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Michael Steele (AP/Photo by Eugene Tanner)

No litmus test

Politics | Republican Party leaders convene in Hawaii and spurn efforts to keep candidates conservative purists

WASHINGTON-From a huge January victory in frosty Boston, Republican Party leaders jetted to the tropical climes of Honolulu to debate strategies for upcoming campaigns.

The Republican National Committee's winter meeting, which began Wednesday, revealed that most state chairs oppose a conservative litmus test for candidates-perhaps a result of the recent success of Republican moderates like Scott Brown in Massachusetts and Chris Christie in New Jersey. One so-called "purity resolution," however, will be formally discussed at the 168-member assembly on Friday.

The resolution would deny party money to candidates who didn't agree with at least eight of 10 conservative principles. RNC Chairman Michael Steele opposes the resolution because he thinks state-level officials should have freedom to pick candidates.

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"Litmus tests don't work," he told reporters Wednesday. "They don't build parties; they don't build relationships; they can be divisive. Ronald Reagan would be ashamed if the party moved in that direction."

The 10 principles include basic conservative staples like smaller government and lower taxes as well as gun rights. The manifesto opposes government-run healthcare, amnesty for illegal immigrants, the stimulus, the cap-and-trade bill, and the card check bill. On social issues, it opposes government funding for abortion and supports the Defense of Marriage Act.

Despite a streak of election victories in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, the party has internal battles to resolve. Steele invites controversy almost every time he speaks-saying recently that Republicans can't win the House majority back this year, and then telling his Republican critics, "If you don't want me on the job, fire me. But until then, shut up." Some party officials have grumbled about his promotional efforts for his new book, Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda. More broadly, despite opposition to the "purity resolution," debates continue about which issues are central to the Republican platform.

When Steele was first elected chairman almost a year ago, he said he wanted to build a "big tent" party. And even though he is a devout Catholic, he said he wanted to reach out to pro-abortion candidates.

"It's not about me," Steele told the Associated Press. "It should never be about me as chairman. It should be about the party . . . and what the party is doing on behalf of our elected officials and our activists."

The RNC raised $80 million last year, but has only $8 million left after a series of elections. Brown, individually, raised a stunning $13 million in the last 10 days of his campaign, mostly through the internet-signaling perhaps that GOP candidates have caught up with Democrats in using the web successfully for campaigns. Republicans won 26 of 37 special elections last year.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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