Former Sen. John Danforth wants the Republican Party to get back to its "good, old" traditions: lower taxes and less government.
Speaking at a Republican Leadership Council on Thursday night, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said the political arm of religion has divided the country and led the party away from its core principles.
In 1976, Danforth, an ordained Episcopal minister, was elected to the U.S. Senate for Missouri. In 2001, he was named special peace envoy to Sudan and, in 2004, became U.S. ambassador to the United Nations before resigning five months later.
After witnessing the Republican-controlled federal government intervene in Terri Schiavo's death, Danforth said, he saw the need for his party to get away from defining itself by social issues.
"After the federal government was getting into (Schiavo's case), I thought, 'This was not the party I signed-on for,'" Danforth said.
Danforth said he wanted to put less emphasis on "wedge issues," such as religion and stem cell research, and create a home for Republicans who believe in traditional conservative ideas.
"During the time I was in office, I don't think it was a mystery what my religion was, just look at my background. I'm ordained," Danforth said. "I've never believed anyone voted for me because of that, and I've never believed I should put that into my political agenda."
With a troubled economy and low presidential approval ratings, Danforth said the Republican party needs to pull the country together, not divide it on religious lines. Answering a question from the audience, Danforth advised Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, to focus on the issues that separate him from the Democrats.
"It's not minor stuff. It's about taxes, trade, foreign policy, the important things that affect people," Danforth said.
The Republican Leadership Council is a political action committee that seeks to support candidates who are fiscally responsible but socially tolerant, according to the mission statement on its Web site. They endorse candidates who favor low taxes and less government involvement, according to the Web site, but allow for various opinions on social issues such as stem cell research and abortion.
The council endorsed 24th District state Representative Ed Robb and 19th District state Senate candidate Kurt Schaefer at the fundraiser.
"Events like this articulate what many of us believe in the Republican Party: Get back to the basics, keep lower taxes, less government involvement," Robb said.