Former Massachusetts governor and likely 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney became the most high-profiled Republican to date to weigh in critically against Michael Steele, saying on Thursday that the RNC chairman had become a distraction to the party.
Appearing in Manchester, New Hampshire (a common stop for those with White House ambitions) on his book tour, Romney refused to say whether he thought Steele should resign over controversial expenditures and communications mishaps.
But according to the New Hampshire Union-Leader, he didn't express much pleasure with Steele's tenure either.
"Anytime the chairman of our party becomes a story, that's a distraction for our candidates," Romney said. "I would encourage the chairman to do things that make it easier for candidates, like raising money, updating the technological base of our party and focusing on getting Republicans elected.
"I'm not going to give advice about his career, but I'm going to give advice on how to lead the RNC at this point," Romney said.
Coming from Romney, who often goes out of his way not to buck his party, the remarks reflect a growing consensus within the GOP that Steele has become a liability -- or, at the very least, deserves a public rebuke. His comments were harsher in tone than those offered earlier in the day by another perpetual Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who defended Steele's work at the committee by noting, among other things, his fundraising prowess.
"They have raised over $100 million. They have $11 million in the bank with zero debt," Gingrich told CNN. "Here's a guy who helped win New Jersey, helped win Massachusetts, helped win Virginia. They have had the biggest fundraising month in their history, and you're raising fundraising questions?"