Michael Steele officially threw his hat in the ring for the RNC chair, a position that has already generated a lot of speculation after the second straight Republican defeat in national elections.  Steele confirmed his decision with Chris Cillizza before discussing it on Hannity & Colmes last night. He said the past election was the culmination of Republican self-doubt:

“After two devastating election cycles, the party has reached a crossroads,” said Steele comparing the Republican party to someone who has “hunkered down” in a corner with no idea what to do next. “I think I may have some keys to open the door, some juice to turn on the lights,” Steele explained.

Steele is the second candidate to formally enter the race; Michigan Republican Party Chair Saul Anuzis launched his own bid with a You Tube video and a new website earlier this week.

A number of other candidates are mulling the race including: current RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chip Saltsman, former Iowa Rep. Jim Nussle, South Carolina Party Chair Katon Dawson and Florida Republican Party Chair Jim Greer.

Alan Colmes wondered where Steele had been over the past few years, claiming that Steele hadn’t spoken out against Republican failures until just now. I can attest to Steele’s efforts to raise grassroots passion about returning the GOP to its small-government conservatism, the kind that lifted the party to power in 1994. He regularly appears on Fox and has for the past few years as a commentator for conservative viewpoints. I don’t know where Colmes has been, but Steele’s been engaged on the national stage for some time, and has been warning about the direction of the Republican Party over that period.

Some have questioned Steele’s commitment to pro-life issues.  Steele, a Catholic, rejected a litmus test on abortion for judges during his 2006 run for the Senate against Ben Cardin:

“I have no litmus test in that regard because my constitutional obligation is to represent the people of the state,” said Steele, who is Catholic.

“In that instance, you put on the bench the best jurist because our country is more than one issue, even though it’s a profound issue,” he said during a meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters. “I have never subscribed to a benchmark, litmus test mentality. And I never would. I never will.”

He also equivocated on Roe v Wade in a debate that same year, personally opposing abortion but supporting stare decisis on Roe. Steele opposed federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, supporting Bush’s executive order on the point.  He declared that pro-life was the mainstream position in America, but Steele sounded uncomfortable with pressing for an outright ban on abortions.

It would be interesting to see where Steele sees himself now on that position, but the above doesn’t look like a dealbreaker for social conservatives.  We will need a party leader who can get to the core principles that unite the conservative movement, a First Principles approach that starts with the basics of national security, smaller government, fiscal responsibility, and personal liberty.  Steele at the least qualifies on those points, and perhaps we will see more potential leaders step forward to compete on those same qualities.

Update: The National Right to Life Committee endorsed Steele in the 2006 race.  Apparently, they weren’t too concerned about the equivocations.