One of the fastest rising Republicans in the House of Representatives said on Thursday that RNC Chair Michael Steele was "pro-choice" -- and that he was okay with that.
"We have plenty of pro-choice Republicans in the party," said Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). "There are pro-choice Republicans in Congress. There are pro-choice Republicans that is I represent in Wisconsin. We are a big tent party. I'm pro-life. Michael Steele is pro-choice. And you know what? We both fit within the tent of the Republican Party."
The remark, made during a brief interview on MSNBC, came after Steele found himself in a bit of hot water after telling GQ Magazine that he supported an individual's right to choose an abortion, but preferred that abortion policy be decided by states.
There are a few things remarkable about Ryan's declaration. For starters, Steele backtracked from his remarks on Thursday morning, insisting that he was firmly pro-life. Moreover, while Ryan insisted that the GOP does not "have 16-point litmus test," a large faction of the party would adamantly define it as strictly anti-abortion. Such a stance, after all, is in their platform.
Ryan seems to be trying to pick up artfully where Steele fumbled. Moderate Republicans insist that if the party is to grow, it needs to move away from its rigidity on abortion. Steele seemed to be trying to get at this point, though he talked himself into knots in the process.
How bad a job did the RNC Chair do? In addition to angering a whole host of social and religious conservatives, he managed to tick off pro-choice (albeit anti-Roe v. Wade) GOPers as well. Writing on her personal blog, Liz Mair, formerly the online communications director for the RNC, said that Steele -- in both his GQ performance and past abortion statements -- had created a "big-league mess" and was close to coming off like a buffoon.
A party chief holding these views is something that would make me personally quite happy. But this particular episode is looking like a big-league mess... and one which I daresay Mike Duncan would never have gotten within a mile of. I don't say this to criticize Steele or tear him down (I like him a great deal personally, and still think he has attributes that are valuable as a party chairman). But I do hope he'll recognize that he's ventured into this particular snakepit of an area without being especially clear one too many times. Steele simply can't do this anymore if he wants to avoid looking like a buffoon who is putting the party in a position where its ability to raise money could be compromised, and where we can't plausibly advance the notion of being a big tent because conservatives and moderates think our party chairman is just saying whatever he thinks he needs to say to keep everyone happy, while doing it rather incoherently and making everyone doubt their position.