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. Steve, Vinton IA

    The south lost. It's time they got over it and accept the flag of the United States of America as their own.

    November 28, 2007 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  2. J R Herbert Orange Beach AL

    I have seen golf caddies in Scotland with the Confederate battle flag tatooed on their fore-arms, and I have discussed the reasons for this with them. They associate it with an anti-English attitude and a statement about what they consider the oppression of Scotland by England. It is not just the Cross of St. Andrew, but also includes the stars and red rather than blue colors. Reportedly this flag had been a symbol of independence for people advocating secession in the former captive nations of the USSR.

    Romney and Fred would, of course, have no knowledge of these sorts of facts.

    November 28, 2007 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  3. Matthew, Des Moines Iowa

    Racists use the terms "heritage" and "history" to attempt to excuse their continuing hatred.

    November 28, 2007 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  4. Laurie S,Alamogordo, NM

    Actually, around the south, and even here in the southwest, the confederate flag is usually on a vehicle driven by a dimwit redneck. I hate to see just makes me think the south hasn't come to grips with the fact that the confederacy is dead and buried.

    November 28, 2007 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  5. hamletbl

    Get real, folks, that is not the stars and bars, the first Confederate States Flag, that is the "Battle Flag." What a bunch of ignorants.

    November 28, 2007 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  6. Bobby VanZant Georgia

    I firmly believe that if the south had more electorial votes, both Romney and Thompson would have very different views on the Confederate Flag issue.

    November 28, 2007 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  7. J D Reed Prestonsburg, Ky.

    I live in the Southeastern part of Kentucky, I am pro life and pro Confederate Flag. I hate abortion and I fly a Confederate Flag 24/7/365, if you yankees don't like it stay where you are in you're yankee land. I will vote for anyone who is pro life and pro Confederate Flag. Romney said "glad people have made the decision" to keep the Flag out of public places,wake up, the people were forced not to display it in public places. Remember Southerns have rights and vote also.

    November 28, 2007 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  8. Brian Tampa, FL

    It would be difficult for who has watched any of the debates and is not a partisan to deny that Rudy is by far the most qualified candidate on either side. He is a moderate and he is proven. These are the facts and the are almost beyond dispute.

    November 28, 2007 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  9. Jack Heim Fort Worth, TX

    "When you go home I want you to take a message to your friends. Tell them from me that it is unworthy of them as women, and especially as Christian women, to cherish feelings of resentment against the North. Tell them that it grieves me inexpressibly to know that such a state of things exists, and that I implore them to do their part to heal our country's wounds." Robert E. Lee (on learning of Southern young peoples bitterness against the North, 1870).

    November 28, 2007 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  10. Indepent voted for Democrat but no more

    thank cnn for being like fox.. you want your candidate from Democrats.. i'm independent and never voted but Democrat . now you want some these main blah blah kiss kiss response.. no names.. I like how you and Fox put RON PAUL as some one that does nothing.. come on I am 33 yrs old but Ron Paul 1st time i think after CNN and Fox i'll switch to Republican and support the true voice of what America should be. Never voted for a republican but for the 1st time i think i will register and pick A TRUE TEXAN and I hope rest of America see this.

    November 28, 2007 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  11. Marisa, Chesterfield, VA

    I am extremely dissapointed that CNN would choose this question to direct– particularly at two front-runners. This is not a natinal issue. Being from the South this is a state issue and in my opinion CNN chose this question with liberal bias. They hurt a republican front-runners with voters that have a vested interest in this issue and it plays into the sterotypes that liberals think about southern Republicans.

    November 28, 2007 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  12. lee, bakersfield, ca

    just becuase the confederare flag got hijacked by a few idiot racist groups, it still has meaning to some of us from the south and who had family from the south during that period in americas history. we are not racist, the flag isnt racist, and licoln owned slaves at one time to in history. so if you cant support my herriatige. i cant suppurt you. Herritage not hate.

    November 28, 2007 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  13. Steve Grycel

    Wow! For shame, I guess you guys in the MSM have made up your minds. I now believe that Ron Paul supporters are correct. I was an independant, but now I am changing to Repuplican supporter for Ron Paul. He has a very good view of the US Government, and also is the #3 campain $ winner, but you guys only gace him 20 seconds in the debate. CNN was my favorite news program, not anymore. I'm now getting my news from the net. Thank you for showing that these Paultards are correct.
    Have a nice day!...and goodbye!

    November 28, 2007 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  14. Thomas, Birmingham, AL

    The Confederate flag is only "divisive" because of stupid, ignorant-acting behavior with which it was associated that carried on long after it had ceased to be flown as a flag of sovereignty. Obviously, no one down here has slaves now, and my family never did. But my great-great grandfather did fight in the War Between the States for the South because it was his home. When I see that flag, I don't think about the unacceptable behavior and events of the past (I learned that in history class and from my family); I think about him and his love for his family and home. While that's true for everyone, this flag is not inherently divisive, hateful, or what have you. As others have said, this will likely hurt and if nothing else not help them in the opinion polls around these parts.

    November 28, 2007 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  15. Arlington, VA

    What a farce CNN has created.

    Historic issues face our Nation, and
    they put goofy folk guitar videos, teenagers
    eating while they talk, and a puffed up but
    clearly out of control Anderson Cooper in
    front of us?

    What a joke this debate was, from time
    balance given the candidates, to the
    control of bickering and buddy-buddy
    chatting, to the audience.

    How about some mature NEWS, CNN?

    What a farce of a debate. What a farce.

    November 28, 2007 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  16. John, Charleston SC

    Wow, they criticized the flag. Whoopee. CNN is a joke. 5000 questions submitted, how the hell is that relevant? Thank you for continuing to prop up and perpetuate a problem that divides people. I long for the day when this country's citizens call BS on you and every other propaganda spewing media outlet. Why not address the fact that we were sold the Iraq war on lies concerning WMD's?

    November 28, 2007 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  17. James, Phoenix AZ

    Considering their political views, a swastika would be more appropriate.

    November 28, 2007 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  18. Karl, Sumter, SC

    I think the confederate flag should be taken down. When I drove by the Stathouse grounds for the first time, I was shocked to see that flag hoisted.
    The confederate flag represents nothing that anyone should be proud of. If any flag should be hoisted, it should be our nations flag.

    November 28, 2007 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  19. Steve, Vinton IA

    If they were true Americans, they wouldn't have to be asked to not display the Rebel flag. They'd recognize it for what it is, a symbol of treason and burn it.

    November 28, 2007 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  20. Derrick Capers

    It was noted that they were both in the presence of the conferderate flag, they both made no mention of it then, so why now! To be PC? Then once in office continue to ignor that diabolicial symbol! Their words are as hollow as their platforms, My question to Mr.Romney would be: why haven't any of his sons aren't serving in this great country military of ours, if he's to be the potential New Chief.? That job would require him to send yours & my children into harms way. Lets hope the mike works as it should. Ret Vet

    November 28, 2007 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  21. Eric Murphy, Ayden, NC

    WOW! I'm proud of not feeling alone on this issue in my party anymore. I've been against the confederate BATTLE flag as long as I can remember. I live in the South and I KNOW that a majority of people who display that flag also use language that is considered racist. My experiences and observations tell me that this flag is a symbol of racism. I'm still shocked that Republicans came out against it. I don't care if they lose votes. The truth is more important than votes.

    November 28, 2007 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  22. Nina, Fargo North Dakota

    ALL Americans need to read the real history behind the Civil War, what it was truly about, and why it has NEVER been about racism or slavery. It was about the north stealing (taxing) profits from the southern farmers...same thing that happens today all over the country.
    Yes, these contenders have both lost the south now. It also shows how ignorant they are of our history as a country. If they were serious about being a true leader of this country, they should and would know its history FIRST!

    November 28, 2007 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  23. Hawk,Texas

    The confederate flag is as much a part of our history as the stars and stripes.the stars and bars has been grossly abused as standing about slavery, which is was not. the confederate war was fought over states rights.and all the republicans on stage tonight were just george bush clones.

    November 28, 2007 11:23 pm at 11:23 pm |
  24. SwordMaiden, Fly-Over , USA

    Talk about "Out of Context"! I hope those who happen by here are the same people that actually heard the question and Governor Romney's answer!
    I also hope you were all counting the questions, noting their content, (i.e. appropriate issue oriented question, frivolous, or meant to attack the Candidate asked), to whom they were addressed (i.e. how many Anderson asked each Candidate), the and tone of voice and attitude, i.e. condescending, etc., of the moderator. You will notice that some candidates were primarily asked questions, while others were only thrown leftover crumbs, asked snotty antagonistic questions, or cut-off in their responses. Not only that, but if you believe that out of 5000+ questions submitted, Hillary Clinton's Plant's question just happened to be chosen by Anderson Cooper ... I have some swamp land in Florida I'd like to sell you!

    November 28, 2007 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    There was more stated – you should add their full quotes.

    November 28, 2007 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
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