‘CENTRIST’ IS SUBJECTIVE, BUT C’MON…. Part of the problem with words like “moderate” and “centrist” is that they’re inherently subjective. If you’re Jim DeMint, Michele Bachmann and James Inhofe are mainstream, and Dianne Feinstein is a liberal.

What’s more, the “middle” moves all the time. As Harold Meyerson recently explained, the middle of the House GOP caucus was 73% more conservative in 2003 than 30 years ago.

With that in mind, I’m not unsympathetic towards political reporters who are unsure when to use which labels. That said, the Politico described Rep. Brian Bilbray of California yesterday as “a centrist Republican.” Dave Weigel noted what a mistake this is.

Bilbray was a member of the class of 1994 who lost his old House seat in 2000, then stayed in Washington as a lobbyist for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates “a temporary moratorium on all immigration except spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and a limited number of refugees.” Bilbray returned to Congress in a 2006 special election, which he won in part by accusing his Democratic opponent of soliciting votes from illegal aliens. Since then, Bilbray has maintained a 92% rating from the American Conservative Union, which makes him an “ACU Conservative” in their ranking system. He voted against increasing the minimum wage, voted to repeal the Washington, D.C. gun ban, voted against a ban on anti-gay job discrimination, and voted against expanding SCHIP. When Tom Tancredo quit his leadership of the Immigration Reform Caucus in 2007, Bilbray replaced him.

Relying on Vote View, we see that Bilbray was the 79th most conservative member of the House of Representatives in the last Congress. As Jamison Foser noted, “That means Bilbray’s voting record was more conservative than more than 80 percent of all members of Congress.” Bilbray was slightly more conservative still in the Congress before that.

I’m certainly willing to entertain the idea that moderate Republicans still exist, in small and dwindling numbers, on the Hill. But if Bilbray makes the cut, the word has no meaning.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.