There was a lot of criticism of Michael Steele’s conservative credentials during the race for RNC chairman. My own view is that Steele is personally fairly conservative, but has perhaps drunk a bit deeply of the conventional wisdom on how Republicans can appeal to the center (though, let’s face it, he is a Republican who has had to try to win in a Northeastern state).
In both his bids for statewide office in Maryland, Steele ran as a strong pro-lifer in a very liberal state. In 2002, Steele had the benefit of a pro-choice candidate above him on the Republican ticket but in 2006 he was out there on his own — and even held firm on embryonic stem-cell research. With some exceptions, Steele has defended a conservative Republican platform in hostile territory while holding the door open to moderates. Steele’s chairmanship is an opportunity to bring together Republicans who want to see the party stick to its conservative principles and those who would rather it move to the center.
Questions remain about Steele’s effectiveness as a nuts-and-bolts party builder, but he is an able communicator and amiable television presence. The alternative was a candidate who, whatever may be in his heart, demonstrated a tin ear on racial issues at a time when the party is struggling to show it can be inclusive. Ken Blackwell, whose conservative credentials have been questioned by no one, may have helped Steele turn the corner in this contest, where he’d been typecast as “the moderate.”