Yesterday’s announcement from long time movement conservative activist Paul Weyrich that he would support Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination was big news, as The New York Times noted:
Before Mr. Weyrich, Mr. Romney had lined up endorsements by social conservatives like James Bopp Jr., a well-known abortion opponent; Jay Sekulow, a prominent Christian conservative; and Bob Jones III, chancellor of Bob Jones University. But Romney lacked the backing of an elder statesman of the religious right, which Mr. Weyrich is considered.
(The Times overlooked the key-in-evangelical-circles endorsement of Romney by esteemed scholar/theologian Wayne Grudem, but the paper gets points for seeing the Weyrich endorsement as key –the Washington Post only has an online AP story on the development.)
As CBN’s David Brody opened his post about the Weyrich endorsement: “This is a big one folks.”
I have always thought –and argued in A Mormon In The White House?– that evangelical opposition to Mitt Romney on the basis of theology was overstated. Many of the most virulent attacks on the LDS theology came from leftists like Jacob Weisberg at Slate –from pundits who would never support Romney in any event because of their opposition to his conservative policies but who didn’t mind using religious bigotry to try and stir up some trouble for the former Massachusetts governor.
Two dynamics are at work in the accelerating support for Romney.
First, it is a Giuliani-Romney race, and all the MSM’s attempt to pump up Mike Huckabee or keep Fred Thompson from collapsing entirely won’t obscure the binary choice confronting the GOP: Either Romney wins early and develops momentum, or Giuliani’s national reputation gives him the big win on February 2. Every vote for Huckabee or Thompson is a very real vote for Giuliani. Some conservatives want Giuliani but don’t want to say so out loud, so they work hard for Thompson or Huckabee and wait for events to play out. “You want Hillary?” is the line they are rehearsing for the day they announce, on so reluctantly to their conservative pals, they are with Rudy all the way.
The serious conservatives have done the math and are now breaking for Romney. There is no alternative, and not to announce for Romney is to give tacit support to Giuliani, though spoecific denunications of Giuliani seem to some to be a third way. Many conservatives have also been watching Romney and allowing themselves to be persuaded –not about his LDS faith, but about his sincerity concerning the big issues, especially life. Read this transcript of my interview Friday with James Bopp, long time General Counsel of the Right To Life Committee, and conservative activist-lawyer with huge credibility within leadership circles. Key graph:
[Romney] had a conversion. I mean, there are people in the pro-life movement that have had abortions that are pro-life. There are doctors who have performed abortions that are pro-life. This happens to people. We spend an enormous amount of time trying to convince people to convert to the pro-life cause. When they’ve demonstrated their leadership on this issue like Mitt Romney has, we should welcome them, embrace them, and be pleased.
Evangelicals, Roman Catholics and others of deep faith of the sort that propels their politics have also begun to recognize that attacks on Romney because of his faith are dress rehearsals for using theology as a sword against them. I made this argument to the Evangelical Theological Society in Washington, D.C. last year, and to the Christian Legal Society in Florida on Saturday night, and each time received many, many responses that confirmed to me that increasing numbers of values voters are awake to the left’s desire to drive all people of faith from the public square using theological inquisition to do so. The growing recognition that it is possible, indeed easy, to vote for Romney based on his posiitons while disagreeing completely with his theology is powering the Romney candidacy, and inquisitions of Huckabee because of his faith —Bill O’Reilly pressing Huckabee on whether he really believed in Adam and Eve— are actually driving the point about the left’s agenda home. The left doesn’t want candidates to be questioned closely about abortion, but does want them scrutinized about their personal creeds. The center-right understands that the essence of American political debate has always centered on candidates’ issues and his character, not their theology. Radicals and haters want to overturn the old order, but conservatives moving to Romney are showing that they are concerned not just with the White House in 2008 but also with conserving the wall against using theology as opposed to values and character as a litmus test for office.
Journalists fighting the last war want Romney to give “the speech.” I hope he gives a speech on not giving the speech but instead on why pressing Huckabee on “Jesus as the only way to heaven” as O’Reilly did is injurious to our politics. Asking Huckabee and Romney again and again about abortion –that was good for politics, as that is an important issue and through these early months of the campaign folks needed clarity. Asking every candidate about the death penalty –that’s an important issue, too, as are guns, taxes, Iran, Iraq etc. Ask about the candidates’ values. Values matters. And if candidates distort their lives or claim supporters they don’t have or achievements they didn’t do, MSM should call them on it. What candidates say and do and said and did, are legitimate subjects for the political mill. But demanding that they debate theology is agenda journalism at work –the sort designed to mock and distort, not illuminate and clarify.
But leave questions about theology –about revelation– out of politics. Weyrcih and others have done just that and are making political decisions about who is the best candidate to represent the GOP the old fashioned way, based on their positions on the issues and their electability. If the trend continues, so will Romney’s momentum.