May 11th, 2009
07:26 PM ET
6 months ago

Romney camp hits back at Steele for Mormonism comments

Steele said Romney lost the GOP nomination because the party's base rejected him.
Steele said Romney lost the GOP nomination because the party's base rejected him.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – In an unusual move for the person tasked with being his party's top cheerleader, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is shining a light on the political vulnerabilities of one of the GOP's top figures and a likely frontrunner for the 2012 Republican nomination - former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Now Romney's team is hitting back.

Steele, guest-hosting on Bill Bennett's radio show Friday, cast doubt on Romney's conservative bona fides and blamed the Republican base for rejecting Romney last year because "it had issues with Mormonism" and was unsure of Romney's commitment to opposing to abortion rights. Those comments aren't sitting too well with Romney's political team.

"Sometimes when you shoot from the hip, you miss the target," said Romney spokesman Eric Ferhnstrom. "This is one of those times."

A Romney aide noted that the former Massachusetts governor won the Conservative Political Action Conference's annual straw poll the past three years, won 11 presidential primaries and caucuses, and earned 4.2 million votes by the time he left the race in February of last year.

The RNC chairman made the comments when responding to a caller who claimed that Romney, if he was the nominee, would have been a stronger candidate against Obama than John McCain. The caller argued that Romney never got a chance to be the nominee because "liberals" and the media pushed hard for McCain to win the Republican nomination.

But Steele disagreed.

"Remember, it was the base that rejected Mitt because of his switch on pro-life, from pro-choice to pro-life," Steele told the caller. "It was the base that rejected Mitt because it had issues with Mormonism. It was the base that rejected Mitt because they thought he was back and forth and waffling on those very economic issues you're talking about."

"So, I mean, I hear what you're saying, but before we even got to a primary vote, the base had made very clear they had issues with Mitt because if they didn't, he would have defeated John McCain in those primaries in which he lost," Steele concluded.

Audio of the exchange was captured by the liberal blog ThinkProgress.


Filed under: Extra • Michael Steele • Mitt Romney
soundoff (127 Responses)
  1. Butch Dillon

    Seems like Steele's shot from the hip actually hit the target squarely.

    May 11, 2009 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  2. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Yes!!! More GOP infighting. To be honest of you, everytime I think of Mitt Romney, I think of HBO's sitcom Big Love.

    May 11, 2009 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  3. LookingForward

    Michael Steele is a moron!!

    May 11, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  4. I can see Canada from my house!

    Unfortunately, Steele is right on the money. The Religious Right was very uncomfortable with Romney's faith ( does anyone remember Huckabee's gentle critique?), and there was a feeling that his background as a venture capitalist wouls not sit well with Blue-collar Republicans/Reagan Democrats. Had Romney won the nomination, his background would have been the kiss of death for the ticket.

    The last thing the Republican need is a man who cost thousands of people their jobs when he was in the private sector (because he wanted to make money for himself).

    May 11, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  5. Lesley Anne

    I agree with Steele. I was surprised when Romney dropped out so early in the primaries. I think he would have been a much better candidate than McCain and will be a good candidate in 2012 except that he doesn't please the Republican base, which has been shown to be a narrow minded minority but still runs the GOP show. Unfortunately, the better Republican spokesmen are being overlooked in favor of the Cheneys, Gingriches, and Limbaughs of the right wing. I don't think it's in insult to Romney, but rather to the party. Specter was right when he said the party left him. I think Romney is in the same boat.

    May 11, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  6. Skyview

    Romeny is an opportunist just like all the other Repubs who are trying to cast themselves as leaders. The whole group is an old bag of tricks that have been rejected and discarded by the public since 2006. Along with Rush Lambaugh, this group of followerless leaders are like fans of the losing team; all they can do is complain about the negative calls.

    May 11, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  7. Sandy

    Forget Mitt it's Mike Huckabee that's who the Republican Party needs. A candiate who is pro flat tax rate, term limits. representatives get no federal pension plan they get a 401 K no federal health insurance they get a HSA If they overspend on budget they lose 2% of thier income. MIKE HUCKABEE he's the MAN!!!!!!!!!

    May 11, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  8. Michael Sperry

    Why does it matter what Steele says; isn't Limbaugh running the show?

    May 11, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  9. Jackie in Dallas

    Ah, yet another GOP three-ring circus! While they may not have given the middle class and the poor a break while they were running the country, they are certainly giving us a great soap opera to follow now!

    May 11, 2009 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  10. Laverne

    I don't agree with much that Michael Steele says these days, but he is absolutely right on this. The republican base did reject Romney because of his views on abortion or ex-views and his mormanism. John McCain sold out ot the republican party and compromised his "maverickness" if you will to be the nominee. Furthermore, Mitt Romney did stand a chance against Obama. Though it would have been interesting to see how the republicans spin Obama being a so called muslim vs Romney being a morman.

    May 11, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  11. Stacy from Leesburg, VA

    Watching Republicans go at each other is more fun than watching a dog trying to eat peanut butter.

    May 11, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  12. nate jax fl

    Ah gotta love the infighting

    May 11, 2009 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  13. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Steele is not too smart and a name caller. If he can't speak intelligently then he has and will resort to name calling. All I can say, the RNC better watch out, Steele's an opportunist of the worst kind I have ever seen.

    May 11, 2009 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  14. Joe

    The Republician Party is funnier than Saturday Night Live anymore.

    Grab a beer and some popcorn and watch them go down the tubes.

    May 11, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  15. Bev - NYC

    The caller like all ditto heads like to blame the "liberal media" for all the ills of their party. If Romney was such a strong candidate, he would have been the nominee not McCain whose campaign was left for dead in the summer of 2007. During the primaries Republicans could vote for their candidate, McCain, Romney Rudy etc what happened? Remember operation Chaos led by your leader Limbaugh? Guess it's true what they say the pit you dig for someone else you fall in. Enjoy the wilderness

    May 11, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  16. HuffDaddy

    What a stupid thing for Steele to say. How does this kind of talk help the Republican party, which he is supposed to be working for?

    May 11, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  17. cocosolo

    Steele strikes Back!

    May 11, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  18. Matthew

    Way to go Mr. Steele. Way to knock down the only guy in the Republican Party that's got a shot against Obama in 2012. The reason romney lost is because huckabee remained in the race longer than he should of. McCain never won a primary by more than 35%. It was the republican base that was split between romney and huckabee and mccain was just collecting the trash. THINK before you talk michael!

    May 11, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  19. ANGIE IN PA

    Oh the Infighting I LOVE IT!

    May 11, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  20. The magicman

    He will never get elected.He lies more than a fisherman and flops more than a bass in the boat.Tell us how those magic BVDs work again Mitt.

    May 11, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  21. Lynn

    Steele wants approval and recognition and will say anything that he believes his present audience wants to hear.

    His selection as a black representative as head of the RNC is as transparent as Palin's pick as the VP candidate.

    May 11, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  22. yuri

    Let the in-fightin' sort themselves out. The least said about it , the better.

    May 11, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  23. MESA MICK

    I happen to think Steele was correct – I didn't vote for "the Mitter" in the primary because I think LDS is a cult and not a legit, main stream conservative religion.

    May 11, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  24. eddie

    i think Romney should leave the GOP because no way a Mormom will be a candidade if he is a mormon in the GOP. Romney, come to the Democratic Party, a party for all faiths.

    May 11, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  25. arithmetic is liberal

    "Remember, it was the base that rejected Mitt because of his switch on pro-life, from pro-choice to pro-life," Steele told the caller. "It was the base that rejected Mitt because it had issues with Mormonism. It was the base that rejected Mitt because they thought he was back and forth and waffling on those very economic issues you're talking about."

    Steele is making a career out of apologizing to Republicans. But it doesn't mean that what he said isn't true.

    The Republicans reject Romney for EXACTLY those reasons – because he's a Mormon and because he's anti-abortion. The right-wing religious had a better, more closely identifiable candidate in Mike Huckabee, who's stated campaign goals were to change the Constitution to more closely reflect the Bible.

    It had nothing to do with some big boogie man liberal media conspiracy to tank Romney's campaign. There's no probable cause for them to do so. The companies that OWN the media support Romney's hard-core supplyside vision of the economy, and would have nothing to gain by purposefully going against him. But there's no room in the mind of the tragically misinformed for ideas like that, so they persist with the "liberal media" lie.

    Isn't it funny how every Republican that loses doesn't look to themselves as to why they lost (Romney, Palin, Coleman, McCain, Huckabee), but will point fingers first at the easy demons?

    We're a centrist country. The Republicans are catering to the shrinking 20% hard right and ignoring the fact that if they stop pandering to an increasingly small and increasingly unreasonable crowd they will start winning elections again. If 50% of this country is potential conservative, which I believe that it is, then that means that Republicans are sending that non-hardline, 30% of the conservative population of this country over to the Democrats.

    Stickig with a group of people who don't reflect American values, no matter how wonderful and traditional and quaint they may be, will guarantee that you LOSE EVERY ELECTION.

    May 11, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
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