ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: RNC Chairman Michael Steele has been endorsing a “big tent” approach to recruiting candidates for 2010, emphasizing the need to find candidates who fit the needs of individual districts.
But on ABCNews.com’s “Top Line” today, Steele made clear there are limits to how far candidates can push the party’s limits.
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,” Steele continued.
“You’re gonna find yourself in a very tough hole if you’re arguing for the president’s stimulus plan or Nancy Pelosi’s health plan. There’s no justification for growing the size of government the way this administration and this Congress wants to do it.”
Steele didn’t mention any candidates by name. But the comments could be interpreted as a warning shot aimed at Republicans who have voiced support for the stimulus -- like Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., who’s running for governor next year in a competitive primary -- or who, like Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, are supporting health care reform efforts.
Crist told CNN earlier this week that he never endorsed the stimulus package, and that he voiced support for it only because he was simply trying to get the best deal for Florida, given that the stimulus was headed for passage in Washington. However, given Crist’s sharing a stage with President Obama to trumpet the stimulus package and his publicly stated support for it, it will no doubt continue to dog him in his competitive primary against Marco Rubio no matter how strenuously he attempts to walk it back.
Steele also disputed the contention by White House senior adviser David Axelrod that 2009 wasn’t a referendum on the president’s policies, but that 2010 will be.
“You have the president going into New Jersey four times, and you’re going to then sit back after we kick your butt and say, ‘Well, no, this had nothing to do with the president?’ Well why was he there?” Steele said.
“And you can’t sit back at the same time and say … the only reason we’re losing is because our base isn’t excited so pass this horrendous health care bill. And that will excite them? They’re not excited because they’re fearful that you’re going to pass this horrendous health care bill because this is not the change that they voted for. They’ve missed that point.”
“So don’t get in front of the White House lawn and give me this sort of disingenuous, ‘Oh well, you know, ’09 isn’t about the president, 2010 is going to be about passing our agenda and that way people will be excited again.’ They’re not excited because they’re fearful of what it is you want to pass.”
Watch our full interview with the RNC chairman HERE.
UPDATE: The Democratic National Committee jumped on the interview after it aired, saying that Steele is tying himself to "extremist" elements inside the Republican Party:
"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," DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan said in a statement.
"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."