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. Claire

    Sounds as if the RNC is turning cannibalistic – they are turning on each faster than the media can report it.

    May 11, 2009 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  2. No Incumbents 2010

    Steele has disgraced himself and his party by insulting Mitt Romney. For that reason Steele should resign before he drives even more people away from the GOP.

    May 11, 2009 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  3. Paul Abeln

    Mitt made it clear in his Texas faith speech that he believes secularism is bad. Secularism is the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element. Consequently, Mitt wants a religious element is his form of government. We had that crap with President Bush and look where it got us. Enough with mixing religion with government–leave it out. Get a clue. Religion is a private matter. Government has to deal with big problems that effect all Americans. We don't need phony politicians preaching to us.

    May 11, 2009 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  4. joy

    Actually I'm sad to have to say this but I agree with him about Romney and his mormon faith. Remember Romney had to give a speech on his religion too and DON'T FORGET the man who wouldn't shake his hand because he was mormon. So he is pointing out a fact for the first time.

    May 11, 2009 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  5. Frank - Los Angeles, CA

    Let them eat their own... Now who is going to apologize to Rush this time? Steele or Romney? You make your pick

    May 11, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  6. FreeNLovIt

    Steele is blurping out truths, but it's sad it's not taken too well.

    May 11, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  7. Dan

    Right, the "base" had issues with Romney. Romney would have been the nominee if it hadn't been for New Hampshire and Florida. Romney easily won the "base" in those states as he won among Republicans. But our primaries are open in those two states, so Democrats and Independets voted in OUR primary. McCain was more popluar among the enemy. Why? Because they knew the old man was easy to beat. Oh no Mr. Steele, the base did not reject Romney, the opponent simply embraced the weaker candidate. And we allowed it!

    May 11, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  8. Butch

    Steele is an idiot.

    Romney, like him or not, has serious political chops.

    May 11, 2009 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  9. HSNP

    Watching the Republican Party self destruct these days is certainly an entertaining diversion from all of the serious problems in the world. I've never seen a bunch of people who deserve it more! Michael Steele is a pathetic RNC leader, even though he's right about the Mormonism thing. Mitt Romney has flip flopped like a fish out of water on almost every subject near and dear to the Republican core. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are a disgrace to humanity. Dick Cheney's a joke. The whole sorry mess put together is PRICELESS!! Bon Voyage, Republicans. May you never pass this way again!!

    May 11, 2009 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  10. Charles W. Skinner

    Chairman Steel has a point. The base was not really excited about Romney due in part to his change in position on abortion, and a little bit of waffling on economic policy.

    However, the caller ALSO has a point, that McCain only won the primaries because of liberals crossing over in open primaries in order to drown out Conservative voters. Had the primaries been closed, McCain would have been DONE by December of 2007, and Huckabee and Romney would have been fighting it out for the nomination.

    The solution? Make the primary election in EVERY state a closed primary, so that only members of the Republican party can select the Republican candidate.

    May 11, 2009 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  11. Right Leaning Independent

    Romney gets my vote. Smart businessman and that is what we need today!

    May 11, 2009 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  12. Charlotte

    Does Steele even know what Momronism comprises? I think its far more likely that the Republican base disliked him because he hadn't made his mind up to be anti-choice, although the GOP certainly seems to be running pell-mell down the road of intolerance for all things not WASP. Who could really guess at any sort of logic or rationality in a party that seems to embrace the likes of Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin.

    May 11, 2009 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  13. QuestionCW

    ...and what about these comments by Steele are incorrect? Romney's convenient conversion to conservatism is now legend among Republicans and Democrats. Some voters did have issues with Mormonism too, but that wasn't what sank or will sink again the ambitions of Mitt.

    May 11, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  14. Melissa

    lol. The Republicans are eating each other alive. How amusing that they're showing themselves for the snakes they are.

    You know, I've seen some backstabbing childish behavior from politicians when they lose, but never have I seen the cannibalism thats been happening since the Republicans lost this one.

    Keep it up. Democrats will definately win the next election.

    May 11, 2009 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  15. Simmy

    **********************************************************************
    "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."
    ************************************************************************
    Mr. Steele,

    As a Republican, you should know that your people can't handle the truth.....Can I expect two (Romney-Limby) apologies this time?

    May 11, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  16. Jim in San Jose

    If the republicans can't play nice with each other, how are they going to play nice with the country and the rest of the world.

    Obama/Biden in 2012
    Mark Warner (you should check him out!) in 2016

    May 11, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  17. Lynn West Bloomfield, Michigan

    Teflon Rom will always have problems with Christian conservatives who consider Mormonism to be a cult and take issue with their placing Joseph Smith on the same level as Jesus. He needs to realize that and stop wasting everyone's time pretending something different is going on.

    May 11, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  18. Chris - Denver

    Steele strikes me as a bit of a dimbulb, but on this I think he is exactly right. The Romney response is nonsensical. If it were untrue that the Republican base rejected Romney, he would have been the nominee. There is no excuse for having anti-mormon bias, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist in the extremist evangelical GOP base.

    May 11, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  19. TCM

    @ Ignorance is bliss –

    No, you have it wrong, that's the dems....Obama, Reid, Pelosi, Emanuel, Napalitano...there's a group we can stand up and say we're ashamed about!

    May 11, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  20. MorningStar

    It is okay to attack the catholics and any religion or sect, but not mormon. Attacking a mormon high priest like Rommey is a very bad thing... You just don't do it Mr. Steele. You may tell the truth but who are you? A son of Cain?

    May 11, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  21. Too True For You

    The sad thing is, Steele is right.

    The Talibangelicals have so indoctrinated the republican base with their special brand of xenophobia that Romeny, with his pro-abortion past and Mormon present would NEVER make it with them.

    The only thing that can stand up to the censure of the morally conceited right wing religiofascists would be a blessing from their true secular leader, Rush.

    May 11, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  22. Anne E.

    I have never been a Michael Steele fan, but Steele got this one right.
    As a member of the religion he mentions, I have a problem w/Romney's "Mormonism."
    With Prop 8 in CA, the entire country saw what happens when a religious entity pumps money into a political cause. And the same thing would happen over and over if Mitt Romney ever became president. We've had enough puppets in the WH.

    May 11, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  23. George

    What Steele said was 100% and 0% wrong.

    There are videos of Mitt at townhall debates for the RNC Primary, and pointedly I remember poor Mitt go and shake a man's hand, the man turned from him and said "I can't vote for a mormon". Mitt kept his smile and hair on the whole time.

    I actually felt sorry for him, I am an American, and alhtough we differ politically, it is terrible for a man to be rejected from a political party for his religion or lack there of.

    And Utah is STILL 80% Republican.

    May 11, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  24. Jon

    Steele has got to go. The only reason he was chosen to begin with is because he is black and countered Obama. We here in Maryland know him as an incompent fool and his behavior since being elevated to the RNC chairmanship has done nothing to change that impression.

    May 11, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  25. I can see Canada from my house!

    The revival of the issue of Romney's faith underscores another, rarely spoken truth about the GOP: there is definitely a litmus test on faith. Unless you are a member of a church that is part of the base and you adhere without question to the tenents of that faith, the GOP base does not want you. Never mind that the LDS has faithfully supported conservative politicians for generations, the GOP leadership is saying thanks, but no thanks. The GOP has cynically used LDS and other churches to divide this country, and it is now coming back to haunt them.

    May 11, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
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