SNOWE: ‘MY PARTY HAS CHANGED’…. It seems unlikely that Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, Congress’ least-conservative Republican, would leave the GOP altogether. She’s been with the party this long, and unlike Arlen Specter, Snowe has no reason to worry about the security of her seat.

Yesterday, however, she made some comments that are sure to raise eyebrows on the Hill. Snowe sat down with the New York Times‘ John Harwood, who asked a simple but provocative question: why are you a Republican?

Here’s her answer, in its entirety: “Well, you know, it’s — I’ve always been a Republican for the traditional principles that have been associated with the Republican Party since I, you know, became a Republican when I registered to vote. And that is limited, you know, limited government, individual opportunities, fiscal responsibility, and a strong national defense. So I think that those principles have always been a part of the Republican Party heritage, and I believe that I, you know, reflect those views. And I haven’t changed as a Republican, I think more that my party has changed.”

I’m reluctant to read too much into this, and if I had to guess, Snowe will probably, at some point today, reiterate her commitment to her party. Dems have talked with Snowe in the past about taking that short walk across the aisle, and she’s always politely declined.

That said, whenever lawmakers start talking publicly about how they haven’t changed, but their party has changed, it tends to reflect some deep, fundamental misgivings. Snowe has consistently rebuffed Democratic overtures, but that was before the Republican Party became the right-wing, moderates-free party it is today.

And at the risk of over-interpreting her comments, also note that Snowe said “you know” four times in 40 seconds. Was that the result of nervousness?

Let’s also not forget the larger context here. As we talked about yesterday, Snowe is the only Senate Republican willing to negotiate in good faith with Democrats on health care reform — a move that has drawn considerable ire from the Senate Republican caucus.

Snowe didn’t initiate yesterday’s discussion about her party affiliation; Harwood did. But Snowe’s answer sent a not-so-subtle signal about her dissatisfaction with the state of the GOP.

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.