GOP Chairwoman: ‘I’m Proud That Our Party Elected’ Michael Steele

ACU spokesman at CPAC: Steele only elected to lead RNC because he was African American

GOP Chairwoman McDaniel and Kay Coles James. | Photo provided by the Republican National Committee

Ronna Romney McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, used the sixth-annual "Black Republican Trailblazer Awards Luncheon" on Monday to push back against disparaging comments made by a spokesman of the American Conservative Union in regards to former RNC chair Michael Steele.

McDaniel was in Washington, D.C., to bestow the TrailBlazer award upon Dr. Leonard Haynes, a senior adviser to the Education Department, and Kay Coles James, the president of the Heritage Foundation. The ceremony came on the heels of the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual meeting of conservative activists and donors in Oxon Hill, Maryland. This year's conference sparked controversy when Ian Walters, the communications director for the American Conservative Union that hosts CPAC, claimed Steele, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland, was only elected to lead the RNC because he was an African American. The spokesman's comments drew derision from members of the audience and quickly exploded on social media.

Speaking to a crowd of mostly African-American conservatives at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, McDaniel went off-script to address the comments leveled against Steele. The chairwoman announced that although she and Steele might not see eye to eye on everything, she was proud that the Republican Party had elected him as chairman in the past.

"Michael and I may not always agree on policy these days," McDaniel said. "I’m proud that our party elected a black chairman."

McDaniel called Walters's comments "ridiculous," noting that using such logic would imply she was only elected RNC chair because of her gender. The chairwoman also declared that such thinking had no place in the Republican Party.

"For anyone to say we shouldn’t have or that electing him was a mistake just because of the color of his skin has no place in this party," the chairwoman added. "It’s like saying I shouldn’t be the chair because I’m a woman. It’s ridiculous."

McDaniel urged the audience to challenge outdated viewpoints and stereotypes of who or what a Republican should be.

"The only way we change the mindset of individuals who think like that is to fight back against it," McDaniel declared.

The chairwoman also addressed the GOP's commitment to engaging and building relationships with African-American voters.

"We’re going to keep building on that momentum and continue engaging African Americans on the issues that matter most to their communities and their families," McDaniel said. "We encourage African-American candidates to run for office. We value our party’s diversity, and we’ll be standing with you."

Coles James also addressed the Steele controversy, declaring it shouldn't be left "in doubt" why she was chosen to lead the Heritage Foundation.

Steele, who was the first African American elected to lead the RNC, criticized Walters's comments "as stupid" and inconsiderate, especially considering his long tenure as a Republican.

Walters took to Twitter on Saturday to state that he had apologized to Steele for his comments and said they were not reflective of his personal feelings.

Walters also attempted to elaborate on his statement about Steele, saying that his words did not reflect his proper intention. Walter also stated that although he continued to be a critic, he respected Steele and believes he performed to the best of his ability at the helm of the RNC.