In an unprecedented move, the Republican National Committee on Friday unanimously called on its chairman, Michael S. Steele, to “carefully screen” candidates for their adherence to conservative values before granting them RNC financial help.
The resolution specifically calls on the national chairman to take into account the voting records and statements of all GOP candidates for evidence that they support the “core principles and positions” of the party’s national platform, widely regarded as a highly conservative document.
“The brilliant part of the resolution is that it is tied to the party platform … that has been thought out, debated and passed unanimously at our national convention,” North Dakota GOP Chairman Gary Emineth told The Washington Times after he and his fellow RNC members passed the resolution.
There has been intense infighting for more than a month over the wording and the desirability of the resolution, even though it has no legally binding effect on Mr. Steele or on the chairmen of the GOP House and Senate campaign committees. But it does stipulate that candidates who fail the screening should not receive money and other campaign support from the RNC or its sister committees.
The resolution also calls on Mr. Steele and leaders of the House and Senate GOP campaign committees to deny financial and other support support to “candidates who clearly do not support the core principles and positions” of the national platform as adopted at the 2008 Republican National Convention.
The resolution was written and rewritten in contentious and sometime loudly acrimonious closed-door meetings of members representing various factions on the committee, including the 24-member Republican National Conservative Caucus headed by Indiana RNC member Jim Bopp Jr. and another faction representing Mr. Steele.
Jubilant conservatives on the 168-member RNC — the party’s national governing body — called passage of the resolution a “historic” step designed to make it difficult for Mr. Steele and future party leaders to help finance the campaigns of liberal Republicans.
“The importance of resolution’s passage now is that it shows we have taken steps not only to welcome tea-party activists and other independent, small-government champions but also to solve problems within the GOP that caused many of them to abandon the Republican Party,” said Morton Blackwell, a veteran RNC member from Virginia.
Opponents of the resolution disputed its importance and uniqueness. “This is not historic, nor is it binding,” said Mississippi RNC member Henry Barbour, the nephew of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former RNC chairman who is revered by most Republicans.
“I also think it is important to note that this resolution was not amended. This resolution urges the GOP to be careful not to fund anymore [Dee Dee Scozzafavas], but that was an exception,” said Mr. Barbour. “The resolution still gives the funding discretion to the RNC Chairman and state party leaders where it belongs.”
Mr. Steele is the former Maryland lieutenant governor who touts himself as staunchly profile and also helped found the liberal, pro-choice Republican Leadership Council before deciding to run for RNC chairman. Given to major gaffes and distracting controversy, he has not been a favorite of some conservatives on the national committee ever since his sixth-ballot election a year ago.
The resolution’s passage represents the first time in memory that a philosophically conservative faction has not been crushed by the national party leadership. “Heretofore there hasn’t been any instruction to the national chairmen as to how to allocate their committees’ resources that’s the big difference,” said Mr. Blackwell.
Crafted by Texas RNC member Bill Crocker, the resolution combines aspects of Illinois RNC member Jim Bopp’s two earlier proposed resolutions.
One tagged as the Reagan resolution would have required that a candidate agree with at least 80 percent of the GOP’s “core principles and policies” as laid out in the party’s national platform. Many members regarded a fixed percentage as both unseemly and impractical.
The second proposed Bopp resolution would have imposed “accountability” on candidates who receives RNC help and required them to return to the RNC any financial help if the candidate bows out of the race and endorses a Democrat.
With Republicans seemingly on a roll after election victories in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia and prospects of major seat pickups in the House and Senate come November, a motion that New Jersey RNC member David A. Norcross once contemplated introducing was dropped altogether.
The abandoned motion would have directed Mr. Steele to stop touring the country to promote his book, redirected all proceeds from book sales to the RNC, and it would have banned speech-making for personal financial gain.
Most RNC members thought the motion would have embarrassed Mr. Steele and given the Democrats ammunition against the Republicans in this fall’s elections.
State party officials attending the RNC annual winter meeting in Honolulu said the resolution would make it unlikely a Republican chairman would support liberals such as Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who bolted from the GOP last year to become a Democrat, and Dee Dee Scozzafava, the New York state lawmaker who won RNC financial support for a U.S. House seat.
Opposed by “tea party” activists and other independents, as well as by conservative Republicans, Mrs. Scozzafava quit last November’s contentious race for New York’s 23rd congressional district seat and endorsed her Democratic former opponent.