May 11th, 2009
07:26 PM ET
9 years ago

Romney camp hits back at Steele for Mormonism comments

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="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. CF

    Republicans are so intolerant of others they can't even accept variation within themselves. Im enjoying watching them destroy themselves.

    May 11, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  2. DL in VA

    I don't really see what's wrong with Steele's comments here. The base in the deep south does seem to have issues with Mormonism (please correct me if I'm wrong, and please correct THEM if I am right). That fact did seem to have an adverse effect on Romney's chances of winning deep south states in the primary season.

    May 11, 2009 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  3. Josh

    Um, where in this story does the 'Romney camp hit back'? Seems to me this story is all about Steele's comments on Romney, and includes only the barest of mentions of Romney's non-response.

    May 11, 2009 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  4. Becky

    The fall of The Republic is just embarassing to watch. RNC needs to be recast, including the executive producer named Rush. Or just cancel the show. Need new writers, too, while we're at it.

    May 11, 2009 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  5. Mike in CA

    keep up the internal fights boys! Keep it up! This is amazing!
    Mitt vs Steele
    Rush vs McCain
    McCain vs Rush
    Specter vs GOP
    Cheney vs Powell (aka the best Republican there is)

    How do you think the GOP will spin the release of the Iranian – American journalist? Seems to me that if GW were in office with Dick Cheney that she would not have been freed. Of course that's just an opinion.

    May 11, 2009 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  6. johnrj08

    With the exception of Mormons themselves, anybody who knows anything about Mormonism has problems with it. It's a cult. A big, rich, politically powerful cult, and nothing more. And the Church of Latter Day Saints is, for all intents and purposes, running the state of Utah. Romney's situation is NOT similar to John F. Kennedy's "Catholic problem" in 1960. Catholicism may be many things, but it is not a cult. People move in and out of that church at will without fear of being ostracized by other Catholics, and they don't have to give 17% of their annual income to remain a member. As long as Mitt Romney is linked to Mormonism, he won't be electable. I have Mormon relatives who are decent people, but they don't know zip about the religion they've chosen to follow. And they will not even stay in the same room with anybody who starts a conversation about the way the Church was founded or what its founder did. I don't want a President who might be manipulated by a bunch bald-headed old men sitting in Provo.

    May 11, 2009 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  7. Isidore Tamo

    Steele is right on this one: it was a known fact during the campaign. McCain had no money with a poor campaign management, but still, Mitt was totally unable to defeat him. Instead of going after Steel, Mitt's campaign should understand that the republican base is becoming even more conservative and exclusive. I cannot see how Mitt can win the general primary with such a base.

    May 11, 2009 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  8. Peter (CA)

    Please please please keep fighting each other.
    Every day the Republicans find another way to shoot themselves in the foot. It can only make our country better.

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

    Romney, You still have time to get out from all these old GOP thinkers and support President OBAMA's agenda and democratic policies. Mark my word, GOP will never support you and your philosophy as they have nothing to offer other than tax cut for the rich and party of " NO " on all issues. will be better of changing your self to Democrate and give your expert opinion to democratic party if you have any and work with administraion so they can give you chance to be part of their administration. ......................

    May 11, 2009 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  10. Skeeve

    This is so typical of religious conservative.. one of the few potential candidates with brains gets rejected because he apparently worship green tooth-fairy while the rest of us prefer yellow leprechaun... These guys are so funny

    May 11, 2009 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  11. Frank

    The gifts that keep on giving. This party is in total disarray. You have elected officials cow towing to Rush. You got Rush attacking any and every rethuglican that has credibility left and asking them to leave because they aren't a far right wing evangelical nut and actually believe in the Seperation of Church and State which so happens to be in the Constitution. You have Dick Cheney openly saying he will disregard the Constitution and torture people again. This party need to do like it wants GM to do and that is go bankrupt and come back with some new ideas or forever be lost.... But hey I'm a democrat so they can keep doing the same ol' same ol' and I'll be fine with that.

    Obama/Biden 2012.. Clinton/?? 2016/2020....

    May 11, 2009 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  12. pam Eugene OR

    The Republicans are kicking people out of the party left and right at a willy nilly pace. Now Mitt is not committed enough to pro life.
    Mot only did Steele miss the target, he shot himself in the foot!
    They truly are circular firing squad READY FIRE AIM.
    You must be in lock step 110% with the party to me a member. I bet that poll number of 21% who identify with the Republicans party would be taken again now it would be down to about 12%.

    May 11, 2009 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  13. Mel of Alexandria

    Michael Steel just cannot win. May be he needs to go for a refresher in republicanism and political finesse, or just take a crash course in how to be a hypocrite.

    May 11, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  14. Paula in WI

    I guess the Republicans only find humor when it comes from the likes of Cheney,Rove and Limbaugh. Double standards as usual with the Republican party. It was funny and nothing was inappropriate.

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

    The circus continues. Thanks GOP !

    May 11, 2009 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  16. Jamaican opinion

    If I had a dollar for everytime Steele put is foot in his mouth... Well let's just say that the recession would be over for me... I don't know... maybe it's his back and forth stances and not Romney's.... or maybe it's his "hiphop" language... but something just seems off with Steele... he just does not "gel" with the RNC... can't quite figure it though...

    May 11, 2009 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  17. Doug in Seattle

    The Republican party is turning into a circular firing squad. Ready, shoot, aim!

    May 11, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  18. lovable liberal

    You know if Eric Fehrnstrom is irate, there's a good chance he's fighting the truth. Those of us who actually remember 2008 remember that the Republican base did have exactly the problems with Mitt Romney that Michael Steele enumerates. His expedient shift on abortion was undoubtedly the largest problem, but many Republican evangelicals were never convinced that Mormonism is Christian.

    May 11, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  19. Ignorance is bliss

    THE Republican base is basicaly a bunch of uneducated rural inbreds who champion hate as their number one quality.

    May 11, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  20. Dax

    What a bunch of ignorant village people, always on some kind of which hunt. They don't care about the country. All they've been doing since they got their collective ars kicked in the last election is campaigning. That's why they have no plans and they have is no....

    May 11, 2009 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  21. Debby

    I liked Steele before, but now he is become a loud mouth idiot.

    May 11, 2009 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  22. The Party of NO stood calmly by for 8 year while the shrub raped and pillaged America, so, why would we listen to you now?

    Mittens has his special panties all in a bunch!

    The rabid right will never let a Mormon rise to the top of a republican primary.

    You would think Romney would have learned that expensive lesson in 2008.

    May 11, 2009 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  23. rbinny

    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"
    I'm Shocked, Shocked! That there could be religious intolerance among Republicans.

    May 11, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  24. United We Stand

    Man this guy can't get anything right can he?

    May 11, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  25. nan

    The "base" needs to re-think it's position or you will wind up loosing the next election. Mitt Romney is a excellent candidate. I would certainly support him in the future. You will loose many moderate conservatives if you don't embrase them. There is always room for improvement within the party without giving up moral values.

    May 11, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
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