There have been rumors, and hints, and really silly comments, but with the appearance yesterday of this piece by Ashley Parker and Alex Thompson in the NYTimes, the Romney/Mormon meme hits a stride we did not see – even in 2008.
A prominent Republican delivered a direct request to Mitt Romney not long ago: He should make a third run for the presidency, not for vanity or redemption, but to answer a higher calling from his faith.
I hardly know where to begin with this piece. Mike Huckabee has declared he is called by God to run. Bobby Jindal held a prayer rally this past weekend. In radio interviews I have heard Scott Walker and John Kasich say they were praying about a run. Where are the articles on the fact that their religion is motivating their considerations for a run? Romney has made no remarks even remotely that religious. The piece cites his speech to the RNC where he discussed his charity work related to the his church, but that is far from claiming divine inspiration or direction for a run. Is the appearance of this article a testament to Romney’s instant front-runner status or to the NYTimes view that Mormons are weird? If we did not have two campaign cycles to pretty much prove the later, one would tend to assume the former, but here we are.
This is also particularly interesting because the greatest strength in the Mormon meme lies in separating Romney from the religious/conservative portion of the Republican party. Yet pretty much every political analyst out there already sees the Republican primary as a Romney/Bush fight in the center/right arena and everybody else competing in a Over-The-Top-Rope Battle Royal in the religious/conservative arena, culminating in a final clash between the two or three to emerge from those fights. In other words, Romney is right now already separated from the religious/conservative wing and this ammunition is best saved for the time he has to try and win them over. Why now?
Not to mention the fact, the separation strategy may not work this time. Last Friday, conservative religious stalwart, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput spoke at BYU, addressing specifically the joint tasks confronting Catholics and Mormons. Our old friend Albert Mohler has spoken at BYU several times in the last few years. Bridges are being built as rapidly as possible. Here’s hoping they are being built faster than the NYTimes can tear them down.
Then there is the article itself. For one thing it never directly cites Romney, or his family. It cites only other Mormon friends and acquaintances. When it comes to trying to decide what Romney and his family think it quotes the “Mitt” movie. That is not exactly great sourcing for a piece like this, particularly in light of numerous other candidates overtly stating their religious motivations and convictions. The case made by the sources cited is essentially that Mormonism is a religion with a strong patriotic bent and that Romney is therefore strongly patriotic and motivated to serve his nation. Gee, patriotism and a desire to serve, particularly as opposed to rule, is a pretty good thing in a presidential candidate. Where’s the beef?
So at its best the piece is an effort to drum up some “Mormon garbage” where there really is none. From a source less prestigious outlet than the NYTimes, which featured it prominently in its politics section, this piece would not be worth the time I have already given it. But it turns despicable with these paragraphs:
Some Mormons also believe in something called the “white horse prophecy” that, while not official church doctrine, says the Constitution will “hang like a thread” and be saved by a white horse — which some elements believe to be the Mormon Church or a prophetic church figure. High-profile Mormon candidates often reinvigorate this lore, and Mr. Romney is no exception. A longtime friend says that he has seen Mr. Romney approached at church about the prophecy.
“It makes him uncomfortable,” said the friend, speaking anonymously to discuss a delicate topic. “He kind of laughs it off and shrugs it off and doesn’t engage.”
No named sources, a tacit denial by Romney according to those unnamed sources, and yet this generally ignored (note the word “some,” and the “not official church doctrine” admission, in even the NYT’s account) “prophecy” of the Mormon faith just has to come up. Innuendo is as close as Parker and Thompson can come to making the case they set out to make in the piece. This is beyond bad reporting – this is a hit piece, both on Romney and on Mormonism generally.
We have contended on this blog since its inception that one of the reasons to guard Romneys’s Mormon flank was because if the secular left is allowed these attacks on Mormons They will come for other faith expressions as well. The last six years have proven us unfortunately correct. Yet even the closed minds of the secular left can feel the winds of change in a nation fed up with religion bashing, and with robbing the religious of their most basic freedoms. And so they return to the attacks that they used to leverage themselves into the position they have enjoyed this last half-decade. We cannot let it work this time.
Lowell adds . . .
John has pretty much nailed this latest bit of New York Times journalism. We’ve addressed the so-called White Horse Prophecy twice now, most recently here, and there is nothing left for us to say about it. There should be nothing left for the Times to say about it, either. But some things are just catnip for journalists.
I think this paragraph from the Parker-Thompson piece begs the question, “So why did you write this anyway?”
Of course, running for president is hardly the only way to serve, and plenty of non-Mormon politicians have spoken far more explicitly than Mr. Romney about being called by God to seek higher office.
“Romney may have a sense of calling to be willing to subject himself to another round of humiliation, but how is that different from William Jennings Bryan or, for that matter, Huckabee or Santorum,” said Kathleen Flake, a professor of Mormon studies at the University of Virginia. She was speaking of Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who ran in the Republican presidential primaries in 2008, and Rick Santorum, who ran in 2012.
Indeed. How it is different?
That said, I see this Times article more positively than John does – in a “glass is half-full” way. For example, this may have been the most important paragraph in the piece:
Mr. Romney’s faith was complicated by the fact that during his 2012 run, his team was reluctant to let him mention his religion at all, creating a vacuum that hid a side of him from voters and allowed it to be filled with Democratic attack ads. The 2014 Netflix “Mitt” documentary — from filmmaker Greg Whiteley, a Mormon — offered an appealing, behind-the-scenes look at Mr. Romney as a man of faith and family. Many in his inner circle said that if he runs again, this is the version of Mitt Romney that they would present to the country.
I happen to agree with those “inner circle” members. The result of Romney’s 2012 avoidance of discussing his faith was that millions of voters were prevented from seeing a fundamental aspect of who the man really is. For example, I doubt the Obama team’s effort to paint Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat would have succeeded if Romney’s deep commitment to personal, hands-on Christian discipleship and service had been more visible. Many of those quoted in the Times article are close to Mitt Romney. That tells me a 2016 run would be much different regarding how he lives his Mormon faith. Good.