to be popular," Steele told state party chairmen Tuesday. But "this is not American Idol. This is serious ... and we are going to take them on."
Steele said the GOP has owned up to the mistakes that caused its fall from power and is embarking on a "renaissance."
"The era of apologizing for Republican mistakes of the past is now officially over," he said. "We have turned the corner. No more looking in the rearview mirror. From this point forward, we will focus all of our energies on winning the future."
He also was opposing a resolution -- whose final wording hadn't yet been set but was expected for a vote Wednesday -- in which Republicans would rename the Democratic Party as a "Nationalist Socialist Democrat" party.
Steele and others said the party should focus its efforts elsewhere.
"I think it's stupid," Florida GOP Chairman James Greer said of the name resolution. "These are trying times. We need to be serious."
Greer and other state chairmen said Steele, who drew a loud standing ovation at Tuesday's speech, continues to enjoy strong support among most party leaders.
"Obviously there was going to be a learning curve but I certainly support Chairman Steele. I like the fact that he's going on offense," said Alabama Chairman Mike Hubbard. "I think everybody's willing to give (him) some time."
Steele is trying to steer a GOP that's out of power in the White House, Congress and a slew of statehouses across the country. The party also has no natural successor to former President George W. Bush. And the GOP is in the midst of an intense debate over its identity while facing an emboldened Democratic Party that's grown larger under Obama's leadership -- at the Republicans' expense.
Steele played down the obstacles and claimed the GOP's comeback is "well under way" in the states. But he said people in Washington don't recognize it yet.
"Republicans may be the minority party at the moment, but we represent the ideas and concerns of the majority of Americans," Steele said. "Candidate Obama was very moderate in his views, but President Obama could not possibly be further to the far left."
Steele said the GOP will take on Obama with class and dignity, unlike the "shabby and classless way" Democrats took on Bush.
FOX News' Carl Cameron and the Associated Press contributed to this report.