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

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The Spin Begins Before The Caucuses

Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:31 am, February 4th 2012     —    6 Comments »

All week long we have been bombarded with Mormon stories and most of them are about the fact that Romney will win Nevada because it has a heavy Mormon population.  The story has featured prominently in Politico ad WaPo:

Despite comprising about 7 percent of the state’s population, they made up more than one-quarter of the GOP caucus electorate, and entrance polls showed Romney winning a stunning 95 percent of their vote.

In other words, half of Romney’s vote in Nevada came from fellow Mormons, and he could have won the state’s caucuses even if he hadn’t gotten a single vote from anyone else.

Because Mormons vote in unison and because they turn out in large numbers, a state like Nevada is virtually impossible for any of Romney’s opponents to win.

OK, forgive me, I only majored in chemistry and minored in mathematics so I might not be as good as this as a political reporter at the Washington Post but let’s assume 100 votes in the caucus.  25% of those votes are Mormon and 95% of those are going to vote for Romney.  That’s 22 votes.  But last polls in Nevada had Gingrich at 25% – or in our model 25 votes.  So how precisely does Romney win if only Mormons vote for him?  And then, all those non-Mormon votes that Romney just gave up are gong to land somewhere.

And what about that canard that “Mormons vote in unison?” The most quoted Mormon pundit this cycle is Joanna Brooks.  She has risen to the defense of Mormonism many times, but she also is not afraid to take it head-on, and I could be wrong, but a Romney vote is not likely from her.  Mormons in Nevada, all 140,000 of them may vote more or less in lockstep, but in California, or urban Utah – I’m not buying it.  Will the majority of Mormons vote for Romney?  Sure, but not in lockstep.

What is all this really?  Just an attempt to paint Mormons as a creepy cult.  Obviously any large group that would be that single-minded would be both creepy and cultic.  (Unless of course you are a knee jerk liberal, in which case spouting the “party line” is just reasonable.)  The latest raft of stories that attempt to be balanced by calling all the Mormon attention a “mixed blessing (LA Times) or wearing out the alliterative “Mormon Moment” meme (Politico) by their very nature make Mormons seem “odd” because they have to be explained.  I am sure Lowell could cite any number of misunderstandings and misrepresentations in these pieces, but I am concerned that the very existence of these articles, even if correct, has a subliminal effect.

There are also attacks that are far less that subtle.  Dana Milbank writes about a cousin Romney has never met that has some “issues” to say the least.  Here is the funny part:

This isn’t necessarily bad news for Mitt Romney. In most cases, family antics are more embarrassing than politically damaging. And the emergence of a “crazy cousin” might remind voters that Romney, a candidate who too often comes across as programmed, is just like the rest of us.

In other words, “This isn’t really news, but I just spent a whole column on it reminding you that Romney is a Mormon and some people don’t like that.”  I don’t know what’s worse, that people write such transparent drivel or that a significant number of people fail to see through it.

In the meantime, Romney has come out hard defending the Catholic Church against the latest assault by the Obama administration in an op-ed.  Coverage here, highlights here, full text here.  But there remains a messaging problem.  This is only making it through the conservative outlets.  (The left-leaning outlets have their own truly misleading spin.)  The MSM just is not covering the issue left, right or center.

Romney alone has a big enough profile currently to push this issue onto the front pages.  Should he do so?  I am sure many are thinking that since this is a part of the larger issue of Obamacare that handling that issue will handle this one.  True enough.  However, it is not all about the issue.  Romney, as the frontrunner and presumptive nominee, needs to begin his efforts to unite Republicans.   Getting loud and proud about this issue can go a long way to accomplishing that.  Not to mention it is the perfect opportunity for Romney to get indignant – something that a lot of voters seem to want to see.  To borrow some papal language – This ruling is anathema – it is worthy of strong emotion.  Romney has said “It’s not worth getting angry about.”  There is wisdom in that – anger often clouds judgement, but somethings are so heinous that they are repulsive and they deserve a visceral response.   This is one of them.

Vic Lundquist at Mitt Romney Central wrote yesterday about how many people of very serious, non-Mormon Christian faith are supporting Romney.  It’s an impressive list.  But it needs to expand.  The ruling by HHS is the perfect open door for Romney to move from being the Mormon candidate to the candidate of faith.  For some of us he has been that for a while, but a lot of people still need to get the message.  The op-ed is a great start, but unless Romney pushes hard on this – really, really hard – it will languish within the wide circle that is his supporters.  That circle needs to grow for the general.

Lowell adds . . .

Romney as the candidate of faith is an interesting idea. I agree that he should step forward as a faith-friendly, but at this point in the race he should not try to out-Santorum rick Santorum. I think the time will come when people of faith (well, most of them) will turn to Romney as their guy.

What does seem clear is that Romney himself is the one who decides on his message and the language he will use:

“There are a lot of people who make suggestions to the governor and provide drafts to him, but the governor uses a heavy red pencil” in his speeches, said spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom. “Everything that he says — whether it’s at a news conference, a debate, or a formal speech — flows from his own pen. He is ultimately his own speechwriter.”

For his own reasons (at which I can only guess) Gov. Romney has taken a very measured approach to discussions about faith.  I can’t say that I blame him, since he can’t say anything right about that subject in the eyes of so many people, including prominently the MSM that filters and repackages his statements.

Even on the conservative side there is constant niggling about what Romney says, as is evident in Stephen F. Hayes’ latest explanation of why Romney makes conservatives nervous.  Predictably, Hayes concludes his piece wishing Romney were more like someone else.  At least this time it’s a living person, Marco Rubio, and not Ronald Reagan, who never made mistakes or misstatements and was consistently and reliably conservative on every issue. (Insert eye-rolling smiley face here.)

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