Santorum’s aides believe it is unfair that reporters are asking questions about aspects of Santorum’s faith and not asking similar questions about Mitt Romney’s. Of course, Santorum has spoken more publicly about the details of his religious beliefs than Romney has, and that is why some of the questions are popping up now….
But specifically religious questioning of Romney is as rare as specific Romney statements about Mormon beliefs. Given the current grilling of Santorum, that is a source of growing frustration to Santorum’s advisers. “Why is Mormonism off limits?” asks one. “I’m not saying it’s a seminal issue in the campaign, but we’re having to spend days answering questions about Rick’s faith, which he has been open about. Romney will turn on a dime when you talk about religion. We’re getting asked about specific tenets of Rick’s faith, and when Romney says, ‘I want to focus on the economy,’ they say, OK, we’ll focus on the economy.”
Three very brief comments hopefully to be expanded upon as time allows. First of all – York is precisely right in pointing out repeatedly that Santorum brought up his religion while Romney has not. This whole avalanche that has landed on Santorum began last Saturday when he talked about “phony theology” in a campaign appearance. Much that has followed has been from non-campaign appearances, but it started in the context of the campaign – they begged for this.
Second point was made by Katrina Trinko in The Corner:
There’s been extensive discussion over whether there is Mormon bias in the electorate or not. Just under 20 percent of Republican and independent voters would not vote for a Mormon for president, according to a June Gallup poll. In contrast, a higher percentage of Democrats — 27 percent — wouldn’t vote for a Mormon for president. As far as I’m aware, there’s been no similar polling — or even widespread discussion — about whether a Catholic candidate faces any similar electoral obstacles.
It’s more than that – anybody remember 2008? What about the Broadway musical? – The Newsweek cover of just a few months ago? The barrage of discussion of Mormon belief that has gone on since this blog started in 2006 is enormous – and unlike this current exploration into Roman Catholic belief – none of it invited by Romney. This is just whiny on the part of Team Santorum. Whiny really helped Gingrich out, didn’t it?
Final point, and it is the most important. They want a Mormon discussion, make no mistake. (Despite the protestations to the contrary of the Santorum spokesperson in York’s piece) It is possible Santorum said what he said last Saturday in a clearly failed attempt to open that can of worms. (One has to believe it was a dog whistle at least.) Let’s face it, if it came to a showdown of Catholics v Mormons in the minds of the average American, Catholicism is somewhat less “weird.” This goes back to something Hugh Hewitt said on Monday:
The left’s desire to wound Romney with a Santorum win in Michigan has been undermined by the left’s inability to let any discussion of abortion, religious liberty, contraception or genetic testing emerge that challenges the world view of the pro-choice absolutists.
In this strategy to open the religion can of worms, Santorum neglected one simple fact – his church is more extreme on the social issues of the day than is the Mormon church. So while Mormon belief might be more “weird,” Mormon politics are not. So instead of getting what he wanted, he threw chum to the sharks.
It is likely the Catholic v Mormon theme will erupt on the left. The right has got to resist the bait. Romney has set exactly the correct tone here – religious discussion of any sort invites the kind of storm that Santorum now finds himself the center of. The avoidance of such storms is what the First Amendment and Article VI are all about – they can only tear the nation apart.
Lowell adds . . .
I will have more to say later on today; for now, here’s a bit from a Byron York tweet:
Byron York (@ByronYork)
2/22/12 11:59 AM
Santorum: “People who have faith are actually more respectful of folks who have different faiths. It’s the statists who are intolerant.”
I happen to agree with Santorum, but is that the sort of thing a presidential candidate should say? I don’t think so. It is the sort of thing cultural crusaders say. I expect it of Dennis Prager and Michael Medved, but they’re not running for president. I don’t think Santorum, by running in this manner, is helping himself, the Republican Party, or the country. He’s dividing the party and dooming his own chances to be elected. He might be helping himself get nominated, but he also may be helping the Democrats by reviving the culture war when — yes, I’ll say it — it’s the economy, stupid!