Steele joins call to wrestle control of the Republican Party from “extremists”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

More than 150 current and former Republican leaders — ex-governors, members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries and others — have launched a crusade to retake control of a party that they say is intent on steering the GOP and the nation to a dark place.

Several prominent former Republican officeholders from Maryland, including ex-Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, have embraced the “Call for American Renewal.”Several prominent former Republican officeholders from Maryland, including ex-Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, have embraced the “Call for American Renewal.”

The effort, which follows closely on the ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from House leadership, was launched on Thursday with a Washington Post op-ed penned by Steele and four others.

“With Cheney’s dismissal from House leadership, the battle for the soul of the Republican Party — and our country — is not over,” the group wrote. “It is just beginning, which is why we are forming a ‘resistance of the rational’ against the radicals.”

In addition to Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman who endorsed Joe Biden in 2020, the alliance includes two former Republican members of Congress from Maryland, Wayne Gilchrest and Connie A. Morella.

In a “preamble” on the Call for American Renewal’s website, the group says the Republican Party must reject “forces of conspiracy, division, and despotism.”

“We cannot stay quiet in the face of rising political extremism,” they write. “We must stand up and defend our republic.”

A “nationwide town hall on renewing America” will be held in June, according to the group’s website. “Details to follow.”

Former President Trump is not mentioned in the group’s manifesto or the Washington Post op-ed, but the alliance says it will not hesitate to seek “the creation of an alternative: a political movement dedicated to our founding principles and divorced from the GOP’s obsessive cult of personality around a deeply flawed (and twice-impeached) man, whose favorability ratings are reportedly tanking in key swing districts around the country.”

Steele’s involvement in the alliance comes as he weighs a run for governor in 2022. His criticism of Trump, whose supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, has won him praise from Democrats, moderates and independents, but it could prove to be a liability in a GOP primary.

Trump remains popular with the GOP base, according to numerous polls.

Asked if his involvement in the “Call for American Renewal” would impact his deliberations about the 2022 contest to succeed Maryland’s term-limited governor, Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), Steele would only say, “we’ll see.”

“This is a call for renewal, not just of one party but a renewal of America — a renewal of spirit; a renewal of democracy,” he wrote in a text message on Thursday.

“This alliance of principled conservatives are sending notice that we will no longer tolerate a party perverted by fear, lies and self-interest. The purging and censoring of leaders who speak truth to power and the promotion of an ongoing war against the truth have relegated our principles and our policies to nothing more than talking points. This movement towards renewal is the first of many steps to heal a once proud Republican Party.”

Hogan, a prominent Trump critic who is considering a White House bid in 2024, was not asked to be a “founding signatory” of the alliance, a spokesman said. A spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R), another prominent GOP leader who has chastised the former president, said Rutherford was not asked to sign either.

The group does include the former head of the National Security Agency, Michael Hayden, former Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, and Trump antagonists George Conway and Anthony Scaramucci.

While talk of a GOP “civil war” is rampant, there is widespread skepticism about efforts to break Trump’s grip on the party.

“Donald Trump Jr. was right, in his speech to the crowd just before the Capitol insurrection: this is Trump’s Republican Party, and it’s perfectly united in that conviction,” writes commentator Jeff Greenfield in Politico.

“To pretend otherwise — and to pretend that there’s an argument about what it stands for, or some kind of damaging fracture still ahead — is an act of delusion.”

Gilchrest, a moderate who represented the Eastern Shore until 2008, when he was toppled in a primary by then-state Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R), said that former congresswoman Claudine Schneider (R-R.I.) urged him to join the alliance.

An environmental educator who became a Democrat last year, Gilchrest said it has been “painful” to watch his former party fall into the grip of people “who are completely dismissive of the truth.”

“I’m glad people like Claudine and Liz Cheney are speaking out about the political process and how the Republicans have savaged it,” he added.

Gilchrest is hoping that Steele pulls the trigger on a run for governor.

“I always liked Michael Steele. He just found his sea-legs and hasn’t looked back. I like him.”

bruce@marylandmatters.org

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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