Can Michael Steele Overcome the Dreaded M-Word?

You knew the contest to become chairman of the Republican National Committee was getting ugly when they started throwing around nasty slurs like "moderate."

Michael Steele got tagged with the dreaded M-word as part of a vicious guilt-by-association smear. He sustained more damage from his acquaintance with RINOs like Christie Todd Whitman than Barack Obama suffered for hanging out with unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers.

After Steele survived a bruising six-ballot battle Friday for the GOP chairmanship, Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press made sure to cast the election in ideological terms, dubbing the former Maryland lieutenant governor "the most moderate candidate in the field."

In truth, Steele is a committed pro-life Catholic who proudly calls himself a "Reagan Republican," and ideological differences had relatively little impact on the RNC's choice.

Pundits chattering about what Steele's election means for the future direction of the GOP overlook a fundamental fact. The committee members and state party chairmen who make up the 168-vote national committee are elected to their posts with the kind of singularity of purpose that legendary Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis once summarized in three words: "Just win, baby."

Nearly 30 years after the Reagan Revolution, there were very few if any liberal "Rockefeller Republicans" voting in Friday's election, and you wouldn't have needed two hands to count the self-professed moderates. This overwhelming conservative majority at the RNC was choosing between five conservative candidates, all of whom pledged fealty to the party's conservative principles and platform. They weren't looking for an ideological leader so much as they were looking for someone who could do two things: communicate effectively and organize victory.

No one doubts Steele's ability as a communicator. He has become an increasingly popular TV "face" for the GOP since his October 2006 appearance on Meet the Press to debate Senate rival Democrat Ben Cardin. The Democrat ultimately won that election -- Maryland reverting to its natural Democratic tendency in a very bad year for Republicans -- but Steele's solid debate performance and his cheerful, optimistic demeanor won him fans nationwide. It was those communication skills that led one California RNC member to dub him a "superstar" in endorsing Steele's chairmanship bid in November.