We have already discussed over the weekend, the Mormon “slips” of Newt Gingrich and John King. But that is just the tip of the iceberg, as Jay Nordlinger points out. And like an iceberg, it appears to be something that while unseen can still sink the ship.
Over the weekend we were treated to three major left wing pieces discussing Romney’s religion and calling on him to discuss it “openly.” There was Randall Balmer in The New Republic:
The essential question, from the perspective of many voters, concerns the very nature of Mormonism, an upstart religion born in western New York in 1830 and persecuted for much of the nineteenth century.
And Then Frank Bruni in the NYTimes:
Four years later, he still avoids the word, trumpeting his faithfulness without specifying the faith. What’s surprising is that no one around him — not reporters, not rivals — talks about it all that much, either.
And most notably, Frank Rich in The New Yorker:
That faith is key to the Romney mystery. Had the 2002 Winter Olympics not been held in Salt Lake City, and not been a major civic project of Mormon leaders there, it’s unlikely Romney would have gotten involved. (Whether his involvement actually prompted a turnaround of that initially troubled enterprise, as he claims, is a subject of debate.) But Romney is even less forthcoming about his religion than he is about his tax returns. When the Evangelical view of Mormonism as a non-Christian cult threatened his 2008 run, Romney delivered what his campaign hyped as a JFK-inspired speech on “Faith in America.” This otherwise forgotten oration was memorable only for the number of times it named Romney’s own faith: once.
It’s a cold day in hell when I recommend anything my old chum Frank Rich writes, but this long piece in New York magazine entitled “Who in God’s Name Is Mitt Romney?” is most definitely worth a read — especially for the Republican leadership — if only as a preview of a coming leftist line of attack against the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney: his Mormon heritage and faith.
There is clearly a storm brewing. One is tempted to look at this and think that the general election is shaping up to be one of the ugliest in history. I think that is true, but I also think there is more at stake. In Florida we saw a willingness by Democrats to mess with the Republican primary process, blatantly. Two more piece appeared over the weekend that are very worthy of note. Jennifer Rubin:
Politico’s John Harris has a must-read column on the manufacture of outrage, a staple of modern campaigns, over Mitt Romney’s comments on the “very poor.”
And yet on this one, the right was arguably more guilty than the left in stoking hysteria. The arguments offered to justify the overreaction were decidedly unconvincing.
One must ask, “Why?” And so we turn to Sean Trende doing the numbers at Real Clear Politics:
Regardless, we see that a large portion of the GOP fight can be explained very well using only demographic variables. This is what I believe Cost picked up on when he found that northern conservatives voted for Romney, while southern conservatives voted against him. In the north, the conservatives tend to be non-evangelical. In the south, they tend to be evangelical (in Florida, they’re split).
Why this is the case is open to interpretation. The simplest answer is anti-Mormon bias, but that seems a bit too easy. After all, the alternatives are a pair of Catholics. The other possibility — and this is a problem with regression — is that religion could be a stand-in for ideology, and that, regardless of self-identification, a self-described conservative evangelical Republican is significantly to the right of a self-described conservative who is non-evangelical.
There is a clear picture emerging – the tensions inside the Republican party are real and the borders are defined, at least in some large measure, by religion. Now, of course, all primaries develop tensions inside a party, but religion adds a dimension to those tensions not normally seen. I don’t want to go all left-wing, “religion is evil” here, but a religious component to a conflict more often than not serves to intensify the conflict.
What we are seeing in the Ballmer, Bruni, and Rich pieces, not to mention related pieces centering around the recently released book “The Real Romney” questioning Romney’s “authenticity,” is an effort on the part of Obama’s media allies to cleave the Republican party in two. They don’t just want to win the presidency, I think they want to do away with us for good. It appears to this observer that they believe the largely unspoken religious element of this primary cycle gives the typical primary tensions more force – force that with a small nudge could cleave the party permanently. At the very least, they think they can force a large portion of the Republican base to sit this one out – and make it very hard for the Republicans to pull them back in.
Yes, there is still a primary battle to fight, but it is not too early to think about the general. At this point, the best way to think about the general is to deal with the tensions in the primary. In the lead up to Florida we wrote about the problems in lying to oneself. Just because we are not talking about Romney’s faith, does not mean it is not at play. To simply not talk about it is a form of self-deception. We can ill afford such deception with a general election looming ahead that is likely to be as ugly as this one.
Mitt Romney is now very likely going to be the nominee. It is time for those opposed to him for less than legitimate reasons to get over it. We need to get the primary battle back on a footing that does not supply the REAL opposition so much ammunition.