Mitt Romney Defends His Wright Quote: 'I Stand by What I Said, Whatever It Was'
What began as the resurrection of one of the most animated characters in the 2008 campaign on Thursday ended with Mitt Romney being forced to answer to reporters and consequently offer up a flub of an answer on whether he supports negative ads.
After a leaked "super PAC" proposal to make ads about President Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Romney tried to distance himself from the document, saying it was the "wrong course."
But a reporter noted that in February, Romney brought up Wright unprompted in an interview with the conservative media personality Sean Hannity - a clip that Democrats unearthed early in the day.
In the clip, after Hannity played a sound bite of Obama saying, "Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation," Romney said he believed Obama didn't understand "that Judeo Christian philosophy is an integral part of our foundation."
"I'm not sure which is worse: him listening to Rev. Wright or him saying we must be a less-Christian nation," Romney said.
Romney's explanation today fit right into a frame opponents have tried to put around him - that he doesn't know what he supports and what he opposes.
"I'm not familiar with precisely what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was," Romney said today. "I'll go back and take a look at what was said there."
The Obama campaign was, predictably, all over Romney's stumble.
"Today, Mitt Romney had the opportunity to distance himself from his previous attempts to inject the divisive politics of character assassination into the presidential race," read a statement from Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. "It was a moment that required moral leadership, and once again he didn't rise to the occasion."
The proposal to revive the inflammatory pastor in 2012 ads is likely to end at just that, a proposal and nothing more. A person familiar with the super PAC told ABC News that no plan had been made to make any ads. Making the ads appears even less likely now that the idea has drawn condemnation from the Obama campaign and Romney himself.
The super PAC proposal was reportedly overseen by GOP ad man Fred Davis, who worked for John McCain in 2008 and supported Jon Huntsman in 2012, and Joe Ricketts, a billionaire in the investment arena who owns the Chicago Cubs.
Mark Salter, a top adviser to McCain, criticized Davis in an interview with ABC News, saying in reference to his previous ads: "Fred is a creative guy, but he requires round-the-clock adult supervision. If you take your eyes off him for a moment, you're chasing demon sheep, witches and the yellow peril."
The president of Ricketts's super PAC, Ending Spending Action Fund, said in a statement that Ricketts didn't author the proposal and that the document "reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects."
Romney tried to turn the tables on Obama on the stump, saying in a speech in Florida that he was "disappointed" in the Obama campaign because it was running ads about Romney's time at Bain Capital that he said were "focused on character assassination."
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters today that "there are moments when you have to stand up and say that that's not the right way to go."
Just as the proposal tried to tie Obama to Wright, Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, tried to tie Romney to the sneaky play. "Once again, Gov. Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party," Messina said in a statement.