Yesterday, Jim Messina, the campaign manager for Obama/Biden 2012, sent an email to the Obama for America list, broaching a provocative subject. Referencing Republican opposition to job creation, Messina said the GOP strategy “is to suffocate the economy” on purpose for political gain.

It was, as best as I can tell, the first time anyone associated with the president has broached the sabotage question. And a few hours later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) raised the same point, also for the first time.

As the Senate moved toward a vote Tuesday, Mr. Reid made an accusation heard with increasing frequency from Democrats: Republicans were opposing the president’s jobs bill because, for political reasons, they wanted the economy to remain in bad shape.

“Republicans think that if the economy improves, it might help President Obama,” Mr. Reid said. “So they root for the economy to fail and oppose every effort to improve it.”

The rhetoric here is slightly indirect, but the message is still clear: Republicans want the economy to suffer and are taking deliberate steps to ensure that it does, hoping that voters will reward them for it.

As we discussed in some detail yesterday, this is no longer a fringe question. Just over the last several months, the sabotage concerns have been raised by two Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, the president’s campaign manager, and a wide variety of prominent pundits, including a Pulitzer Prize winner and a Nobel laureate.

And given recent events, this shouldn’t be surprising. We’ve seen the Republican debt-ceiling scandal, the GOP-driven downgrade, the Republican rejection of any efforts to boost the economy, the GOP pleading with the Federal Reserve not to even try to improve conditions, repeated Republican threats of government shutdowns, GOP lawmakers announcing their opposition to their own economic ideas, and Republicans killing jobs bills, large and small.

Under the circumstances, it’s hardly shocking that folks might start to wonder out loud, “Hmm, maybe Republicans are trying to hurt the economy on purpose?”

Also note, despite the “increasing frequency” with which this question comes up, Republicans want no part of it. One might think they’d be expressing outrage and demanding apologies, but they’re actually doing the opposite — they’re saying nothing. The reason, of course, is that the debate itself is damaging to the GOP, because it suggests the sabotage question is worthy of discussion. Once voters consider the possibility that Republicans are deliberately making the economy worse, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle. The debate itself, even if the right believes it’s without merit, is a nightmare.

Whether the GOP wants to talk about it or not, however, this seems like an argument worth having. Nearly a year ago, Michael Gerson thought I was an “idiot” for even broaching the subject. With so many others in high-profile positions asking the same question, maybe Republicans can explain why we’re all idiots?

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

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.