Mitt Romney fired back at RNC Chairman Michael Steele Tuesday for remarks suggesting the former governor’s Mormon faith led to his failed presidential candidacy.
“Sometimes when you shoot from the hip you miss the target. This is one of those times,” Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told The Hill.
In a now-familiar post-gaffe ritual, Steele's aides backtracked on his remarks.
“Chairman Steele regrets the way his comments have been interpreted,” RNC spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said. “Chairman Steele believes Mitt Romney is a respected and influential voice in the Republican Party and looks to his leadership and ideas to help move our party and our nation in the right direction.”
Steele, who made the remark while guest-hosting Bill Bennett’s radio show, was rebutting a caller’s claim that the NY 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, according to a report in Think Progress.
“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.
Romney has long endeavored to minimize the religion card in his political life.
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.”
Pundits note surprise that Steele would sling such a remark at one of the bright lights of the struggling GOP. Since withdrawing as a presidential candidate, Romney has maintained a high profile in the party.
In addition to his Free and Strong America PAC, Romney participates in the National Council for a New America, a group aimed at re-focusing the Republican Party, according to a report by ABC News.
Romney has not dispelled speculation that he is planning another run on the White House in 2012.
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