Former RNC Chairman: Reagan couldn't win today

Story highlights

  • Michael Steele was the Republican National Committee's chairman from 2009 to 2011
  • Steele sees his party grappling with a nominee who uses his national platform to focus on "nonsensical" issues

The Axe Files, featuring David Axelrod, is a podcast distributed by CNN and produced at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. The author works for David Axelrod.

Chicago (CNN)The Republican Party of 2016 has strayed so far from its principles that even Ronald Reagan would be unable to navigate his way through its thorny politics, according to Michael Steele, who was Republican National Committee chairman from 2009 to 2011 and is now a political analyst for MSNBC.

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"Ronald Reagan, if he were a candidate running for any office today, would not win a Republican primary," Steele said to David Axelrod on "The Axe Files" podcast, produced by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN. "Because the things that he would espouse, the policies, the values, the principles that he would lay out there, would be rejected," Steele said, before describing Reagan's position on taxes and immigration that would now be viewed as anathema to many Republicans.
    Instead of speaking to issues that have a real impact on people's lives, Steele sees a Republican Party that's grappling with a nominee who uses his national platform to focus on "nonsensical" issues like President Barack Obama's birth certificate, a matter that Steele bluntly called "bullshit racism."
    Michael Steele as RNC Chairman in 2012
    Whether Donald Trump wins or loses in November, Steele predicts that the tensions within the party will go unresolved. "The Trump supporters will say, 'You didn't support him, that's why we lost.' That's a fight. The corporate class will say, 'God, why did we nominate him? That's why we lost.' (Capitol) Hill and the political class will say the same. The activists will be further dismayed and frustrated."
    But Steele doesn't see this problem as being unique to Republicans. He views Bernie Sanders's candidacy as a manifestation of a similar tension between establishment figures and a progressive faction that wants to pull the party further to the left.
    "The last time I checked, Bernie Sanders was not going away," Steele said. "His millennial voters are pissed. They have transformed the party internally, operationally, through its (policy) platform. That is not Hillary Clinton's platform," Steele said, before predicting, "More fun to come."
    To hear the whole conversation with Steele, which also covered the racism he encountered during his 2002 campaign for Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, his views on what it means to be a leader, and the lessons he applied from Howard Dean and Obama that helped Republicans capture the House in 2010, click on http://podcast.cnn.com. To get "The Axe Files" podcast every week, subscribe at http://itunes.com/theaxefiles.