Reed attributed some of this shift to Romney’s changed stance on abortion. When Romney was running for governor of Massachusetts, he promised abortion rights groups he would be a “good voice” for them. By 2005, however, he professed to be anti-abortion. “They are not going to hold it against someone because they had a different view,” Reed says. “The whole Evangelical theology is based on conversions, they are used to making converts. They don’t take converts and kick ‘em in the teeth. They hug them, they love on them.”
Evangelicals, it seems, are content to treat Romney as their newest convert.
Come on Ralph, why don’t you put the ball on the Tee for the T-ball league for crying out loud?
The facts are pretty straightforward – Mitt Romney is the nominee. It is official now, the convention voted him in formally yesterday. We don’t talk about what was anymore. We don’t soul-search about what’s “right” anymore. We don’t apologize. Mitt Romney is the man and unless we want four more years of the garbage we have been enduring for the last three-and-one-half we better get busy telling the world how good Mitt Romney is. No caveats, no exceptions, no “buts.”
Do I sound a little more edgy than usual with this one? It’s because I am. McKay Coppins, doing some very good Mormon reporting for a change, gives us some pretty thorough insight into how Romney has decided on his approach to discussing religion this cycle. There are two key pulls from the piece. The first concerns why Romney is talking religion now:
The official explanation for the sudden shift in strategy is that the campaign was always waiting for Tampa — where they would have tight control over the choreography and the narrative — to start telling Mitt’s Mormon story.
“The convention is a good platform for telling all the dimensions of Romney’s life — his service as governor, as the head of the Olympics, businessman, devoted husband and father, and as lay leader in his church counseling families facing different hardships,” senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told BuzzFeed.
Let me translate that for you. The campaign wants to talk about character and service and the great civil religion. Mormonism is a part of that tradition, regardless of how you think about Mormonism theologically and ecclesiastically. During the primary season any such talk would have been pulled, as it was in 2008, into soteriology, the Trinity and talk of “cults.” In the general election with an opponent actively attempting to squelch religious freedom and the force of Evangelicals, who seem unable to help themselves from talking about the politically unhelpful aspects of religiosity even now, greatly diluted it will be much easier to keep the conversation focused where it needs to be – character and service and the great civil religion.
Which brings me to the second pull from the Coppins piece:
The day after Thanksgiving in 2007, Tagg Romney, the candidate’s oldest son, phoned a longtime family friend. They were weeks out from the first primary of the season at the time, and the campaign had determined that his father’s path to victory ran through Iowa.
As a result, the Romney family had spent several months, hundreds of man hours, and millions of dollars in a desperate attempt to win over the state’s conservative Evangelical base. While the candidate surrounded himself with every culture warrior he could woo, surrogates — including his wife and five sons — fanned out across the state to bring their family-values message home.
But on the front lines of Iowa’s retail politics, one thing was regularly made clear: There were many Republican voters who held Mormonism in deep contempt. Romney family members were routinely confronted with Bible-bashing Evangelicals on the campaign trail, local pastors spent Sundays sermonizing against “the Mormon cult,” and some voters even refused to shake hands with Romney’s former Lt. Governor Kerry Healey because they thought she was Mormon.
When the family friend asked Tagg how it was going that day in late November, he sounded dispirited.
“It’s brutal,” the friend recalled Tagg saying. “It’s just brutal.”
In the end, though, none of it seemed to help. Romney lost Iowa to Mike Huckabee, an insurgent former Baptist minister who had publicly called into question some the candidate’s Mormon beliefs. And while Romney would stay in the race for several more weeks, one adviser who worked for the campaign at the time said the loss was crushing — especially for the candidate’s family, who viewed the defeat, in part, as a referendum on their religion.
“I remember everyone was totally depressed on the plane,” the adviser said, recalling the morning after they lost. “Everyone was exhausted, and Mitt’s going up and down the plane trying to cheer everyone up… It was so hard.”
Many in Romney’s orbit, including some in his family, considered the entire episode a lesson learned. And as he weighed another presidential bid in the run-up to 2012, some of his sons urged him not to do it. Among other reasons, the detractors in the family cited the anti-Mormonism they had encountered on the trail in 2008, said one person familiar with the situation.
Let me react to that in the most basic of terms. We, Evangelicals, hurt these people – deeply. And of that I am ashamed, even if I fought hard to prevent it from happening.
Now, let me pose a question here. Given that we inflicted a wound like that on these people, how far out of their way do you think they are going to go to include Evangelicals in their administration? Oh, there will be Evangelicals in the administration, make no doubt, many have been very helpful. But how many more would there be if Evangelicals had boarded the bus early? And how many more again would be in if at this juncture, rather than still needing to be convinced by guys like Reed and Huckabee, we were busy extolling the virtues of Mitt Romney? Just how much influence inside the Romney administration do you think we have sacrificed for the sake of religious identity and theological purity?
So, yeah, I’m edgy. While Romney will be busy fixing the economy – definitively priority number one – we could have been busy working inside the administration to fix some of the lesser issues that are important to us. Romney will make the necessary appointments and hires, but he is not going to go out of his way to search our community for the brightest and most motivated – and I cannot blame him one bit – he has bigger fish to fry and we have not earned the consideration.
I’m edgy because as the candidate I have worked six years to bring to this point finally accepts the nomination, I am confronted with my religious community having sacrificed much opportunity and seemingly working to sacrifice even more. Who knows if there will be a next time?