Romney And “The Speech”
How will you deal with criticisms of your Mormon faith?
I have said that time will give us the answer on whether we do a big speech; and then I read Hugh Hewitt’s book, A Mormon in the White House? and his conclusion was, don’t give a speech, you know it can never be as good as Jack Kennedy’s [addressing critics of his Roman Catholicism]. And that’s true, and it won’t answer the critics. But more recently I am more inclined to [because] there have been comments about my faith that have been inaccurate, and it has become more of a visible issue.
I remain a skeptic of the benefits of such a speech because MSM reporters are so manifestly lazy or disingenuous on the topic of Romney’s faith. He’s answered every question put to him, but they get asked again and again not to elicit any new information but as a means of generating cheap headlines. Every extreme statement or bigoted outburst by someone like Al Sharpton gets coverage, and will continue to do so. At this point the success of Romney wherever he has campaigned –especially in Iowa and New Hampshire– underscores that the cartoonish attacks from the left and the far right won’t stop his campaign and may in fact be helpful as they generate disgust in the minds of mainstream Americans committed to the idea that everyone’s faith is their own business.
If Governor Romney does give such a speech, however, it will generate a great deal of attention, which means an opportunity to deliver a couple of messages in addition to the core message about the refusal of the LDS Church authorities to try and influence their members active in politics,whether Senator Hatch or Senator Reid or everyone in between that he discussed with me in the book. It would also be an opportunity to talk about societies in which religious divisions became embedded in the politics of the land, and where religious minorities are mocked, disenfranchised or even persecuted. The American tradition is to keep questions about individual’s religious practices and quizzes about theological concepts far away from the scrum of politics except as to general issues of morals and personal conduct. If Romney gives this speech, I hope he’ll use it to contrast the benefits of our country’s rejection of sectarian attacks on candidates with those countries where the specifics of an individual’s sectarian attachment is everything.
As Patrick notes below, Romney’s had a very good run in the past six months, and has opened a little distance between himself and the pack in Iowa and New Hampshire, which would serve him well in South Carolina and Florida and beyond. He has accomplished this without giving “the speech,” and it seems to me that he ought to just keep repeating what has worked so far –retail politics plus good media and a strong support for the war coupled with the ability to spell out the enormous challenges the country faces from Islamist radicals around the globe.