Wolfe: “Kennedy’s approach would not be a strong model for Romney because many Republican voters, particularly Christian conservatives, bristle at the notion of separation of church and state and want religion to be a guiding principle for the next president.”
“After months of debate within his campaign organization, Mitt Romney has decided to give a speech addressing his Mormon faith, a potentially pivotal step that reflects the surging candidacy of Mike Huckabee, the former Baptist preacher who has been promoting himself explicitly as a Christian leader,” writes the Globe Staff’s Michael Levenson in an article titled Pressed, Romney to speak on his Mormonism; Will ‘share views on religious liberty’ as a Baptist rival leaps ahead in Iowa
NOTA: Levenson’s very headline links Team Romney’s Agony-in-Iowa to Romney’s sudden conversion on the issue of a Mormon-Kennedy speech. Yet further evidence of the disastrous timing of Romney’s speech—Romney’s decision is depicted as a concession, as an act of weakness or desperation.
Kevin Madden, a Romney spokesman, said yesterday that Romney would give the speech titled “Faith in America” on Thursday at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.
“This speech is an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation, and how the governor’s own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected,” Madden said in a statement. “Governor Romney understands that faith is an important issue to many Americans, and he personally feels this moment is the right moment for him to share his views with the nation.”
The problem for Romney is this: how can he “share … how the governor’s own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected” without endorsing the Mormon confession?—without drawing attention to the Mormon confession?—recall: Kennedy in 1960 argued that his confession would not inform his presidency—Romney must somehow argue the precise opposite. What was it Marx said about history repeating itself? First as tragedy, the second time as farce … Romney would be the farce.
The biggest historical precedent for Romney’s decision is the speech that John F. Kennedy delivered before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association during the 1960 presidential campaign. Kennedy sought in the speech to allay concerns among voters about his Catholicism.
NOTA: Romney has encouraged and Levenson endorses the link between Kennedy’s speech and Romney’s—once again, as in Iowa, as in New Hampshire, Romney and his crack staff have set up impossible-to-meet expectations for the hapless candidate. This is a pattern for Romney: he sets himself up not just to fail, but to fail spectacularly.
… Clayton M. Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor and Romney supporter who holds a leadership position in the Mormon Church, saw the decision as a sign that Romney is making a serious bid to become the first Mormon president.
“I’m delighted that he’s decided to do it,” Christensen said. “It really is a great church, and the more people can understand what it is and what it does, the more I think they’ll trust that he acts in the best interests of the country” … etc.
Christensen unwittingly articulates Romney’s peril: to argue that the Mormon confession is “a great church, and the more people can understand what it is and what it does, the more I think they’ll trust that [Romney] acts in the best interests of the country” would be death for the Romney candidacy—Romney would truly become the Mormon candidate whose task it is to draw the Mormon confession into the mainstream not of US public life, because lots of Mormons already serve the public good in public life and public service with merit and distinction, but rather into the mainstream of the Evangelical movement, which is the audience Romney wants to address. Only this would be patently ridiculous—the primary process is neither the time nor the place for such a dialog.
Wolfe states the case more elegantly than we do:
… Wolfe said Kennedy’s approach would not be a strong model for Romney because many Republican voters, particularly Christian conservatives, bristle at the notion of separation of church and state and want religion to be a guiding principle for the next president.
“Kennedy’s speech was actually an antireligion speech; it was a don’t pay-any-attention-to-my-Catholicism speech,” Wolfe said. “In the 2007 Republican Party you can’t do that, because it’s a party that essentially has a religious test for the nomination” …
… Wolfe said the theological differences could put Romney in an awkward position.
“If he says something about Mormonism as his actual religion, it’s not going to please evangelicals too much,” Wolfe said. “But if he gives the kind of Jesus-is-my-personal-savior speech, evangelicals won’t buy it and he’s going to alienate his own Mormon friends.”
Wolfe said the wisest approach might be to explain the differences and similarities between Mormonism and mainline Christianity.
“If I were in his shoes, I would take a more honest approach and say this what I am, this is what Mormons believe, this is why we’re Christians,” Wolfe said. “He can’t deny who he is” … etc.
Yes. And an honest exposition of the distinctions between Romney’s confession and what Evangelicals consider to be normative may have been effective last summer or even as late as the ill-starred Value Voter’s Summit. Now, however, whatever Romney does, whatever Romney says, will appear as desperation in the very teeth of crashing poll numbers.
Kairos, Romney. Timing. It’s all about timing. See:
how Romney botched the Mormon-Kennedy-speech issue by setting up impossible expectations, by consistently failing to identify opportunity and seize the initiative, and by allowing others to frame the debate