Steele calls abortion "individual choice"

As if the RNC chair wasn't in enough trouble already, he may have just alienated his party's base.

Published March 12, 2009 12:30AM (EDT)

Seems like Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele just split with the vast majority of his party on a vital issue for the GOP faithful: abortion. Maybe.

Asked, during an interview with GQ, whether "women have the right to choose abortion," Steele responded, "Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice." That, right there, would seem to put him on the pro-choice side of the debate, at the opposite end of the spectrum from where he's placed himself in the past and far from the Republican base. But when interviewer Lisa DePaulo continued that line of questioning, things got a little vague. Here's the exchange that followed Steele's answer:

You do?
Yeah. Absolutely.

Are you saying you don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade?
I think Roe v. Wade -- as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.

Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?
The states should make that choice. That’s what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide.

Not exactly clear there whether he means the states should have the right to choose whether abortion is legal, or whether he thinks women should have the right to choose abortion. Steele's previous statements on the issue don't help to clarify matters, either, as he's been all over the map with his answers.

The RNC chair may also have gotten himself in some trouble with his comments in the GQ interview about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. At one point, he contradicted an earlier promise that, as head of the RNC, he'd support a Republican platform item calling for a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, telling GQ rather unequivocally that he thinks the issue should be left to the states. (To be clear, that's always been his position, but he did promise to support the amendment anyway if elected to head the party, but in this interview he criticized the idea pretty harshly.) Steele also told DePaulo he believes homosexuality is not a choice -- that puts him to the left of even New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who flubbed the same question when he was asked it at the "gay debate" during the Democratic presidential primary.

But perhaps the most disturbing part of the interview came at its start, when DePaulo walked into Steele's office and asked why she didn't hear any hip-hop playing. That led to this conversation:

Who do you listen to?
I actually listen to a cross section, because I like to hear what the medium is saying, what the voice is.

But do you have a favorite?
P. Diddy I enjoy quite a bit.

Do you want to rethink that?
[laughs] I guess I’m sorta old-school that way. Remember, I came of age with the DJ and all this other stuff, so I’m also loving Grandmaster Flash, and that’s not hip-hop, but… Um, you know, I like Chuck D. And I always thought Snoop Dogg was -- he just reminded me of the fellas back home. So I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed him.

I mean, maybe it's just me, but does that sound like someone who really even listens to hip-hop, much less someone with the know-how required to bring the GOP into urban-suburban hip-hop settings? I think not.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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