Rick Perry’s entry into the race, not to mention his race to the top of the polls, seems to have given the Dems and the New York/Beltway Media Elite precisely the Republican primary they wanted – one that they can drive a wedge into deep enough that we cannot unite come the general. A primary campaign not unlike the one they had last time, but with one significant difference.
The Dems had a knock-down, drag-out brawl of a primary last time – one that should have left them weakened and eminently beatable. However, the eventual winner of the primary represented the holy grail of Democratic politics – a POTUS candidate of color – so they lined up like lemmings at the cliff and pushed on to victory with a little help from a Republican candidate who left a lot of Republicans a bit queasy when they pulled the lever.
The looming fight between Romney and Perry has some parallels, and some significant differences. Parallels include the fact that one is an “establishment” candidate (Romney being like Clinton) and one is the insurgent new blood more closely attuned to the true believers in the party than the power structures (Perry being like Obama). Differences include:
- the rest of the field is much stronger than it was in the Democrat primary last time;
- there are candidates yet to announce (Palin) that could change the entire complexion of the race in a big hurry; and
- religion is one of the key factors between the two heavyweights (well at least between a significant subset of their supporters).
It is this last factor that has the Dems and their willing media allies (yes you, Bill Keller) salivating. Religious conflict, even the relatively civil type of such conflict we have here in the US, is extremely difficult to resolve and therefore stands a good chance of leaving the GOP a party divided in the general, regardless of outcome.
Consider the coverage.
Turning first to setting it up as a two-man race. The Wall Street Journal discussed the importance of this week’s debate, especially to Perry. Dan Balz wonders if Romney is ready for this battle. (Wait, which one of these guys has run before?) There is much discussion of Romney’s strategy to deal with Perry, such as from Marc Thiessen and Adam Sorensen. And with the two-man race coverage we can see the wedge being driven. The Wall Street Journal, Politico, and Bill O’Reilly all discuss the “personal feud” between the two candidates. (Nothing spices up a good fight like a personal angle and any good promoter knows you need to add one if there isn’t one.) Then there is the National Journal poll proclaiming Romney as the “insider’s favorite.” (So it’s an inside/outside cage match is it?)
What are these MSM guys going to do in the increasingly likely event that Palin gets in? Or when we do not buy this stuff and do not behave in the manner they expect us to? Well, they are going to up the ante.
Now, politicians are navigating a landscape in which rifts over faith and policy have become chasms. An outlook that appeals to one group enrages another. Campaigns are desperate to find language generic enough for a broad constituency that also conveys an unshakable faith.
Which ups the ante considerably and sets up where they really want to drive the wedge.
So, let’s turn to the coverage playing up Perry’s religion. Building on the Texas connection with W and the memes that developed around him. Questions about Perry’s intelligence arose. This is also a religious shot. It must be remembered that W was open, if nowhere near Perry’s level of effusiveness, about his faith and after all, “you have to be stupid to believe that stuff.”
[Lowell interjects: One of the MSM's favorite memes (originating with the left) is that conservatives are stupid knuckle-draggers. In my lifetime it goes back to Gerald Ford, and continues through Reagan, both Bushes (but especially W.), and now virtually every Republican except Gingrich and Romney. You combine love for that meme with a religious candidate and it's pure catnip for liberal MSM journalists.]
Religous questions are just swirling around Perry. Is he God’s Candidate? People just have to write about it. Dana Milbank was in total attack dog mode on the subject. (Something Republicans should keep in mind: Perry’s overt religiosity will draw some pretty extreme stuff in a general election.) And given that Perry and Bachmann, rightly or wrongly, occupy pretty much the same space in the media’s mind, one also has to take note of utterly idiotic stuff like this.
Turning to Romney’s religion. There is the usual – what has now almost become background chatter. There is a movie coming out. (There is so much of this stuff going on that I think it’s just people trying to cash in.) The Boston Globe keep taking shots. (I am shocked, shocked.) Some fellow Mormons are not helping.
There was a bizarre set of stories about Romney having problems with Jewish donors because of Bachmann’s perceived jewishness – see the New York Post and the Daily Mail. First of all, the perception that Bachmann is a Jew is just bunk. She is an outspoken supporter of Israel, but so is any viable Republican candidate. This strikes me as just another reason to try and bring up the fact that Romney is Mormon and somehow apart from the religious mainstream. The same is true of the stories saying that Romney “needs” Sarah Palin to jump in to divide the religious/Tea Party vote.
But the real meat of the matter appeared in the coverage of an appearance Romney made at a New Hampshire Tea Party event over the weekend. It has just dawned on MSM that the Tea Party is religious conservatives in new cloth and now they have a play thing. They can talk about evangelical problems with Romney and his faith without really talking about it. So, the Tea Party is “at war” with Romney – see WaPo and Business Insider. Romney “drew protest” and “was not their cup of tea.”
So, how are we to react to all this? The narrative they want to establish seems clear – Romney vs. Perry/Mormon vs. Christian – neither candidate really tuned into things because they are, after all, religious nutcases; their religious clashes with one another being evidence of such. The Minneapolis Star Tribune carried a long article on the role of religion in the race that concluded with a quote from Kathleen Flake of Vanderbilt:
“For the first time, we’re not only interested in whether someone is religious, which is essentially a question of, `Do you have a morality that the voter can identify with?’” Flake said. “It appears that there’s a significant portion of the electorate that’s interested in what the particular theology of the candidate is. Do they believe in Jesus? If so, what kind of Jesus do you believe in?”
That set me to thinking deep thoughts. My recent vacation included a visit to Jerusalem – sight of the holiest place in Judaism (The Western Wall), the holiest place in Christianity (Church of the Holy Sepulchre) and the third holiest place in Islam (Dome of the Rock.) I, in fact all people, were welcomed at the Holy Sepulchre. Everybody was also welcome at the Western Wall, provided they followed the rules concerning garments and sex separation. But a non-Muslim venturing to the Dome of the Rock was taking a dangerous step.
If Kathleen Flake is correct then Christians and Jews in the United States are becoming, in some sense, more like the Muslims in Jerusalem – “You are not welcome in our space unless you can genuinely prove you are one of us.” I reject that idea.
We cannot let the left, in their endless and merciless attacks against what we hold dear define us. We are better than that. We cannot retreat into territorialism and defensiveness against the onslaught. I saw all sorts of Christians at the Western Wall, many approaching with deep reverence. I was unable to determine the religion of the hordes of people I encountered in the Holy Sepulchre, but I am quite certain there were people of many faiths, as well as many of no faith. Everybody was enlightened and uplifted by their experiences at these places, regardless of their individual convictions. It is that uplifting and enlightening experience that America has historically chosen.
If we allow the left to define the narrative as they are trying to, we will no longer be uplifting or enlightening. I just don’t think we want to be there. We need to fashion a different narrative, one built on respect for all reasonable candidates, and an ability to share space with others of differing viewpoint. We cannot act as the press wants us to. We cannot read these stories and join the chorus. We have to make the reality of our behavior louder than the din of their writing.
Our primary is increasingly going to be the knock-down, drag-out they expect. That’s politics. But we cannot let it be the religious war they want it to be. It is up to our candidates to help keep that dog at bay. They cannot deny the candidates’ faith and no one should ask them to, but they should not run on their faith either. Any candidate that does is, in the end, weakening the party and their own ability to win the general election. As those of us in the rank-and-file look at the candidates we have to carefully consider this issue. We cannot let our own religious identity stand in the way of electing the candidate that has the best chance of carrying the general and advancing our issues as far as feasible.