God-o-Meter promises to let go of Mitt Romney soon, but please indulge it another post or two. GOM caught up yesterday with Matthew Spalding, a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation who did some advising and speechwriting for Romney—not connected to his Heritage position, he notes—focusing on how he dealt with his Mormon religion and social issues like abortion, stem cell research, and gay rights as a presidential candidate.
Spalding parts company with other Romney advisors who suspect that Mike Huckabee’s rise among evangelicals was due at least in part to anti-Mormon sentiment. What’s interesting about Spalding, though, is that despite his reluctance to criticize Romney or his campaign, he clearly feels the candidate didn’t discuss his faith frequently enough on the campaign trail and that he missed an opportunity to use his religion as a way to humanize himself and to bond with religious voters.
I don’t want to second guess the political guys, but I think his biography as governor but also including his own life and faith were an important aspect of him and, in the proper context, presenting more of that would have been to his credit. It’s not a discussion about Mormonism per say but about faith in his life and faith in America’s life and how we understand that. The problem was that there was too much emphasis on questions about Mormonism and instead the discussion should have been about the common themes that people of faith generally share, not about theology but about political principles.
Spalding doesn’t think the obsession with the Mormon question is Romney’s fault—he seems to place more blame for that on the media and the general public. But he suggests that Romney’s “Faith in America” speech, delivered last December, should have come earlier and more often.
I don’t want to second guess the timing question, but I think that the governor’s personal story should have been given more forthright attention during the campaign. I would have liked to have seen more rather than less, including how he understood his own faith intertwining with that story. [But Romney] very much did not want to be seen as taking advantage of the situation. He did not want to be flying this flag of religion discrimination against himself. That’s why he was reluctant to make these arguments.
Instead, Romney framed the discussion of his personal faith as part of a broader argument in defense of religious liberty. Some of that was Spalding’s doing: “I encouraged them to develop this question of the role of faith in the public square not only because he was a Mormon and this presented a particular challenge, but because it would be good for him and the political discussion more generally.”
At the same time, Spalding clearly believes Romney should have discussed his faith in more personal terms. But that presents the same Catch-22 that the Romney team wrestled with throughout the campaign: discussing Mormonism threatened to attract more questions about Mormon doctrine, bound to come off as disconcertingly bizarre to millions of voters. And yet ignoring the problem wouldn’t make it go away. Spalding seems to think the campaign did too much of the latter.