Funny, a big win and suddenly everybody starts to pay attention again. ABCNews ran a piece on 12 potential GOP presidential candidates. They had to stretch pretty hard to get the list to 12. Three things to note. First of all, John Thune appears in the top 4. You will note he has made our masthead as of last week – the whispers about him have gotten too loud. The second thing to note is that Tim Pawlenty is down the list a bit. He is just not making a splash, and if I were him, this is the last headline I would ever want written about me. The final note is unsurprising: Mitt Romney occupies the top spot.
That last fact is also true with a panel on FOXNews. Check the top video in the widget on the left. On that panel, both Kristen Powers and no less than Charles Krauthammer proclaim Romney as the best the Republicans have to offer. What’s interesting from the perspective of this blog is that Powers says he will be great in the general, but have problems getting out of the primaries because of the Mormon issue. David French at EFM said this about it:
As 2008 proved, the evangelical vote can block the Governor in key states (Iowa, South Carolina, etc.), but it’s absolutely critical to understand that evangelical opposition to Governor Romney is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It happened largely in 2008 because one candidate decided to play the religion card early and often to court his natural constituency. Even worse, that candidate seemed to have a special disdain for Mitt.
He then goes on to do the “electoral math” and point out that Palin and the Huckster are likely to split the evangelical vote and therefore prevent them from such blockage. If both run, that’s probably true, but not a given. First of all, one must remember that much of the evangelical vote that harmed Romney were not typical voters – they came out because the Huckster played the religion card. They could become organized opposition in ’12, and one wonders if the seeds of that organization are not in the Tea Party movement. (More on that in a minute.) Secondly, I am not sure that either Huck or Palin, let alone both of them, is running. They are enjoying media stardom a bit too much. With Palin, that simply takes her out of the mix. She has never overtly played the religion card, but the Huckster; he could be more dangerous with a pundit background. Last time, when he did strike out he was roundly pilloried. As a pundit he will not garner so much criticism for such escapades – he can supply far more fuel to an organized opposition than as a candidate.
It’s interesting – Sarah Palin was noted last week as saying “It’s not Romney’s turn.” Here it is from Taegan Goddard, and Ben Smith, and Race 4 2012. Of course, that’s the headline, the real story is that we don’t take turns as Republicans. It looks like it sometimes, but it’s earned and if Romney runs and ends up the nominee, he most certainly will have earned it.
Which is why some are defending him, and many are taking pot shots. (Some on the left are even trying to play the religion card right now.) What’s more interesting is to see who is making moves to hitch onto Romney’s rising star. Some that are already hitched are working hard at helping Romney shift his image a tad.
And before we leave Romney altogether, in our last “Telling the Story” post we talked about the role of new media and how a future Romney campaign will have to be very astute online. Given Romney’s work with Scott Brown, looks like he is learning. Romney’s PAC has a much higher online presence now than it did at this point last time around, but it will need to keep innovating.
The Real Divide
The Democrats are going to try to expose the rift between Tea party conservatives and GOP moderates.
They are working darn hard at it, and frankly, I am worried. It is looking nasty in Utah, and Texas. I am worried about this for a couple of reasons. From my perspective, the only thing holding us together right now is opposition to Obama. If the man would just shut up and sit down we are liable to tear ourselves apart – he really is slitting his own political wrists with his continued fight for what is clearly now a loser agenda. And he does not need to, given his personal popularity. We may be watching one of the worst bits of political calculation in history unfold before our very eyes.
But more I am worried because the Tea Party movement really has its roots in the “authenticity” question of the last round. Of course, “inauthentic” was the big charge against Romney, and as we have documented, that charge is given credence by distrust of Mormons. We will likely not hear much about the “Mormon issue” this time around – this is where the fault line will lie and this is the language that will surround it, but make no mistake, it is in many ways the same issue. Because it will not be in religious clothes, we cannot fight it with the language of anti-bigotry, we will have to develop a new vocabulary. I’d like to think “winning” would be the magic word, but many in the Tea Party movement seem as tone deaf as Obama – that’s the concern.
Frankly, the time to deal with this is in the 2010 cycle. If Romney can be as effective in other races as he was helping Scott Brown he will have built a huge base of insiders, but more he will have successfully united the two branches. If that happens, you can look for the Dems to try and punch this button in any way possible. The Mormon issue will be back big – they’ll want to rub the scar, anything to open the wound. But it’ll be too late.
In The Deep End
Neither the president, nor the state in general can be a Savior. But a lot of people confuse the two. That’s the rel problem when religion and politics mix. It is also more evidence about why politics hurts religion. It co-ops the language of religion for its own use.
Lowell adds . . .
Regarding the Tea Party activists, the kiss of death for Romney is to be branded the “establishment” candidate. I don’t detect much of a religious undercurrent in that group of voters; if anything they remind me of Ross Perot’s group, but angrier (and justifiably so). Remember: We probably have Perot to thank for Bill Clinton’s election, so John’s worries are not unfounded.
Thanks to Instapundit, here’s an interesting (and predictable) piece from Newsweek’s Lisa Miller, who thinks “moderate evangelicals” who once supported President Obama are becoming disenchanted with him. (John must quip: Gee, could it be they are fairly conservative at root? Back to Lowell . . .)
Now, keep in mind that to MSM writers like Ms. Miller, “moderate” means “believes in social justice through government action, loosely based on on the Bible.” In Miller’s view, during the 2008 campaign “Obama created a vision of America as a place where people took care of one another because it was the right thing to do,” and he did so by “[d]rawing on Niebuhr, Lincoln, and King.”
Lincoln? A voice for Niebuhr-style social justice? But I digress. Miller elaborates:
Count the moderate faithful, then, among those palpably disappointed in the president. Part of this is inevitable, the bruising differential between courtship and marriage. But part of it is a legitimate frustration that the thing Obama once did so well—articulate American values as a matter of conscience and community—he seems today not to be able to do at all. His State of the Union address last week was not corrective: more pedantic than inspirational. Health care, centrist clerics say, would have been better if framed strongly from the outset as an issue of social justice. The economy, they continue, is also a values crisis, a failure on the part of the banks and government to respect our collective inter-dependence. “Not my problem” is exactly the mindset that Matthew 25 warns against. “I am my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper,” Obama would say on the campaign trail.
We could say a lot about this. I simply find it interesting that when religious conservatives mention religion as a basis for their policy views, many on the left have a hissy fit; but the same people applaud when Obama does the same thing.
Meanwhile, a documentary film on the involvement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in opposing California’s Proposition 8 has hit the Sundance Film Festival in Park City. I have not seen the film but understand it is produced and directed by former Mormons. (Do you hear the sound of axes grinding?) Predictably, reviews have been mixed:
Daniel Fienberg, a blogger for the Web site Hitfix, dismissed it as “sloppily assembled propaganda,” while the Salt Lake City Tribune called it “a vital, important cry for an open dialogue.” Variety said the film “covers a lot of ground in a short space, not always in the most organized way, but on enough fronts to spark an informed dialogue.”
The public discussion about Prop 8 is fascinating to watch. We are watching an important chapter being written about the role of churches and faith communities in the public square.
I should say that better: Let’s not just be watching; let’s help write that chapter.