Article VI Blog

"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

CPAC Starts the Sorting…

Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:53 am, February 22nd 2010     —    2 Comments »

Mitt Romney’s life as a presidential candidate seems to revolve around the various CPAC conferences, and the one that was conducted this past weekend was no exception.  He seems to have wowed the crowd – which is typical for him at CPAC.  Race42012 has the video, and the transcript is here – it is typically good Mitt.  There were, needless to say, massive amounts of commentary in the wake of not only Romney but the other possibles that appeared.  We will forgo most of it, but there are a few interesting bits.

First of all, Romney was introduced, quite successfully, by Scott Brown.    Some of the punditry/”journalism” crowd are trying to use Brown to make trouble for Romney, but if Brown is that disloyal this soon after getting into the Senate, he would suffer from levels of hubris that make Obama look like a piker, and I do not read Brown that way.

With his book tour coming on the heels of this appearance Romney appears poised to take maximum advantage of the momentum gained.

Jennifer Rubin quotes Ben Smith in a way that puts just the right read on it, even if Smith (or his headline writers anyway) are putting a less accurate spin on it.  Quoting Smith:

Mitt Romney has gone from being an overeager suitor to being a favored son of the Conservative Political Action Conference since he ended his presidential campaign here in 2008 . . .

Romney has matured as a presidential possible.  But there are a lot of people out there, including Smith, talking about “the New Mitt,” both on the left and within Romney supporters.  There is nothing “new” about Mitt or what he is doing.  Yes, he is maturing, yes he is better learning how to handle the overwhelming scrutiny that his current position brings upon him, yes he is learning better how to manage message – but nothing, really, has changed.  It is an odd phenomenon amongst the punditry, and the electorate for that matter, to assume a candidate has changed, when they are, in fact, just figuring the guy out.  What we are seeing here is the Romney I have known since I met him – smart, capable, genuinely conservative.

The other interesting comment came from, of all places, E.J. Dionne:

And I am starting to think that Sarah Palin is Mitt Romney’s other best friend.

[...]

Third, I am absolutely convinced that Palin will not run for president, but that it’s in her interest not to say so until the very last moment. Attention is what she needs for all her other enterprises, and being a possible candidate for as long as possible will get her lots of attention. Romney wants her out there as long as possible as his blocking back. This will make it harder and harder for the alternative to him to emerge.

Allapundit agrees with Dionne’s analysis, amplifying:

There’s some sense to that. Like it or not, the prefab narrative for the 2012 primaries is Palin vs. anti-Palin, partly because the media wants/needs a moderate opposite their Grim Reaper of “true conservatism” and partly because everyone likes a simplistic binary “hero vs. villain” storyline. Huckabee’s too much like her to qualify as anti-Palin — he’s rural, Christian, and all that other supposedly bad stuff — but Mitt, as a wealthy northeastern child of privilege, fits the role to a T. And of course he’s almost certainly running, so all that’s left to lock in the storyline is for Sarahcuda herself to declare her candidacy.

What is amazing from all of this, is the lack of religion talk.  When this stuff was happening last cycle, these kinds of things simply could not be written without the seemingly mandatory, “BUT . . . the Mormon thing,” being inserted into the discussions somewhere.  By this point last cycle we had been treated to any number of stories asking, if not answering The Question.  But the issue barely gets a rise anymore.  Given the further circumstances that emerged from the airplane incident last week, one would have expected all sorts of religiously based mischief at Romney’s expense.  And yet, with the exception of one virtually unnotable attempt and one extremely lame one, it is simply NOT being discussed.

So why the lack of religious chatter?  One big reason is that from the perspective of the punditry it’s an old worn out toy.  But there is another, perhaps bigger, reason.

From my part of this blog, it began with a thesis – that if Evangelicals insisted on “playing the religion card” when it concerns Romney, they would set themselves apart into some sort of Evangelical ghetto of political non-relevance.  It would seem that the current situation bears out that thesis.  There is no religious discussion in re: Romney because at the moment, Evangelical voters, those that would oppose Romney on religious grounds, just don’t matter that much.

Consider, the presumed spokesman of the gang, Mike Huckabee, is reduced to television stunts. and throwing tantrums.  And George Will’s penetrating analysis of the other possible for that role, Sarah Palin, points out that such behavior is never a route to actual power.

It is a long time between now and 2012.  Things will change a lot, and coalitions can regroup, but I frankly do not think Evangelicals have it in them to get back to a point where they truly matter before 2012.  I do not think Romney will win in Iowa – the anti-Mormon strain there is simply too virulent, thanks to the Huckster.  But the issue will likely begin and end there, and the rest of the nation will not care that much what happened in Iowa.

The religious battle this time will be with the left almost exclusively, and it will be very different.  It will be against Mormons as representative of all religious people.  The key question is will Evangelicals and other Christians have it in them to rise to the defense of Romney and Mormons from those attacks.  They’d better, because they will be next.

Other Possibles Did Appear At CPAC . . .

Tim Pawlenty . . .

. . . seems to be trying very hard, but falling very flat.  His CPAC speech was derided by Jennifer Rubin at Contentions and Andrew Stuttaford at The Corner.  Even his “Minnesota Home Boys” at Powerline were unimpressed.  TPaw has time to regroup, but he better get busy or his possible candidacy is over before it actually gets started.

Haley Barbour . . .

. . . is trying to stir the pot a little.  Frankly, I just do not see it.  Barbour is a consummate insider and an amazing fundraiser, but he has virtually no profile outside of the south and people in a position to know tell me that there is a lot of oppo ammo against him sitting in closets awaiting the appropriate time for use.

Rick Santorum . . .

. . . just is not getting any traction.

Ron Paul . . .

. . . won the straw poll, but this far in advance, who cares?

Finally . . .

This would be a mistake.

I just attended a forum that got my attention with “Is it time for a Catholic Tea Party?” (The idea is outlined in a column here.)

Deal Hudson, President of Catholic Advocate, was the main speaker- he feels that Catholics have let Evangelicals take the lead on life and gay marriage issues, and Catholics need to step up, donate money, vote for the right candidates, take the body shots, etc.

What we need to AVOID is religiously labeled movements of any sort.  We need to learn to work together.  A “Worshiping Tea Party” maybe, but all that would happen if you start dividing things up by denominational/theological lines is we end up infighting.  And as we saw above, that is a recipe for irrelevancy.

Lowell adds . . .

This business of “the new Mitt” seems to be the punditry looking for an angle.  Like some nations, they want to fight the last war, this one about Romney the chameleon.  All Romney is doing is to change his focus – to the economy.  Every single GOP candidate is doing that.  To do otherwise would be crazy.

As for Governor Palin, if you missed Dorothy Rabinowitz’s analysis, read it right away.  She refers to the

unsavory echoes of [Palin's] regular references to “the real America” as opposed to those shadowy “elites,” now charged with threats to the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of all real Americans. . . . she [does not] seem to have any idea of how that low soap-box oratory—embracing one kind of American as the real kind, those builders in the towns and cities across America—rings in the ear today. It is not new. . . .

Mrs. Palin regularly invokes the name of the most revered of her heroes, Ronald Reagan—among the sunniest stars ever to mount the political stage, and a leader who spoke to all of America. He did not appeal to the aggrieved. Nor did he see in the oratory of grievance, or talk of real Americans and those who were not, a political platform.

Mrs. Palin would do well to look to his model . . . .  At a time when Republican hopes are in the ascendancy, as now (and even when they are not), it’s impossible to imagine the Sarah Palin known to the world today as their leader.

The contrast with Romney’s message and tone is striking.  I remember hearing him speak to a fund-raiser crowd gathered in the yard of a very fine home.  “Democrats,” he said, “think no one should have a house like this.  I think everyone should have a house like this!”  The Governor seems to be about promoting opportunity and possibility – the American Dream – as opposed to complaining about elites.

Mike Huckabee’s comments about CPAC are interesting:

“CPAC has becoming increasingly more libertarian and less Republican over the last years, one of the reasons I didn’t go this year.”

Golly, I always thought the GOP had a strong libertarian strain.  You know, the three legs to the Republican stool – foreign policy conservatives, fiscal policy conservatives, social policy conservatives.  Sounds like Huck thinks the only one that really means anything is social policy.  I hope he enjoys his small-tent conservativism.

But enough about that. John and I love to make predictions, and here’s my first one for 2012 – borrowing from John’s comment about anti-religion and anti-Mormon attacks from the left:

The left will hit Romney hard on same-sex marriage not only because of his own opposition to it in Massachusetts, but also because of his church’s activity on the issue.  It’s just to easy a target for them to pass up.  That will be a tricky strategy, because same-sex marriage is not a popular idea at this point.  But his position on the issue, together with his Mormon faith, can be used to make Romney look scary to independent voters.  So no candidate will use the issue overtly against him.  Instead, the candidates’ surrogates and MSM commentators (excuse my redundancy) will do their level best to use Romney’s position on same-sex marriage to depict him as a knuckle-dragging neo-fascist.

Mark my words. You read it here first.

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