From NBC's Mark Murray
In an interview yesterday on FOX, new RNC chair Michael Steele suggested that the three Republicans who voted for the stimulus -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania -- would face primary challenges, and he left open the possibility that the three might not receive funds from the RNC. (Hat tips: the Washington Post's Greg Sargent and Politico's Ben Smith.)
"Will you, as RNC head, recommend no RNC funds being provided to help them?" Steele was asked.
"Oh, yes, I'm always open to everything, baby, absolutely," Steele said.
Steele's comments signaled a stark departure from past practice (the National Republican Senatorial Committee provided significant help to Specter in his '04 primary contest against Pat Toomey) and seemed to violate Ronald Reagan's famous 11th Commandment (never speak ill of another Republican).
One former RNC official said that he couldn't imagine past party chairs undercutting a sitting senator, especially one who's up for re-election in 2010 like Specter (and in a state that Obama carried by 10 percentage points, 54%-44%!).
"I just don't think we're at a point where the party can threaten senators and ask them to adhere to some type of monolithic ideology," the official said. "In fact, the party's almost always been at its strongest when it was broad and had its big tent out. I get what Steele is trying to do in terms of channeling the anger and frustration at the stimulus bill, but there's probably a more artful way of doing it."
Originally, when First Read reached out to the RNC for comment, we were told that Steele's words spoke for themselves.
But the RNC later reversed course. "The RNC has no intention of getting involved in primaries," a party official told First Read. "We work with state parties to elect Republicans and will continue to do that."