Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mistake Or Masterstroke?

As Dillon's last post shows, a good number of people wonder whether the "Mormon speech" is necessary (this while a good number have also been pounding the speech drum). While it could pay dividends, I think the speech is a risky move. It's anyone's guess how it will turn out. Over at the Atlantic Monthly, Mark Ambinder outlines what he sees as the pros and cons of such a speech, while Ross Douthat makes the case for why he thinks the speech is a mistake:

Put me down in the "it's a big mistake" camp. The speech should have been given at the very beginning of the primary season, or after Romney won the nomination; it doesn't make sense to give it in response to Mike Huckabee's rise in the polls. Huckabee is vulnerable on all sorts of issues, and Romney has the money and the infrastructure to make sure that every GOP primary voter in America - let alone Iowa and South Carolina - knows all about the tax increases and the ethics complaints and the softness on illegal immigration and all the rest of it. Going after Huckabee on these issues probably wouldn't prevent the Arkansas governor from consolidating his current level of support, but the right line of attack should be able to stall his momentum in states like New Hampshire and Michigan and South Carolina, where Romney is well-positioned even if he loses Iowa.

But instead of making the conversation about issues where Huckabee is vulnerable and Romney isn't, the Romney campaign has guaranteed that for the next two weeks at least and probably beyond, the media conversation will be about, well, Mormonism. If there were more time before the actual voting begins, that might not be the worst thing in the world; they could get the wave of coverage out of the way, inoculate themselves to some extent, and then shift gears and start hammering Huckabee on taxes and immigration and so forth. But there isn't time: Christmas is coming, there's a very narrow window in which to define Mike Huckabee as a Mexican-loving crypto-liberal, and the Romney campaign has just ensured that everyone will be talking about the Urim and the Thummim instead of the Arkansas gas tax. Unless Romney gives the best speech in the history of speeches, I just don't see how that helps him win - in Iowa, New Hampshire, or anywhere.

So here's the question for our readers, is the speech a mistake or a sage political move? Why?


Blogger Daniel B. said...

Mistake might be overstating it, but I do think it is unnecessary. If nothing, however, it does allow attention to be turned to him over the other candidates and on a topic they cannot use to their direct advantage. While it might be an awkward reason to give a speech, it provides Mitt with the opportunity to talk about himself, about what he is, about his vision for the country, and why that is more important than his religion as a factor. It may be a lemons to lemonade moment.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Tommy said...

Whether it's a mistake, I'm not sure; what I do know is that it will be a waste of time. Those who continue to espouse a "concern" over Romney's religious beliefs will not be swayed by anything he says. If he were to list the doctrinal similarities and differences between "orthodox" and "restored" Christianity, they would deride him as heretical or claim that despite what he claims to be Mormon doctrine, the real truth is (fill in the blank with whatever garbage you can imagine). Since he has already said he won't be focusing specifically on Mormonism, his critics will claim he's dodging the issue and not man enough to stand up for what he believes. The bottom line is this: America is full of the same bigots who hated blacks, gays, and Jews before it was politically incorrect to do so. Their bigotry has merely shifted to one of the last groups of minorities that has not yet gained wide-spread social acceptance. They will continue to do so until Romney and all Mormons take a stand against their vile hatred. What Romney needs to do with his speech is state firmly that despite what anyone may claim, he is a Christian who believes that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, the Son of God, his personal Savior, and the Savior of all mankind. He has to take a stand and quit running from the fact that some people hate Mormons and will never vote for him--no matter what he says. Unfortunately, up to this point Romney has let the bigoted portion of the evangelical movement push him around and it's time he put them in their place and label them what they really are: hate-mongers.

4:04 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

I certainly think that's what the Romney camp is shooting for. While perhaps mistake is a strong word for Douthat to use, I think few people would argue that the speech is without significant risk.

Ultimately, I see it as a damned if he doesn't and damned if he does situation. Had he not chosen to give the speech and lost in Iowa, people would have pointed to that as a primary reason why. Now if he ends up losing after giving the speech, you'll likely hear a lot of pundits finger the speech as a bad move that helped cement his loss.

On the upside, JFK's speech in Houston was viewed as risky by a lot of his advisors (several of whom pressed him not to give it). On the downside, the issues that primary voters had with JFK's Catholicism were significantly different than the issues many primary voters have with Romney's Mormonism.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

Tommy - While I sympathize with your feelings, I'm not sure throwing the election is the best way to accomplish the end you are pushing for (which is what picking that fight would surely end up doing).

4:15 PM  
Blogger Tommy said...

Marc, I don't think taking a stand for his beliefs would be "throwing the election." Romney has been trying to be everything to everyone for too long and should just accept that some people will never vote for him because of their narrow-mindedness, ignorance, and personal bigotry against Mormonism. By standing firm in his beliefs, he will at least garner the respect of those rationally-minded evangelicals who are able to accept those whose beliefs differ from theirs.

4:33 PM  
Blogger David said...

Tommy, the point of his campaign is to get people to vote for him, not take a stand against bigotry, or explain Mormon beliefs, etc. Like it or not he's not there to explain his religion nor should he be expected to.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Tommy said...

David, I never advocated that he should explain Mormon doctrine--like I said, that would do no good. I merely said that since he is going through with the speech, he should briefly state his personal Christian convictions and that if those aren't Christian enough for people then tough. Romney loses people's respect when he tries to sit on the fence on the religion issue instead of saying, "This is who I am. Take it or leave it." It's seemed to work well for Giuliani. My view is that few people have resolvable concerns over how Romney's faith will inform his leadership--most of them are set in their views and are simply bullying Romney around on the issue.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Daniel B. said...

Let's not lose sight of the fact that this is a political speech in a political campaign for a political office. This speech is going to follow that premise and will be to reassure voters that he is what they want...what ever that is. Americans want to elect someone they consider an ideal, for better or worse. They choose people who do what they think they would do (in contrast to what they, the voters, would actually do) if they were there and acting to the best of their abilities. Many Americans have trouble with Mormons, and a Mormon presidency, because they have little experience with Mormons. Mitt's job in his speech, will be to reassure, and convince, voters that he is for all intents and purposes, not that different from them(except for his beliefs regarding the scriptural canon, the Godhead, modern revelation, and a few other doctrinal concepts that most voters probably don't even understand about their own faith).

As far as I can tell, Mitt has stated, a number of times, that he is Christian, that he does worship Jesus Christ and believes in being saved, and he does believe the Bible to be the word of God...but this speech isn't about an unequivocal statement of how his belief in Mormon doctrine or Christian doctrine, or any doctrine relates to his life. No, I think it is about politics. And like all successful politicians, be it Reagan or Clinton, he will need to build a bridge between himself and them, not a chasm. Success, and respect, will come when he builds that bridge on common beliefs, not when he says "here's what I believe, take it or leave it." Part of the reason I support him is because I think he can provide that connection to a wide variety of Americans of all breeds, be it religious, economic, political, or social.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Tommy said...

Well, it's obvious we disagree with who Romney's target audience will be with this speech. I hope it proves to be an historic one and changes the hearts and minds of those who continue to spew bigoted and hateful comments on the major media sites.

12:20 AM  

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