Tonight at 8:00 EDT we’ll see the Bloomberg/Washington Post Republican Presidential Debate. This will be a “pure MSM” event, with the estimable Charlie Rose as moderator. Washington Post political correspondent Karen Tumulty and Bloomberg TV White House correspondent Julianna Goldman will also be asking the candidates questions.
Can anyone doubt that this MSM panel will ask The Question in some form, of either Rick Perry or Mitt Romney? In anticipation of that likelihood, the Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn has written The Cult of Anti-Mormonism in today’s edition. He begins with advice that we could have written:
Here’s some advice for Republican candidates appearing at Tuesday’s presidential debate at Dartmouth College. When you are asked, as you will be asked, what you make of the Christian pastor who called the Mormon faith a “cult,” there’s only one appropriate answer.
It comes from the last sentence of Article VI of the Constitution, and it reads as follows: “[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that.
McGurn goes on to point out the Pew survey showing that Romney’s faith is more of a problem for liberals than conservatives.
[O]verall, more Democrats than Republicans are hostile to a Mormon candidacy (31% to 23%). More interesting still is Pew’s finding that when it comes to this particular animus, “liberal Democrats stand out, with 41% saying they would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate.”
One has to wonder if this tendency might help explain the MSM’s fascination with the Mormon issue.
So how will Charlie Rose and his colleagues approach the religion issue tonight? Will they simply try to start a bonfire and create headlines? Or will they try to enlighten the audience? McGurn concludes by raising Proposition 8 in this context, a subject that we haven’t addressed much lately on this blog:
[I]t’s good to see Republican feet now being held to the fire on an issue the Founders resolved in 1787. Even more encouraging would be a press willing to give attention to very real concern among politically active Mormons: whether a Romney nomination would mean LDS members staying on the sidelines out of fear of the kind of attacks on their property and their livelihoods that their co-religionists experienced with California’s Proposition 8 and its aftermath.
Grab some popcorn and watch with us.
Okay, John’s Turn
It is going to be an interesting show, and most interesting from my perspective will be how much Kool-Aid Charlie Rose et. al. will have consumed. The Mormon talk continues at a feverish pitch throughout media old and new. I was going to pass on, as usual, all the links, but at this point they are too grossly numerous, too repetitive, and too beside the point. They are one prong of what is now emerging as a clearly coordinated political attack on Romney as the front-runner.
Consider: The weekend opened with Jeffress/religion affair, about the only topic hot enough to consume media for an entire weekend. It was followed on Monday by Perry hitting Romney, once again, on flip-flop. And this morning a story breaks about some of Romney’s Massachusetts advisers being consulted on the development of Obamacare. That is three hard punches at Romney’s three biggest perceived weaknesses in, essentially, the three days leading up to the debate. And so, I repeat the question: Will Charlie Rose and company take this all in and turn the debate into “hammer Romney time” or will they attempt to conduct an actual debate between candidates? Will they allow their debate agenda to be set by what is clearly a media campaign being waged by one of the candidates, or by the “not Romney” forces generally?
Let me give you just one example. Romney’s religion – Romney’s religion – Romney’s religion – we have heard and are hearing it until my ears are bleeding. But will anyone talk about the fact that Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain all claim to have been “called by” or “told by” God to seek office? All this concern about Mormonism and whether electing a Mormon will put Salt Lake City in charge of the nation, and yet I hear no claim of divine imprimatur by the Mormon’s campaign – only the Protestants are making such claims. Will our moderators question these three candidates on their claims? Will the moderators wonder how God could call three different people to one job? Will they examine in exquisite detail the differences between Cain’s National Baptist church, Perry’s Methodist church and Bachmann’s Lutheran cum Evangelical churches? Will they ask which one of those denominations is the “true” Christian denomination? Will they examine the Christological differences among these denominations?
If the moderators are smart they will not ask any of those questions, nor will they ask about Romney’s faith; but sadly I think buzz trumps smart and so we are going to be treated to what will doubtlessly be a sordid debate. I agree with McGurn, all the candidates should answer religion questions with, essentially, “What’s that got to do with what we are here to talk about?” But I am not sure they will. Some, of course, did on the Sunday shows already and here’s hoping they will stick to their guns. But if one of them tries to prevaricate, dodge, or otherwise let the religion point stand without wholly buying into it, you can bet that one is somewhere in the background of the three-pronged attack that we are seeing emerge.
Which brings me to one related issue. I got an email from Tony Perkins yesterday. Tony is the guy that runs the Family Research Council, which is the organization behind the VVS. Interestingly, that widely broadcast email is supposed to be replicated on the FRCAction website, but the link is non-functional. Here’s the pertinent portion of the email:
Bringing together 3,400 conservative activists, leaders, and speakers with reporters from almost every news outlet is not without some risk. And although thousands of social conservatives came to Washington to talk about restoring America’s moral foundation, it didn’t fit the media’s storyline. Having been a reporter for a short while I know what journalists are looking for. Controversy. And it didn’t take long for them to find it when the Texas pastor who introduced Gov. Perry was asked by reporters if Mormonism is a cult. When he said yes — even though it was in a sidebar conversation with the media — his answer became a dominant story from VVS.
Since the firestorm erupted on Friday, I’ve been on most of the news networks responding to the questions of the press. This is what I’ve said: America is a country where religious freedom is constitutionally protected and where we respect the right for people to practice their faith publicly and peacefully in a free nation. President George Washington replied to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island: “[H]appily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
We clearly recognize the fact that Mormon theology includes doctrines that are distinct from Evangelical theology and Catholic theology. At the same time, the goal of the values voter movement is not to build a ” National Church .” Our goal is to build a national coalition based on the shared values of respecting human life, strengthening natural marriage, defending religious liberty, promoting personal and fiscal responsibility, and maintaining our national security. When we successfully work together with those who share our values, we are preserving and strengthening our religious liberty, so that we can freely share the truth of the gospel with everyone.
What’s missing? Perkins does not accept the responsibility for Jeffress’ presence on the dais. Nor does he repudiate Jeffress’ claims, in that particular context, for the distractions they are. He acts as if he was caught as unawares as the Perry campaign claims, yet the Perry campaign claims that it was Perkins’ organization that made the call to put Jeffress in that spot. As we have amply demonstrated, Jeffress was a well-known quantity.
Point being, people are running away from Jeffress as fast as they know how. This prong of the attack has clearly backfired. Will Charlies Rose and friends be smart enough to run away too?
As to Lowell’s popcorn invitation, I think we are going to need seat belts.
John Mark here:
As a former Anglican I was going to propose a fifth (where every two or three Anglicans gather, there is a fifth), but in the interest of dialog and fraternity, I will accept a large milkshake for tonight’s debate.
If asked, I would reply: “With millions of Americans unemployed, with the unborn having no Constitutional protections, and with the American family under assault with the Obama economy, I think we have better things to discuss than imposing an unconstitutional religious test on a GOP candidate.”
If they pressed Perry should say, “Jimmy Carter was a Southern Baptist. Dwight Eisenhower was not even baptized when he took office. I would attend Carter’s church and like Ike’s success.”
If Romney is pressed, he should roll his eyes and say: “Ask the unemployed in Detroit if they care about where I go to church or about jobs . . . if anything other than jobs comes up it will be the Lions and Tigers. Next question, please.”
With Romney leading in Iowa according to some polls where he is putting in little effort and with the Christie endorsement, isn’t it obvious that most conservatives are willing to vote for Romney?