RNC Chairman Michael Steele argued this week that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney didn’t win the presidential primary of his party because the GOP base had, among other things, issues with his Mormonism, according to a report in Think Progress.
Steele, who made the remark while guest-hosting Bill Bennett’s radio show, was rebutting a caller’s claim that The New York Time’s endorsement of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., contributed to Romney’s defeat -- in spite of his money, fresh ideas, ability to articulate, and deep knowledge of financial matters.
“But remember,” said Steele, “it was the base that rejected Mitt because of his switch on pro-life, from pro-choice to pro-life. 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.
For his part, Romney has endeavored to dispel any notion that his religion derailed his candidacy.
He told the Deseret News last month: “I believe that religion will not be a factor of a significant nature in selecting our nominee, regardless of who might run. “In my own case, I won evangelical votes in Michigan, in places like Florida ... I know there’s a lot of interest in religion, but I don’t think for the great majority of Americans that's the deciding factor.”
The Mormon Times, however, has disputed the Romney claim, noting in a report: “But Romney did run into trouble with evangelical voters who don't consider Mormons to be fellow Christians in other primary contests. In Iowa, he lost to Baptist minister and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- despite having a stronger campaign organization and early leads in the polls.”
But if Romney is convinced now that religion is not a deal breaker in politics, he perhaps wasn’t so sure in Dec. 2007 when he made a speech that many pundits characterized as an effort to defuse concerns about his Mormon faith:
“Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin,” he said.
“As governor, I tried to do the right as best I knew it, serving the law and answering to the Constitution. I did not confuse the particular teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the Constitution -- and of course, I would not do so as president. I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law,” Romney concluded.
In his back-and-forth with the Romney-supporter caller, Steele went beyond offering an inventory of Romney’s flaws – addressing the last presidential contest in general.
“I think that there were other problems that went well beyond who our nominee was. But do you honestly think that Mitt Romney or any of the other nominees -- I don’t care, pick ‘em -- would have won in last year’s cycle?” he challenged.
No doubt pundits will tally the latest remarks as yet another episode of the chairman’s unfortunate foot-in-mouth talent.
In a recent interview in GQ magazine, for example, Steele was in form with these remarks on the hot button issue of abortion.
Steele: “The choice issue cuts two ways. You can choose life, or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other.”
Q: “Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?”
Steele: “Yeah. I mean, again, I think that's an individual choice.”
Q: “You do?”
Steele: “Yeah. Absolutely.”
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