From NBC's Mark Murray
In an interview today with ABC, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele appeared to fire off this warning shot to Republican moderates who supported the economic stimulus (like Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins) or who might support health-care reform (like Snowe):
"We'll come after you."
Crist, of course, is competing in a Senate primary against the conservative Marco Rubio.
Here's the passage:
Asked if he'd be comfortable with Republican candidates in 2010 who supported President Obama's stimulus package, or his push to overhaul health care, Steele said: "Well I'm gonna tell you honestly, that's where the line gets a little bit tricky. And you saw in the House and in the Senate that there are ramifications, because that goes against a core principle. And trust me, you're assuming that people want to have bloated debt, government expenditures and growth into their lives -- they don't. That's a talking point out of the DNC."
"People aren't buying that. So candidates who live in moderate to slightly liberal districts have got to walk a little bit carefully here, because you do not want to put yourself in a position where you're crossing that line on conservative principles, fiscal principles, because we'll come after you."
An RNC spokesman tells First Read that Steele was referring only to House members, and not a single House Republican voted for the stimulus, and not a single one is expected to back health reform. "This is not about moderates," the spokeswoman said. "It is about liberals who support the president's radical, big-government agenda."
Earlier this year, Steele suggested in a FOX interview that the three Senate Republicans who voted for the stimulus -- Snowe, Collins, and Arlen Specter (who later switched parties) -- might face primary challenges and might not receive funds from the RNC.
*** UPDATE *** DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan emails First Read: "With today's threat to 'come after' moderate Republicans or those that would work for bipartisan solutions, it's clear the Michael Steele and the Republican party are ready to hand over the keys of the GOP to Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck and the rest of the extremist tea party crowd. And in establishing a policy of purging moderates, the Republicans have committed themselves to being an extreme ideological party that will only turn-off independent voters and further marginalize an already isolated party going into 2010 and beyond."