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. Jim in Asheville

    Democrats are enjoying this infighting. That's fine. Remember though, when the dust finally settles there will most likely be a unified, focused, and growing GOP. Every party has their time in the woodshed. Remember when the media pundits talked about the end of the Democratic Party during the eighties? It seems to be cyclical.

    May 11, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  2. Streamwood Bill

    Now it the Mitt and Mike show. Yawn!

    Liberals and the media wanted McCain? Double Yawn!!

    You old-guard, ultra conservative, in control Republicans know you're gonna end up drafting Dick Cheney!

    So why go on pretending it's not a done deal already?

    May 11, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  3. Josh

    Hey Mikie "Boy" don't do this to Mitt – he has even sold some of his mansions to that he's not caught up in the Mcain house fracas.
    Please give this idiot a chance so that the Purists and Right Wing Nuts can have another shot at showing their intollerance. Please do not convince him that for those Purists he's not a Christaian.

    May 11, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  4. Squirt

    Looks like Mr. Steele does it again! He should carry around an extra pair of really soft shoes for all the times he has put his foot in his mouth! And he's supposed to lead the NATIONAL party? Give us a break, for heaven's sake! There has to be a better person out there to lead the RNC and get the GOP back on track. He's not helping the problem a bit, and like they say, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem!" (That could be said for a lot of the "mouths" speaking for the Republicans of late...a lot!
    The question's been asked before, but...Who is this man and where does he come from? He ain't hackin' it, imho!

    May 11, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  5. Frozone

    Cheney and Rush have problems with Colin Powel, based solely on race. Now Steele has problems with Mormons. The GOP is looking like a pretty exclusive club these days.

    May 11, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  6. Baze

    A religion notorious for polygamy certainly isn't going to sit well with "conservatives".

    May 11, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  7. Ian

    Romney shot himself in the foot when Ron Paul asked what would give him the authority to attack another country. Of course the fool Romney responded that he would consult his lawyers, rather than actually read the constitution.

    May 11, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  8. Ravi

    Mr. Steele is right, unfortunately. The Southern Baptists, a key GOP core group, are known for their rejection of Mormonism. Therefore, they chose a slightly less right-wing candidate (McCain) over Romney. I'm just loving this GOP infighting. I hope Rush wins on this one because it will guarantee Dem control over Congress and the White House for years to come!

    May 11, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  9. In Arizona

    I wish Mr. Steele had asked Romney more about Romney's religion. Why does Mormon belief say all Blacks are "branded with the mark of Cain"? Why did the so-called prophets not allow full church membership (ie: the priesthood) to Black men until 1976? Mormons have a lot of questions to answer and a lot to account for before I will accept them as a mainstream Christian religion.

    May 11, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  10. Christopher E

    No one could do more damage to the republicans than they are doing to themselves. I have never seen anything like this. The few remaining republicans do not know anything other then attack. It would be funny if the thought of a one party system did not scare me to death.

    May 11, 2009 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  11. Julia

    Michael Steele is an idiot. First, Mormons are Christians. They use the same Bible, just four extra books, and they follow the commandments to the letter. The Mormon Church hasn't practiced multiple marriages in over 150 years. Only off-shoots of that church that are not recognized by Latter Day Saints (Mormons) pratice that stuff. For the most part, Mormons are no different from any other religion except that they focus much more closely on family values and service. That's it. The Mormons I know (and I know many) are no different in the way they worship than we in my Baptist Church. The state of Utah is extremely supportive of the base of the GOP. They overwhelmingly supported Bush even when they knew he was wrong because of the basic stated Republican principles. All the GOP and this nutcase Steele have managed to do is alienate millions of registered voters - both Mormon and those of us informed enough to know that being Mormon is no different than being of any other Prootestant faith.

    May 11, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  12. Big Ed

    I can't think of too many more stupid things Mr. Steele can say. I don't think there are too many other people he can make angry.

    May 11, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  13. arithmetic is liberal

    Charles W. Skinner May 11th, 2009 4:32 pm ET

    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.

    Hardly. Most states have closed Republican primaries anyway. Liberals didn't cross over in some kind of "Operation Chaos" to vote for McCain. McCain got 35% and won the primary because he was the least toxic choice for the Republicans. Also, after the "drag queen" stuff came out about Giuliani, Republicans looked to Fred Thompson as their front runner, who then promptly fell asleep.

    Also, Republican candidates are decided less by primary voters and more by "superdelegates" in the Party after the Primaries. So I think it's less the liberal cross over voters to blame, and more the conservative establishment of the party who coronated McCain.

    May 11, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  14. Biff the impaler

    The really sad part is that Steele is absolutely correct. The part in the article that got my attention was:
    "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."
    Wait, what? The liberal media has that much influence over conservative Republicans? Whoa Nelly! Where were the liberal media when Bush the imbecile won, not once, but twice? To what do we attribute that, the conservative media?

    Those who support the Republican party have to grasp the concept that when eight years of conservative philosophy turn a surplus into a devastating deficit, financially and morally, and people want change, they VOTE for it, because it's the PEOPLE who want the bums out. To blame the media is to insult the intelligence of the voting public and ignore the democratic process, but they have already demonstrated that ably enough.

    May 11, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  15. arithmetic is liberal

    I look forward to the day when Republicans finally admit what is wrong with their party – the Republican base.

    May 11, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  16. David

    I find it rather funny that the caller claimed Romney didn't get a chance to be the nominee because of 'liberals' and the media. Nope. The voters decided that one. It's too bad people in the party of personal responsibility always blame some other group rather than taking a look at what the individual candidate might have done (or not done) to lose their shot at being elected.

    Mr Steele may not have been politically correct in his statement, but I think he hit the mark when it comes to conservative views. To be a bona fide conservative, you must march in lockstep in every facet of your life or you are out. It's a lot like being a bona fide Nazi in terms of tolerance.

    Good luck GOP. Until you become more moderate, you'll continue to shrink.

    May 11, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  17. yogatious

    does anybody realize that Mormons BELIEVE they are the ancestors of all native americans? or that if they attain perfection in this life they will have their own universe just like how this one belongs to God? Mainstream Christianity rejects most of the main tenants of Mormonism, and with 70 million evangellical voters for the Republican could Romney ever win?

    May 11, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  18. Donatella

    I don't mean to knock anybody's religion, but the mormon's are somewhat cult like, also where are the minorities in the mormon church, Mitt Romney will never win being part of a one sided religion.

    May 11, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  19. John

    "It was the base that rejected Mitt because it had issues with Mormonism.

    I just love that Republican euphemism: The Base.

    Isn't The Base just a code phrase for: Regressive wingnuts so bigoted and reactionary that even a successful Mormon businessman isn't conservative enough to satisfy their whims.

    May 11, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  20. Enlightened Voter

    Who bloody cares if the gop eats their own? I for one don't, well actually I do, it's kind of fun to watch. We have serious problems in this country and the rnc only cares about saying "NO" and in fighting. They are just showing their true colors.

    May 11, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  21. Eduardo

    Steele is right on! Romney has to come to the Democratic Party. He is pro-choice and once ran a sanctuary mansion.

    May 11, 2009 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  22. IsyFleur

    Michael Steele is an absolute disaster. Good!

    May 11, 2009 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  23. Ignorance is Dems

    Re: Ignorance is Bliss

    The only hate the Republican base harbors is for pugnacious hate-mongering weasels like you. Why don't you stop putting the GOP down and at least start trying to fix things like your elected Messiah is doing?

    May 11, 2009 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  24. mypitts2

    It's interesting how the truth is often the most reviled thing.

    Michael Steele is simply telling the truth. Many in the Protestant/Baptist-heavy GOP had a problem with Romney's Mormonism. This is why Huckabee was rightly perceived as having "eaten Romney's lunch" in the primary. Huckabee had the religious bonafieds, except with a religion/denonination more in line with the religious right.

    Steele is also correct in that Romney was looked at warily for having come to his more conservative positions just in time for the primary.

    None of this really matters to me, except that it's fun to see the circular firing squad proceed apace.

    May 11, 2009 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  25. RepubliKLANs Are Plain STUPID

    Another oops moment for the Hip Hop Chairman Michael Steele...he got another apologising to do – this time to Mr Mormon Romney himself!!!!

    May 11, 2009 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
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