November 29th, 2007
10:40 AM ET
15 years ago

Romney, Thompson criticize Confederate flag

Leroy Brooks from Houston, Texas asked the candidates what they thought the Confederate flag represents.

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney both criticized the Confederate flag during the CNN/YouTube debate on Wednesday.

The flag happens to be hoisted on the Statehouse grounds in the early primary state of South Carolina, where both candidates are leading in polls.

The candidates were asked by YouTube user Leroy Brooks from Houston, Texas if "this flag right here represents the symbol of racism, a symbol of political ideology, a symbol of Southern heritage - or, is it something completely different?"

"I know that everybody who hangs the flag up in their room like that is not racist," said Thompson, who has played up his southern roots while campaigning in South Carolina. "I also know that for a great many Americans it's a symbol of racism."

Thompson added that, "as far as a public place is concerned, I am glad that people have made the decision not to display it as a prominent flag, symbolic of something, at a state capitol."

But the Confederate flag in South Carolina's state capital is in a very public place - located on the Statehouse grounds along Gervais Street in Columbia, next to the Confederate Soldier Monument.

It was moved there from atop the Statehouse dome in 2000 after an explosive national debate between supporters of the flag, who see it as a symbol of southern heritage, and opponents, who regard it as a symbol of slavery. After months of demonstrations, the state legislature moved the flag off the dome as a compromise.

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of his 2000 presidential bid during the flag controversy, did not call for the flag to be removed from the dome, although he later said he regretted his inaction, calling it a "sacrifice of principle for personal ambition." McCain was not asked about the flag during CNN/YouTube debate.

On Nov. 6, Thompson held a campaign event on the Statehouse grounds, just yards from the flag.

Thompson said Wednesday that using the flag in the context of a memorial - as it is used in Columbia - is acceptable.

"As a part of a group of flags or something of that nature, you know, honoring various service people at different times in different parts of the country, I think that's different," he said.

(Thompson's campaign spokesman Todd Harris said after the debate that, "The flag stands right next to the Confederate Memorial on the capitol grounds, honoring, as Fred says, the 'various service people at different times and different parts of the country.'")

The former senator concluded: "As a nation, we don't need to go out of our way to be bringing up things that to certain people in our country that's bad for them."

Romney's criticism was blunter: "... that flag, frankly, is divisive, and it shouldn't be shown."

"Right now, with the kinds of issues we got in this country, I'm not going to get involved with a flag like that," Romney said. "That's not a flag that I recognize so that I would hold up in my room."

"The people of our country have decided not to fly that flag. I think that's the right thing."

Both candidates may have to answer questions about those comments next time they hit the state.

- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby

Filed under: Fred Thompson • Mitt Romney • South Carolina
soundoff (192 Responses)
  1. Brad, Philadelphia, PA

    I prefer they answer the question rather than pander to the region. At least with this question the 2 canidates had a definitive answer. I can at least respect that.

    November 28, 2007 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  2. Brent, Solon, Ohio

    Totally agreed, I think this will hurt the two front runners in SC, it was not a smart move by them.

    November 28, 2007 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  3. Dawn V. Fayetteville AR

    Again, let's be historically accurate, not politically correct. Let's remember our history.. we don't have to like it.. or embrace it.. but if we don't remember it, we're doomed to repeat it.... one way or another.

    November 28, 2007 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    As a South Carolinian, I say, take that flag down. It and what it represents are holding back a truly great state from reaching its potential.

    November 28, 2007 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  5. Charles Frank wilm, de

    Romney for abortion, for gays in the military when running for Government why? Those positions are need in Mass. to win....Now as Republican changes positions. This guy is a flip flopper extradorniare

    November 28, 2007 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  6. demwit

    This is question is nothing more than candy for CNN's liberal base. Eating it up, yum...

    November 28, 2007 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    I think the CNN censorship of Ron Paul Sucked and CNN sucks!

    Ron Paul is the only American on the stage!

    November 28, 2007 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  8. Chris, Pensacola FL

    Why does the media CONSTANTLY push "hand picked front runners" in our faces? Why do they ask cute questions to "their guys", then turn the tables on those that THREATEN them?

    November 28, 2007 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  9. Fred King, Dixon MO

    As a Civil War Reenactor and Living Historian, I recognize the significance of the Confederate Flag. Like it or not, it is part of our history and heritage, and deserves the same courtesy and respect of any flag that has flown over our nation, in peace or in war. It should be flown over Civil War battlefields and cemetaries, along with the National Ensign, to honor those who fought and died for their country on both sides. It is unfortunate that others who came after the war perverted that symbol for their own uses.

    November 28, 2007 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  10. Dawn Martin Winston Salem, NC

    Why did you take issue with the fact that Mr. Thompson spoke a few yards from the SC conf. flag? Why in the world would he want to go down and there and tell the South Carolinians what they should do with the flag? I grew up in SC where the Confederate flag was perceived as a part of southern history. Many people still believe this. I however, have changed my thinking because the wrong people have chosen to make it a symbol of racism. We must now be sensitive to this fact. As a child, I never viewed the flag as racist and never was taught that. Unfortunately today, for our African American brothers, the flag does represent racism. So, this flag should never be flown. But, it is certainly not Mr. Thompson's responsibility to police the South Carolinians.

    November 28, 2007 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  11. Dale, Greer, SC

    Way to go again CNN. If you cannot post Thompson's entire response to the flag question please summarize it accurately.

    November 28, 2007 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    Sounds like Mitt and Fred get their history from Hollywood.

    November 28, 2007 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  13. John Veritas (Editor,, Washington DC

    Funny how Mitt Romney lashed out at the confederate flag. It was a good answer and a direct one (rare for him), but one must question if he sincerely cared about the black Americans, why did he not criticize his LDS (Mormon) church's institutionalized racism, which barred blacks from any "real" participation in their church until 1978.

    November 28, 2007 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  14. Thomas Logie, North Port FL

    Romney & Thompson hurt themselves in S.C. and probably Florida also. I believe strongly that the South was wrong to secede and wrong to defend slavery, but that does not mean that all Confederates were dishonorable people. I can respect Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson even their cause was both ill-judged and evil. I believe that trying to suppress the Confederate flag tends to perpetuate the tensions from the conflict.

    November 28, 2007 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  15. Kent, Little Egg Harbor, NJ

    These two candidates just lost the Solid South with their ignorant comments about the Stars and Bars...

    November 28, 2007 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  16. DJ, LA, CA

    Sorry I just do not think it was a good decision to air that question.

    It really does nothing constructive as far as learning about candidates specifics positions.

    November 28, 2007 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  17. Gary Newport,Tennessee

    The real question they should've asked the moderator is What does the Confederate battleflag have to do with anything in regard to this debate? Nothing.

    November 28, 2007 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  18. David - Portland, Oregon

    Ridicules, so much attention on a battle flag used in the “War Between the States” to defend all state’s rights as granted in the U. S. constitution. Just one more excuse of convenience to repress history.

    November 28, 2007 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  19. Rick,Union Gap,WA

    I thought the civil war was won and decided. Maybe Edwards is right there is Two Americas.

    November 28, 2007 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  20. Jacob, Evanston Illinois

    Frankly it is ignorant of the other people who have posted that hanging the confederate flag is a good idea? Are you serious? It is a flag that promotes racisim, provokes violence as well as other hateful thoughts. It is a flag that should not be recognized by the United States. And that is why it is not the flag hung above the White House.

    November 28, 2007 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  21. Richard, St. Paul, MN

    ...and I'm sure that both Romney and Thompson have Confederate flags in their garages.... or dungeons... more hypocrites from the Republican side....

    November 28, 2007 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  22. BN, Fort Myers, FL

    What I find most disturbing is what a shamble this whole affair was. I feel like I wasted an entire two-half hours of my life that I will never recover. CNN, with their "oh so righteous" media representation for the people, did a bang-up job of trying to pull the wool over the audiences eyes. Bottom line, It is more than obvious that the agenda was to make the Republican party appear like fools and in disarray, and they succeeded. It frustrates me that they claim this was the people's debate, but after watching the manner in which questions were selected and which candidates were chosen my suspicions are confirmed that mainstream media is subjective, not objective. There was nothing objective about this debate. And this is why mainstream media (Fox, CNN, ABCNews, and CBSNews) will become obsolete for the Generation Y folks because I will use vehicles like YouTube, and RSS feeds to filter what news I want to receive and how I want to receive it. With a forum where no name people can voice opinions and viewpoints that ultimately allows for a true objective viewpoint.
    The Republican Party is now further hurt by a debate that delivered no clear winner, but rather shows the stupidity among our candidates.
    And, I am sorry, but that debate did not give Ron Paul a fair shake, and that too was blatantly obvious. I am not saying that I support or do not support Ron Paul, but it was obvious that the choice of questions and the way in which they were asked were set to bring out answers, that CNN knew, would make him look crazy. I think we all can agree that Ron Paul is actually, a very intelligent person, and he was probably one of the more intelligent people up on the stage.
    Clearly, this was a farce, and a waste of time. I am very concerned about America, and I think this election is a pivotal small step that may have grave consequences that will ultimately determine our existence as a country in the next 20-30 years. It will set in motion the deciding factors that will either lead to our demise or allow us to recognize the true root causes to our problems (socially, economically, and abroad).
    Shame on CNN, Anderson Cooper, and the Executive Producers for not making this an objective, equally represented debate to allow viewers to see each candidate’s true intentions. Instead, Neilson ratings went up because sparks flew when two men had a pissing contest on national TV. CNN is a disgrace. I look forward to when the Internet replaces mainstream TV and it is no longer a vehicle for news and media.

    November 28, 2007 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  23. John, St. Louis, MO

    Mitt Romney better be glad there is a Confederate flag, because if the South hadnt risen when it did his ancestors in the Mormon faith could of very well of been slaughtered by the US for murdering US citizens settling out west.

    November 28, 2007 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  24. Brunswick, Georgia

    why does everyone make this a big deal? Georgia had that flag forever, but then people who weren't even slaves said that it was racist, so they changed it. It's History and if i have to learn about Martin Luther King Jr. then we have to learn about everyhting. Not pick and choose.

    November 28, 2007 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  25. Karry Wyoming for Clinton

    This was the most poorest debate ever for 8 men who are clearly out of touch with the whats going in America right here in America and our whole abroad world so out of touch they do not stand for anything but backwards for this country they are totaly wrong on overturing roe vs wade what kind of toon of men are they...if i were a republican id be switching fast to a democrat or independent.
    I have finally seen it all i am going to switch to democrat tommorrow.and im voting hillary the only senseable smartest woman ever to take take on these idiot men.she will blow them away in General Election.I just feel these men democrat and republicans cannot and will not do for the American people Hillary is more than capable than these outfits.
    I like health care ,cutting that huge defficit,for our granchildren take them on Hillary you have women everywhere in this Country and men too,quit being naive everybody ive seen it all with these debates.The votes the truth's lays in Clintons hands.

    November 28, 2007 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
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