This morning on CBS’s Early Show, RNC Chairman Michael Steele strongly endorsed Rush Limbaugh’s reaction to Sen. Arlen Specter’s (PA) decision to leave the Republican party. Limbaugh had responded to Specter’s departure by calling him “dead weight” and claiming that it said “nothing about the state of the GOP.” Steele said that he agreed with Limbaugh. Asked why he wasn’t phased by Specter’s departure, Steele cited Specter’s “debilitating” vote in favor of President Obama’s economic recovery package. “It went against core principles. … I’m not weeping here. I’m sorry,” Steele remarked.
Moments later, however, Steele insisted that the GOP still remained a hospitable place for moderate conservatives:
SMITH: Is there room for moderates?
STEELE: Absolutely. There’s room for everybody who wants to be a part of a party that believes, first and foremost, in the value of the individual to make decisions that empower him or herself. … This notion that somehow, you know, because we’re conservatives, our doors are closed and we only take certain types of people is just crazy. This is not — never been the nature of this party.
In reality, Steele’s Republican party is increasingly inhospitable to its moderate members. Asked on NPR’s All Things Considered if other moderate Republicans with similar voting records – including former Sens. Chuck Hagel (NE), Gordon Smith (OR), and John Warner (VA), would be “left of [the] Republican Party today” – Steele suggested that was the case. “They are to the left on some very critical issues that are fundamental to our- some of our core beliefs,” Steele said.
Indeed, when Congress passed the Recovery Act with the support of Specter and Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Steele threatened to retaliate against them the next time they were up for reelection. Snowe wrote yesterday in the New York Times that in response to such threats from Steele and litmus tests imposed on them by the right wing, moderate Republicans often “get the distinct feeling that you’re no longer welcome in the tribe.”