May 12th, 2009
12:20 PM ET
12 years ago

Romney camp hits back at Steele for Mormonism comments

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="The Romney camp fired back at Steele's comments."]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: Michael Steele
soundoff (307 Responses)
  1. Mac

    I think Mr. Romney underestimates evangelicals and their invfluence in the Republican party. I can only say with anecdotal information, Mr. Romney faces an uphill battle with that group. First, his record concerning abortion is troubling at best. Second, the majority of evangelicals look at some religious groups with suspicion in the same manner people were concerned about Kenedy and his Catholicism.

    I can understand Mr. Romney's appeal on the business side. However, in today's political landscape, that dog won't hunt.


    May 12, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  2. Larry

    Where is the Boss of the Republican Party on this?

    Rush Limbaugh the Boss of the Republican Party. 🙂

    May 12, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  3. Philip Grant

    It was a clumsy thing for the chairman of the party to say, but it was true.

    May 12, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  4. Vincent Petrosino

    Steele's days are numbered for telling the absolute truth about Romney. Watch the Dems use Steele's words to trip up Romney if he runs again. And this billionaire will run again!

    May 12, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  5. John Indianapolis, IN

    I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, supporter of Obama, and not a Republican (nor Democrate). I am saddened at how judgmental "Christians" are. You do your religion (and apparently your party) a disservice. I guarantee Christ would not espouse the vitriol I have read in this forum.

    We do not seek to be accepted or liked, but want the understanding of our beliefs to be ACCURATE, something wholly missing from this discussion. I have never heard teaching that indicate hatred toward women, African Americans, or homosexuals (and I have attending church meetings in several states and countries, so I guess I just got lucky). We are taught that women are not men, if that is what is meant by inequality. I would argue the respect we are taught to have toward women against any religious teaching. We are taught that homosexual behavior is immoral, and yes we strongly support marriage defined as between man and woman, but any perusal of regarding that stance clearly indicates our love for all people, whether or not we believe their actions are sinful. I don't expect that to be embraced but it is what it is, our intent is not in any way hateful. The history of African Americans in our church is admittedly challenging, so I think the members best able to address it are the many African American who are members of the church.

    The prophet does not "control" our thoughts and beliefs any more than the Pope for the Catholics or the stadium pastors and their followers. We are encouraged to ascertain for ourselves if what we are taught is true, more so than any religion I have ever encountered. I am sorry for the outdated texts (Mormons are a cult and Pluto is a planet, right?), and the strong feelings against us. I am just glad I don't hate anyone as much as what I've read here.

    Oh, and Romney wasn't the "poster boy" Mormon to run. But he definitely created a forum for all the bigotry to manifest itself.

    May 12, 2009 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  6. lawyermommy

    As long as Steele keeps talking, the Democrats look stronger and the Republicans look more confused.
    Nice going Steele. Rush might be a better RNC spokesman at this rate.

    May 12, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  7. Lee, Mays Landing NJ

    Steele told the truth (for once).

    He said the problem was that the "base" of the Republican Party is too bigoted to have someone of a different religion like Mitt Romney (Mormon) to have as a candidate.

    His own party is too bigoted. He said it, using different words but that's what he said and it's true.

    The other part (about Mitt flip-flopping on abortion depending on what office he's running for) is also totally true.

    Unless he moves to Utah and runs for something there, Mitt Romney should forget politics. Perhaps he can get a job doing hair commercials for Clairol, Breck or Grecian Formula.

    May 12, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  8. Zaley

    Both are acting like a couple of misfits on a grade school playground.

    May 12, 2009 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  9. Kentucky

    Steele was telling the truth about his party. Mormonism is extremely unpopular with Southern Fundamentalist. When the Pastor of Obama's church made outlandish statements, Obama denounced his Pastor's teachings. Will Romney denounce the teachings of Brigham Young on race??? Will Romney say that it is wrong to kill an interracial couple today, and that it was wrong in the 1850's to kill an interracial couple too???? Does Romney belileve that Young was speaking for God, when Young said that people who mix the blood of races should be killed on the spot. These are the questions that will be raised in the Republican Churches of the South.

    May 12, 2009 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  10. kara

    Slammer! The truth hurts!

    May 12, 2009 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  11. John

    Yah, its funny to watch the traditional Republican apparatus convulsing with distaste at the prospect of including Mormons, minorities, gays, immigrants, and all the other groups it has traditionally dismissed from its tent.

    Welcome to the brave new world, GOP. Adapt or die.

    May 12, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  12. Melissa

    Romney will not get elected because he constantly puts his foot in his mouth. Like his quoting "who let the dogs out" while taking a photos wtih a group of African American adolescents.

    May 12, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  13. Willow

    Steele was just letting the nation see the "religious intolerance" of the small-minded republican party. Good for Steele for exposing the truth and hypocrisy for what it really is!!!!!

    May 12, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  14. white woman in Hawaii

    We need to reinforce the separation of church and state, period. Religion and politics don't mix, and should not mix. Religion is the reason for most past wars. Our founding fathers came to American so that they would have religious freedoms, but they still wanted them to be personal beliefs, not political ones. Religions are cults, and I will never vote for a politician that is super-religious, regardless of party, as that is no way to run our country. I do not want a relgious zelot in charge, as they can make irrational decisons based on "faith", which is beyond scary!

    May 12, 2009 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  15. GHook93

    Steele wasn't rejecting Romney, he was speaking the truth. I respect and admire both men. I hope Steele sticks around and I pray to god that Romney runs again in 2012, the man is an economic genius!

    May 12, 2009 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  16. Ray O'Vac

    When the ticker said top Republican, I thought this was going to be about Rush Limbaugh

    May 12, 2009 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  17. dave

    it amazes me how the republicans continue this self destructive behavior. In addition to not having any reasonable solutions to our country's problems, they continue to fight amongst themselves like little children craving attention. This is why i recently became a democrat.

    May 12, 2009 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  18. mtanne

    How could anyone vote for a man whose religious belief is that the earth is only 6000 years old ?

    May 12, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  19. jubei

    steele, when looking back at the conservative party nomination elections, is correct.
    The GOP is very picky on who represents them. they want someone as close to Reagan as they can get. Thus Mitt Romney was not, and McCain when the whole of the party got together was.

    It's still early, but if the GOP does not get settled down, they wont be competing in 2012, and I as a democrat WANT the GOP competing, because it keeps the current administration on it's toes, I want them to be kept honest, I want Obama to remain as committed to leadership then as he is now. I dont want another Bush episode.

    May 12, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  20. Fox

    If Romney was in the big white house it would soon be turned into a Morman T.
    Where did the seperation of church and state go Republicans ?

    May 12, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  21. Michael

    Having lived in Salt Lake City and not being Mormon, I believe Steele hit it on the head on everything. If there is a perception of the Mormon Church by the general public, it is because the"church" put it there. From almost going to war with the U.S. government when they were first in Utah to banning blacks (until the 60's) to bribing the Olympic Committee they have cultivated an image that is not trusted to this day.

    May 12, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  22. john

    Steele is right on, Romney would make a good president but there are a lot of issues with the mormon faith and it hurt him. The mormons are more of a cult than a religion.

    May 12, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  23. Anthony

    I sense a new party emerging. A party of Moderates. The Republicans are getting to conservative for Modern day America.

    May 12, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  24. paul c in san diego

    Wow Republican'ts! Stick with clowns like Steele and Romney please! Assured of more defeats! Not only that but if anyone who's got half a brain in their head would know, this country will not elect a Mormon anytime soon. Remember they believe that Jesus took a round trip to South America and appeared before the Natives LOLOLOL. Oh and the secret decoder glasses that Joseph Smith used to read the "new bible". That's who I want as my president! hahahahahahahahahaha

    May 12, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  25. Ryan Bathe

    I don't agree with much of what Steele says, and usually I think he speaks in a very off the cuff manner. However, since he was on a radio show, responding candidly to a caller who happened to raise a solid point, Steele responded in an uncharacteristically reasonable manner.

    The base of the RNC is the midwestern/southern evangelical. The evangelical movement does not READILY embrace Mormonism. It would prefer for it's leaders and candidates to be evangelicals or at least within that vein. Many people think that Barack Obama is a Muslim. It is not a stretch to then argue that many in the RNC aren't sure that Mormons are actually Christians. Mitt Romney, while an excellent candidate, does have to be honest about certain factors. And to argue with Steele for pointing out those factors (no personal digs, mind you) is pointless and childish. It could have been a perfect opportunity for Mitt Romney to begin a dialogue with those in own party who might be slightly confused by his religion.

    May 12, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
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