Check ‘no’ to a GOP litmus test

We’re not in the habit of telling Republicans -- or Democrats -- how to run their campaigns. But we’re making an exception today to praise Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele’s opposition to a 10-point litmus test for his party’s candidates. Such a test would not just be bad for the party; it would undermine good governance.

Steele has criticized the resolution conservatives want to bring before the Republican National Committee’s meeting in Honolulu that would deny party endorsement and financial aid to any candidate who didn’t affirm at least eight of 10 principles. A sort of conservative greatest hits, they range from support for lower taxes and the Defense of Marriage Act to opposition to cap-and-trade legislation and amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Most Republican candidates probably would score at least 80%, but in some races for Congress or the governor’s mansion, a “gentleman’s C” might be better for the party’s chances of winning. Steele recognizes that reality, and the fact that prospective candidates might not appreciate being put to the test.

“Let me ask you,” Steele said in an interview with the New York Times. “Would you join an organization that stood at the doorstep with a clipboard and checked off to make sure you fit every criteria they had?”


It would be in the party’s interest to call off this political Inquisition. As Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.) demonstrated, Republicans sometimes must appeal to independents and Democrats to be elected. If Brown had agreed to be subjected to a loyalty test, his Democratic opponent would have found it easier to portray him as a right-winger.

The reason we hope Steele’s advice is heeded is because a more diverse Republican Party -- like a more diverse Democratic Party -- promotes pragmatism and consensus in governing at the state and federal levels. Both the Democratic Party and the country benefited when party leaders recruited candidates in 2006 who didn’t pass a liberal litmus test. Whatever his flaws, Steele recognizes that what’s good for the donkey is also good for the elephant.