Yesterday, I tweeted out a WaPo piece that rang very much like the NYT piece we dealt with Monday. That’s why I tweeted it with a snide comment rather than take the effort to dig through its inanity. But today Chris Cillizza, in an obvious bit of intra-brand cross promotion, uses it as a springboard to make some points that I think need analysis:
Cillizza digs up the usually cited stats and figures from ’08 and ’12 to make his case. And it is a fine case indeed. I would tend to agree that the issue this blog has focused on since ’06 will be as real in the cycle, if Romney gets in, as it has been since Robert Novak publicly acknowledged in back in ’06. But there are two important things to note from the Cillizza piece.
Start with this paragraph:
Four years later, even as Romney was on his way to becoming the nominee, that skepticism among evangelicals was readily apparent. Romney lost every primary in 2012 in which exit polls found evangelical Christians comprised a majority of voters. In South Carolina, evangelicals were the decisive vote; they went for former House speaker Newt Gingrich by 22 points over Romney. Across all primary contests in 2012, Romney did 13 percentage points worse among evangelical Christians than non-evangelicals. (Is it possible that evangelicals were reacting to something other than Romney’s Mormon faith when they voted for other candidates? Sure. But, it seems very unlikely.)
What does that say about Evangelicals? Looks to me like it says they are pretty close-minded. We are currently in the midst of a cultural war over marriage in which the accusation of bigotry is being thrown at us with a particular vigor. These kinds of statistics do not help us counter that accusation. Sometimes we truly are our own worst enemy.
And speaking of “own worst enemy” let’s turn to the second point, which comes from this paragraph in the Cillizza piece:
I get Romney’s decision. I was one of the people who thought he should talk more about his faith in the 2012 general election campaign as a way to counter the perception being pushed by the Obama campaign that he was a flip-flopping plutocrat with no core beliefs. His Mormon faith has always been central to Romney’s private persona so if the goal is to run the “real Romney” this time, then it’s the right move.
Does “real Romney” trouble you as much as it troubles me? The underlying WaPo piece contained this similar gem:
“He feels very at home here,” said John Miller, a close friend in Utah who has been talking with Romney throughout his recent deliberations. “This is a very prayerful thing. . . . In the end, it’s really a decision between he and Ann and their belief system, their God. That’s the authentic Mitt.”
“Authentic Mitt” sounds a lot like “real Romney.” Lying at the bottom of most Evangelical objections to Mormons is a distrust. They feel like the fact that Mormons redefine a lot of commonly used theological terms is somehow disingenuous. (it’s a thing that goes on in theology discussion all the time, but when it involves Mormons….) Remember the heinous “Mormons lie” meme from 2008? Terms like “real Romney” and “authentic Mitt” do nothing but feed that suspicion. They imply that in the last two cycles Romney was being disingenuous about himself, his policies, his inspirations and his intentions – just like the Evangelicals that created the statistics Cillizza cites suspect Mormons do.
Two election cycles now have shown that these Evangelicals may not be able to win elections, but they sure can make sure those they distrust do not win either.
It is smart for Romney to be more upfront about his faith this cycle if he indeed runs. But he has got to find a better way to do it. If he does not this “authentic” and “real” stuff is going to make “47%” look like a walk in the park. Romney’s political strategy vis-a-vis his faith has to change this time, but Romney himself cannot.