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. Creative Woody

    Keep going, conservatives. Keep eating your own. Keep using abortion as a wedge to divide the United States. You had 6 years. 6 YEARS with a republican congress, WH and Supreme Court. Surely, if your elected officials wanted to truly do something about abortion, they would have already.
    So, bravo, conservatives! Way to not see how the GOP is using you. Remember, the reason you lost in '08 is because you weren't conservative enough!

    May 12, 2009 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  2. Russell

    The choice of Michael Steele as RNC chairman defies logic. I have no idea who these powers are that control the GOP but it certainly isn't the voting "base" of the Republican Party.
    -Our nominee last year was John McCain – a man a significant portion of the party has literally despised for years.
    -Steele keeps getting in urinating matches with "real Republicans" most popular figures (Limbaugh, Romney, etc). And Why? who knows, it boggles the mind.
    -Steele needs to go because he is unbelievably incompetant.

    May 12, 2009 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  3. Gordon Shumway

    I disagree with Steele on a whole lot of issues, but he's got this one correct. Romney is not one who can unite, because mormons aren't inclusive people, or an inclusive religion, or especially an inclusive life style. They'd be better suited in their own little country like Israel.

    May 12, 2009 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  4. Nicky

    I love it!! keep it going with all this Republican in-fighting! Makes you guys shine as the clear choice!

    May 12, 2009 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  5. Steve

    Oh boy! I love this in-fighting between the repugs....They are only that much closer to destroying the party forever. Let's sit back with the popcorn and watch in amuzement and excitement that these religious lunatics will be gone forever.

    May 12, 2009 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  6. Brian G, Sugar Land, TX

    While we have always suspected that the GOP is not inclusive of all Americans. It now appears that many GOP elite are mere tokens be they from a different ethnic heritage or religion. Witness token Steele and token Romney.

    Rush must be laughing his head off that these two "minorities" are fighting between themselves. Little does Rush know that he is the new "minority" of fat, balding, middle-aged white men.

    May 12, 2009 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  7. Sniffit

    You do realize this is specifically designed to keep Romney in the spotlight and perseverate discussion of his alleged viability as a candidate for POTUS, right? It's a political charade. YAWN.

    May 12, 2009 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  8. Michael

    Michael Steele can't win for losing. He finally makes an astute statement and he gets nailed for it. Romney took positions during his '94 senate run and '02 governor run in Massachussets that should make conservatives question his commitment to conservative values. And, the religious base of the GOP is apprehensive about the values of the LDS faith.

    May 12, 2009 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  9. Tim

    This is just sad. It used to be funny, but not anymore.

    May 12, 2009 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  10. NY moderate

    No surprise here. The GOP canabilizing itself.

    Don't they think they have done enough damage to their party over the past 8 they are undercutting and back stabbing their own leaders.

    Completely Clueless - Without Hope

    May 12, 2009 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  11. Teacher

    I am a Mormon and a moderate Republican, and I see nothing wrong with Michael Steele's comment. He is right! Mainstream Republicans DO have a problem with Mormonism, but the best way for Mitt to handle it is to not get so upset, but rather to show himself to be the better man. He can be a positive example, rise above the negative comments and show that he's an ordinary person, like the rest of us. This is a good teaching moment, not one in which to cast stones.

    May 12, 2009 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  12. Michigan

    It appears Republicans are missing a lot of targets recently...instead of making any positive changes, they continue to bash each other and every move Democrats make. I don't see how any of this will win over folks to their party for the mid-terms or beyond.

    May 12, 2009 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  13. R Hill

    Mormons have a base of around 2 million, traditional christians see them as fringe cult, and their history of believing blacks had mark of cain on them as reason they were banned from Mormon churches until 1978 civil case forced them to allow them haunts them as a church with racism, anyone whom knows the klu klux klan doctrine knows they to believe the black has mark of caine on them and these two groups having similiar belief on blacks is death knell to any Mormon ever winning a national office! Just will not sell to traditional christians let alone people of color!

    May 12, 2009 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  14. Lois

    McCain won because Republicans followed Limbaugh's order ("Operation Chaos") to vote in the Democratic primarites to manipulate the outcome. Remember all those Republcans who switched parties? Republicans didn't mind their own primary, making it possible for McCain to slip in there. See what dirty politics will get you?

    May 12, 2009 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  15. Harvey for Obama

    They are eating their young. I am loving this.

    May 12, 2009 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  16. Steve

    There will be a new party by by 2010 in place which will start sweeping the country in 2010 and win the country in 2012 which will be more like the conservative parties of the Euopean countries and Canada.

    May 12, 2009 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  17. Lois

    Wow, Steele, Cheney, Limbaugh, Gingrich seem to be the spokespeople for the GOP. Democrats will be winning for YEARS to come. Keep it coming GOP.

    May 12, 2009 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  18. EL

    Good stell keep up the good work!

    May 12, 2009 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  19. Dennis F

    Several thousand years ago there was an incident that was the genesis for a phrase that best applies to our current situation.

    The current situation is the fact that both the Democratic and Republican parties in this country have been more concerned with their own self interests that they have completely ignored the best interests of this Nation as a whole. We are rapidly becoming a third-world country as evidenced by the size of our deficits over the past 8 years.

    As long as this country allows the most conservative and most liberal people to run our affairs instead of “TORCHING” them both and replacing them with moderates we will continue down the road where what was said a couple millennia ago about another great power will be applicable to us.

    “Nero fiddled while Rome Burned!!!!”

    May 12, 2009 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  20. Steve

    Steele's analysis was about right. The thing I still don't understand is why Romneyed didn't just flip-flop on Mormonism like he did on everything else. He could've converted to a Southern Baptist to placate the "base." I absolutely relished the irony of Romney trying to appeal to southern Republican bigots by bashing gay people while losing the nomination because of those same bigots' opposition to Mormons. Deliciously just!

    May 12, 2009 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  21. Tim

    These guys are really turning on each other aren't they.
    I liked Mitt. He's a good man and the Mormon people and their values are just what this country needs in a leader. If people would actually take the time to know Mormons, they would find the happiest, most caring and loving people on the planet.With that in mind, I'll never figure out why Mitt is a republican. Seems almost contradictory to his way of life.

    May 12, 2009 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  22. dina levine

    Romney's got my vote. I'm already sick of the lack of values and morals this President has. The partial birth abortion he believes in is disqusting and plain murder. Bring Romney on, he has experience with the economy, another subject Obama is lacking in.

    Obama's a funny guy, but bring me somebody that can do the job.

    May 12, 2009 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  23. Saint Genesius

    This is one of those situations where the truth is a problem. Steele is right about all this, the problem is he is the chairman of the party and just gave the Democrats (or even a primary opponent of Romney) a huge weapon.

    It also points up another simple fact, the GOP can't even govern itself. It is any wonder they completely screwed up the country.

    Even the caller who started this entire thing has that Republican "liberal media conspracy" thing going. There was an open conspiracy in the election, but it was the other way around when Rush Limbaugh tried to affect the outcome of the Democratic primary with his "Operation Chaos" or whatever he called it.

    On the Republican side there was also a media conspiracy, but it was not to get Romney the nomination, it was run by Fox News on behalf of Guiliani (remember him?). Other GOP candidates complained about Fox's biased coverage, including Romney if memory serves.

    So, we have a conservative caller calling into a conservative talk show with a wacky theory, and they the conservative host answers with the truth and the conservatives are up in arms.

    Yup, these guys are doing a great job.

    May 12, 2009 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  24. Mississippi Mike

    That's not really hitting back, I'd say it's more along the lines of downplaying the comment. Romney is too smart to start a fight with the chairman of his own party. I really think this is an exercise to desensitize the nation to Romney's faith so he can win the White House in 2012 and undo the socialist policies Obama is forcing on us.

    May 12, 2009 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  25. Jessica

    Gotta agree with Steele, the "liberal media" should have no play on republican voters in their own primariers. Republican voters should have been reviewing the candidates themselves and deciding for themselves, espcially since "republican voters" are already weary of the "liberal media".

    It literally makes no sense to blame the liberal media for McCain beating Romney in the primaries.

    I think what you had was a split in ideologies. The fiscal conservatives loved Romney. The Moderates loved McCain, and the social conservatives loved Huckabee.

    Where as democrats had a choice between Hillary and Barack, nearly identical platforms – the only difference was their style and approach, and to me most importantly their outlook on how to get things done.

    May 12, 2009 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
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