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The Boston Globe

Politics

Romney is criticized for response to Limbaugh’s remarks

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mitt Romney was criticized this morning for not more forcefully denouncing Rush Limbaugh’s comments that a Georgetown law student was a “slut” for advocating for expanded birth control coverage.

Limbaugh’s comments on the radio last week have triggered a firestorm among both conservatives and liberals and prompted an apology from Limbaugh yesterday. Rick Santorum has called Limbaugh’s comment “absurd,” but qualified his criticism, saying Limbaugh was justified because he is an entertainer. Romney’s response has been more tepid.

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“I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used,” Romney said on Friday, while signing autographs after an event in Cleveland. “I’m focusing on the issues that I think are significant in the country today, and that’s why I’m here talking about jobs and Ohio.”

Democrats pounced on Romney on Friday. David Axelrod, a top Obama adviser, tweeted just after Romney’s comment, “Wow. Profiles in Courage.” “Now that’s leadership,” Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, tweeted.

The Democrats continued to criticize Romney today on Sunday talk shows.

“The bottom line is that the leading candidate on the Republican side for president couldn’t even bring himself to call Rush Limbaugh’s comments outrageous and call him out and ask him to apologize,” Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, a congresswoman from Florida, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I think the problem is the Republican leaders, Mitt Romney and the other candidates, don’t have the courage to say what they say in quiet, which, they think Rush Limbaugh is a buffoon,” Matthew Dowd, a former top strategist for President George W. Bush, said on ABC News’ “This Week.”

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“If I were Mitt Romney, I would stand up and say, we need to change the political discourse in this country,” Dowd added. “Whatever words we use on the left or the right, we need to change the political discourse.”

House Minority Leader Eric Cantor, just after endorsing Romney on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said of Limbaugh’s comments, “It was insulting – and Rush has said as much.”

“I don’t condone that type of language in any arena, including the political arena,” Cantor said. When asked whether Romney should have been more forceful in repudiating Limbaugh’s remarks, Cantor said, “If you asked Mitt Romney…I’m sure he would also agree those were insulting words.”

Limbaugh last week called the law student, Sandra Fluke, a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating for expanded access to birth control under President Obama’s health care law. Obama called Fluke on Friday to offer his support, and Limbaugh apologized on Saturday for the comments. Some advertisers pulled their support for his syndicated show.

Although Romney was not pointed in his criticism of Limbaugh, the talk show host has showed little hesitancy at tweaking Romney. Last year, when Romney said he thought humans had a role in climate change, the talk show host said, “Bye-bye nomination.” Last week, after Romney said he wasn’t willing to “light my hair on fire” and say incendiary things to win the nomination, Limbaugh said it was insulting to the GOP base.

“What does this tell you that Romney thinks of the base? That it takes incendiary comments to turn you on?” he said on his show. “That all you want is somebody beating up on Obama...or set their hair on fire to get attention?”

Rick Santorum last week called Limbaugh’s comments “absurd,” but his condemnation was qualified.

“He’s being absurd, but that’s, you know – an entertainer can be absurd,” Santorum told CNN. “He’s in a very different business than I am.”

Newt Gingrich this morning on CNN’s “State of the Union” program said Limbaugh “made a mistake, and he did the right thing” by apologizing. But he also criticized the media for fixating on the comments, and said none of the four Republican presidential candidates had anything to do with them and “that issue ought to be behind us.”

“I know everybody in the media is desperate to protect Barack Obama, but that’s just silly,” Gingrich said, when asked whether the comments were damaging the party. “The Republican Party has four people running, and none of them are Rush Limbaugh…None of them were involved in this controversy at all.”

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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