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Michael Steele: I Left Moderate Republican Group This Spring

9:30 AM, Nov 20, 2008 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Segments of the conservative movement have been questioning Michael Steele's commitment to conservative values, particularly social issues, posing the first obstacle in his bid for RNC chair.

At issue is his part in founding the centrist, pro-choice Republican Leadership Council with Christine Todd Whitman and John Danforth, whose mission includes embracing fiscally conservative candidates with diverse social views. But Steele told the Washington Times this week that he is no longer on the RLC's board, having left in spring of this year when the organization began getting involved in Republican primaries (audio, here):

"I shouldn't be listed on their site because I'm not on their board anymore...I have a fundamental issue with organizations getting involved in primaries, and the organization was endorsing candidates in primaries, which I am fundamentally opposed to...I get what you're trying to do, but if you do it in a way that will alienate people, then it's not ultimately to the benefit of the party...I can't be a part of that."

RLC's mission, as stated by the group's website:

Inspired by a drive to get back to the fundamentals of the Republican Party, Senator John Danforth, Lt. Governor Michael Steele, and Governor Christine Todd Whitman created the political organization the Republican Leadership Council, which advocates for the historic Republican principles of liberty, individual responsibility, and personal freedom.

RLC-PAC's vision is a Republican Party that is unified by the basic tenets of fiscal responsibility and personal freedom, but that allows for diverse opinions on social issues by its members.

If you're having a "one of these things is not like the other" moment in reading that line-up, you're not alone. Whitman is constantly and openly at odds with social conservatives in the party and Danforth has become recently critical of the influence religious conservatives have, writing in 2005, "Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians."

Steele on the other hand, despite running in a the moderate state of Maryland, has been clear about his personal pro-life views, was an energizing underdog Senate candidate in 2006, and rallied much of the base to his side in an unsuccessful campaign for RNC the same year. He supports overturning Roe v. Wade eventually and more politically attainable pro-life measures in the interim, and has said that he would keep the overturning as part of the Republican Party platform. He's against embryonic stem-cell research funding, but he sounds more skeptical about something like a Federal Marriage Amendment, which given the polling trends on gay marriage, is a perfectly reasonable political position.

In addition, Steele is a devout Catholic who spent three years in seminary preparing to be a priest. One wonders if he'd actually have to be the Pope to satisfy some of the critics as to his pro-life credentials.

Let me be straight-forward in a way I think Michael Steele would appreciate: A black Catholic who grew up in D.C. and lives in Prince George's County becomes a Republican, overcoming social pressure and withstanding abuse, because he believes in conservative ideas and the way they can serve all communities, not because he wishes to be a squishy moderate beloved of the Beltway press. The knock on his pro-life credentials has always struck me as silly, and his leaving the RLC should quiet that line of attack.