Does Michael Steele Pass Muster With Conservatives?

The mainstream media will never give him a break, but conservatives should probably be comfortable with new RNC Chairman Michael Steele.  On CNN, Don Lemon asked the CNN political reporter, “Is the RNC pandering, is Michael Steele legitimate?”

In an appearance on my radio program on Monday, Steele said “the Republican party is called racist when they don’t reach out and pandering when they do.”  He went as far as to tell a reporter that asked him if he was legitimate to come back when he had a real question.  If only the questions about his credentials were coming from the left.  So the question is, will Steele pass muster with conservatives?

Three months ago, I wrote about Steele after we participated in a panel on the 2008 Elections. I believed then he would be the next chairman of the party, and it had nothing to do with race.  

It was not an easy path to the chairman’s office for Steele.  Groups opposing his involvement with the Republican Leadership Council say he’s too liberal.  When Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday tried to box him in on the RLC’s mission to recruit pro-choice and pro-gay rights Republicans, he said he was not going to focus in on two issues and then invoked Ronald Reagan. However, these two issues are at the core of the social conservative agenda.  

Michael Steele is a social conservative. He’s encouraged by the success groups in California cobbling together social conservatives, religious Latinos and Blacks on Proposition 8 in November. In 2008, the value of preaching a socially conservative agenda in minority communities increased dramatically.  Prop 8 represents the future of the morality movement in America, and Steele sees it as both a winning movement and a way to mend fences with social conservatives who think he’s not one of them.

The new chairman understands the GOP message on immigration, and he knows how to communicate it. It’s not just conservatives that want border security. Steele said on Sunday, “The GOP’s position on immigration is very much the position of many, many Hispanics who are in this country.” Steele went on to make the case when he said, “The GOP’s position is secure our borders first. Let us know and let us make sure the American people know that we’ve taken care of the important business of dealing with illegal immigration into this country. You cannot begin to address the concerns of the people who are already here unless and until you have made certain that no more are coming in behind them…. How we messaged that is where we messed up the last time. We were pegged as being insensitive, anti-immigrant, and nothing could be further from the truth, because you talk to those leaders in the Hispanic community, they will tell you the same thing. They understand the importance of making sure the United States’ borders are secure.”  

That is the grassroots position held by a majority of Americans, not just conservatives.

The elephant in the room for Steele is not whether he’s a conservative — he is — but rather will he be conservative enough for the grassroots of the Republican Party. The code language for this is Christian conservatives.  CCs are the most hated, loved or feared group of people in the Republican Party, depending on your point of view.  The RINOs think these Bible-thumping hayseeds are ruining the party, but Christian conservatives represent the Party’s core values; RINOs don’t.  And you can’t win without Christian conservatives. Steele is one of those Christian conservatives and has talked openly about his Roman Catholic faith.

Conservatives are responding positively to Steele but are wary.  They’ve heard the talk before.  Action is the only thing that will calm their fears and lead to wins for Republicans by getting the grassroots engaged again. Chairman Steele is hitting the ground running with updates to the website and how they will collect and disseminate information.  He’s beginning to target upcoming elections in New York, New Jersey and in the off year. He knows he needs some wins under his belt, and when he gets those, conservatives will begin coming back to the fold and be happy about it. This Republican Chairman will have to be about message and a call to action.  He’s got one election cycle to prove himself, and I think he’s up to it.

So will Michael Steele pass muster with conservatives — fiscal conservatives and social conservatives?  Yes, he will, and I think the hard-fought battle to become RNC Chair has honed his skills.  He’s political, he wants to win and is conservative at his core. If he implements as well as he’s adapted in his campaign to be RNC Chair, then he’ll move conservative values forward through Republican wins.  

But one warning from a Christian Conservative who believes he’s conservative enough to move the party forward: Don’t recruit wishy-washy conservatives.  A party is only as good as the candidates and the actions they take once elected, and the electorate is impatient.  You have a 4-year term, but like President Obama, your midterm exam is in 2010 and will determine what the future holds for you and the Republican Party. But for now, Mike, keep leaning right.