06/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Steele: Specter Voted Himself Out GOP

RNC Chairman Michael Steele insisted on Sunday that newly-minted Democrat Arlen Specter was an opportunist who had "voted himself out of the [Republican] party," before demanding to know what "sweetheart deal" had been given to the Senator in order to entice his political switch.

Appearing on Meet the Press, Steele sought to recast the GOP as a big tent, with membership open to Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and even his partisan sparring partner, DNC Chair Tim Kaine. But when it came to discussing Specter, he argued that the party wasn't big enough to contain the Senator's policy record.

"First off, Arlen Specter voted himself out of the party," said Steele. "He pushed himself away. In 1966, when he couldn't get himself elected as a Democrat, he became a Republican. And in 2009, when he couldn't get reelected as a Republican he became a Democrat. So that takes care of that."

Steele's rebuke of Specter was taken up during the panel session, when The Atlantic's Ron Brownstein pointed out that the Senator's voting record was decidedly within the GOP mainstream.

"Arlen Specter votes with Republicans two-thirds of the time," said Brownstein. "If that is voting himself out of the party, you can see the cycle that [Republicans] are in, which is kind of a cycle of contraction and compression."

Steele spent much of the remainder of his MTP appearance doing his best to present the party as inclusive to different viewpoints. When pressed whether he was open to cutting off funds for Republican candidates who supported the stimulus package -- a position he expressed openness to in the past -- Steele replied that he "would follow the lead of the state party leadership in making their determinations with respect to the primaries."

Later, he was pressed about a proposal within the RNC to re-brand the Democratic Party the "Democrat Socialist Party." Steele maligned the move as petty.

"If they do that, they do that," he said. "My job as chairman is to have a conversation with the American people without the name calling and without the noise making... My responsibility as the chosen leader of the party is that we do so in a way that the American people see we are moving things forward."

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