Mitt Romney has decided to make “the speech.” The speech in which he tries to allay fears about belonging to the Mormon church, which many evangelicals believe is not Christian. Mitt’s cheering fan club will cautiously say that this is a good idea and that Romney has been planning to do this for some time. That’s nonsense. “The speech” has been on the back burner because it’s not something that Team Romney has been anxious to do, especially not during the primary.
Make no mistake about it, there is one reason and one reason alone that “the speech” is being pulled out of mothballs now: Mike Huckabee is presenting a serious challenge to him in Iowa. And I’m not not so sure that this is a good move for Romney. It’s a big gamble for him for a number of reasons.
- Perception of Weakness
- Makes Mormonism a Legitimate Issue
- Little To Gain, Much To Lose
All of a sudden deciding to make “the speech” now shows weakness: the Romney campaign is clearly worried about Huck. That’s the only reason to play the Mormon card at this time.
The speech also makes the issue of Romney’s religion a legitimate issue. Once Mitt brings it up and tries to equate it with Christianity, it opens a Pandora’s Box which he will be unable to close. People who didn’t know or care about his religion will now be thinking about it. That Romney himself chose to speak about it, to downplay or justify it, will plant in peoples’ minds that it is something for them to be concerned about.
Frankly I don’t see what he expects to gain from this. He is not JFK. He’s not going to convince people that see Mormonism as a cult that it’s not. I’m not sure that there’s a lot of people waiting for Mitt to say “Mormonism rocks!” before they throw their support behind him. But there’s the chance, if he flubs it, or even if he doesn’t, that this will create concern in peoples’ minds where they did not already exist. This is a risky move. Team Romney is feeling some desperation. That seems obvious.
Equating Mormonism and Christianity is very risky. Pointing out the differences is likewise risky. I’m not sure how Team Romney expects this is going to help his campaign. It probably won’t. And that’s perfectly fine with me.
If Mitt claims that Mormonism is superior to Christianity (because it has Another Testament of Jesus Christ, a sequel to The Bible, revealed by the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith) or that The Bible contains mistakes (in content or translation), that Mormons can become gods in the afterlife, that Jesus and Satan were brothers, that Adam and Eve were heroes for disobeying G-d, etc., etc., it’s going to seriously hurt his chances among America’s mainstream Christians.
There are plenty of reasons not to support Romney. Addressing his religion in “the speech” will not make those reasons go away. Mitt is taking a big gamble. There’s a lot of chips in Iowa. Romney may be handing them to Huck. How generous of him!
Update 2: This is not Mitt Romney: Rare video JFK 1960 Speech at the Houston Ministers.
Related and relevant: Political Power in the Pulpit, a guest post by former Mayor Jeff Foli.