Steele Opposes GOP Litmus Test — Priebus Backs It

In a fun moment at the RNC chairmanship debate, incumbent Chairman Michael Steele and Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus took very different positions on whether the party should have issue litmus tests for candidates — and both got some good applause for their position.

The candidates were asked a question about what sort of non-conservative issue position a candidate could have which would cause them to not be welcomed as a Republican. Ann Wagner and Maria Cino both gave more general answers about how candidates should uphold all the party’s core beliefs, while Saul Anuzis was a bit more open to differences — though he said that a prospective GOP candidate should be with the party 80 percent of the time or more.

[TPM SLIDESHOW: Michael Steele’s Summer Vacation: Elect Republicans, Then Reelect Me!]

Then Steele chimed in, coming out strongly against drawing such a hard line.“I would agree with all of that, but I would also say having done the job for two years and recognizing that this country is much bigger than we think it is sometimes, and it runs a lot deeper with its passions than we like to believe on a host of issues” said Steele, “I see the job of the chairman as the standard-bearer is to, one, uphold that platform, yes, but to recognize that everyone who comes into this party will have some problem with this platform. (Points to a packet of paper in one of his hands, presumably the platform.)

“So your responsibility and your opportunity is to work with them and help them if they want to be active, if they want to assume leadership, then they’ll have to come to understand the importance of these principles and what they mean. But we cannot be a party that sits back with a litmus test and excludes, and the national chairman cannot go into a state, ‘You’re (looks to his right) less Republican than you are (looks to his left), therefore I will not talk with you and only talk with you. That is not the Republican Party that I joined at 17 years old. (Applause) And it will not be the Republican I lead over the next two years. Trust me.”

Finally, it was Priebus’s turn.

“Well, I think that being the standard-bearer for the Republican Party has to take into account that our country’s in great peril,” said Priebus. “As I said before we’re about to walk off a fiscal cliff. And I think that the RNC chairman ought to take a chance and promote that conservative platform every time that he or she has an opportunity to do it.

“Because right now, just without anything Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi did this past two years, normally it costs about 19 cents on every dollar made in America to run the federal government. Without anything that they’d done, it will cost, by the time my son who is five years old is my age, it will cost 40 cents for every dollar made in America, to run this country.

“And if we don’t have a chairman who understand that being a Republican means something, that if you’re pro-abortion, pro-stimulus, pro-G.M. bailout, pro-AIG, well you know guess what, you might not be a Republican.”

And again, Priebus got a round of applause for that line.

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