The Passion of Mitt Romney

No one has ever found any transcript or video clip of former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney calling himself “pro-choice,” and it’s extremely doubtful anyone ever will. In 2002, Romney, responding to a reporter’s question, said, “If the question is whether I will protect and defend a woman’s right to choose, my answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’,” but he did not call himself “pro-choice.” Similarly, Hugh Hewitt, in the introduction to his new book, A Mormon in the White House? 10 Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney, writes, “I have not endorsed Gov. Romney and will not do so until a moment comes when I decide whom to vote for in California.”

As Gov. Romney tells us we should not label him “pro-choice,” we cannot label Hugh Hewitt an “endorser” of Romney. Instead, we must turn to the thesaurus and say Hugh Hewitt, as is abundantly obvious in his new book, is a champion, supporter, advocate, and fan of Gov. Romney. The lack of candor over these labels is one of the problems A Mormon in the White House? suffers from, much like Gov. Romney’s own campaign.

Several months ago, after weighing the candidates, I endorsed Mitt Romney for President, only to retract that endorsement recently. Like Hewitt, were the election held today, I would vote for Mitt Romney, but unlike Hewitt, I am not very passionate about the former governor and have, over time, developed some qualms about him. Hewitt’s passion for Mitt Romney’s candidacy makes his book not only an enjoyable, easy read that evidences great access to the candidate, his family, and friends, but also leaves readers wanting.

With this access, Hewitt gives readers insights into Romney’s world greater than I expected when I first picked up the book. Hewitt’s books — this is his eighth — all benefit from the author’s legal training and his talk-show skills. He provides good information that is readily digestible. In only a few pages, Hewitt is easily able to capture the genuineness, honesty, and wholesomeness of the Romney family. They are genuinely good people. Mitt Romney is a man the nation would be lucky to have as its President if only because of his character: a hard-working, grounded, moral and smart family man.

Nothing to Fear

Hewitt does a fair job making the case that the public should not be afraid of a Mormon in the White House. One passage quotes Chuck Colson’s citing of Martin Luther’s “admonition that he’d rather be governed by a competent Turk than an incompetent Christian” to put some perspective on the subject. Hewitt chose to use the introduction of the book to chastise readers, writing: “If any significant number of voters disqualify Romney from their consideration because of his faith, it will be a disheartening breach of the Framers’ contract with themselves and their political heirs on the subject of religion’s place within the American Republic.” Hewitt even goes on to say: “But if Romney is attacked–openly or sub rosa–for the particulars of his faith . . . then the country will have walked out on one of our most vital founding principles.” But even though it is arguably the central issue about Romney’s candidacy in people’s minds, Hewitt waits until the last chapter of the book to explain why being a Mormon is not a problem.

The book is fraught with frustrating contradictions. For example, Hewitt writes that “everyone knows the GOP nominee must in many ways be the anti-Bush,” but then he goes on to praise Romney for being a “former governor,” a “billionaire venture capitalist,” a student of Harvard’s Business School, building “a reputation as . . . [a] successful entrepreneur,” and using a CEO management style allowing all opinions to be debated before he, as CEO, makes the ultimate decision applying all the facts and opinions presented–all attributes that echo candidate George W. Bush.

Mormon Impact

In another contradiction, Hewitt writes, in the chapter titled “Mitt Romney’s Advantages”: “Start with the Mormons. The basic unit of the LDS church is the ward, comparable to a Catholic parish. Wards are collected into ‘stakes,’ again, comparable to a Catholic diocese. There are eight stakes in Iowa, which include 85 wards. . . . And in those 85 wards will be an incredible not-so-secret weapon–a core of young people . . . not to mention experienced missionaries.” So “the Romney campaign will certainly attract hundreds of thousands of Mormons. . . . This is a standard feature of American politics, and much to be celebrated.” But this begs the question: If we can expect heavy participation by Mormon missionaries as grassroots activists for an American presidential campaign, why can we not ask questions about Romney’s Mormon beliefs and why can Americans not be concerned? After all, contrary to the popular perception of the left and media, there were no organized platoons of Presbyterian missionaries knocking on doors for Reagan, brigades of Baptists for Bill Clinton, nor marauding packs of Methodists for George W. Bush. This is something relatively unseen and new to most Americans –including many deeply evangelical Americans who believe Mormonism to be a cult, or at best a religion that has some shared roots, but is fundamentally grounded in heresies.

On abortion, Gov. Romney’s position has been repeatedly attacked this campaign season. Hewitt argues that Romney evolved to a pro-life position and that the right should embrace the evolution just as the left has been willing to embrace “the evolution of Al Gore, Dick Gephardt, and others from pro-life positions to pro-choice absolutism.” He goes on to say that pro-life critics of Romney “fail to realize … that the pro-life community is sophisticated and educated, and quite capable of understanding how a pro-life politician in Massachusetts has to advocate for the possible, and mustn’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.” Hewitt is absolutely right. The pro-life community is “sophisticated and educated.” Romney pointedly says now that he is “pro-life.” However, in making the case for Romney’s pro-life conversion, Hugh gives the impression that Romney made his conversion after his Senate loss in 1994. In a 2002 gubernatorial debate, Romney said, “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose,” then was very clear that he would keep Massachusetts’s abortion laws as they were. Gov. Romney neither expanded abortion rights, nor restricted them. Nonetheless, his failure to strongly advocate for life while governor, coupled with the fact that every campaign he has run for public office until now he’s been in favor of abortion rights and in favor of Roe v. Wade, gives many sophisticated and educated pro-life advocates pause. Hewitt’s failure to address Romney’s statements in 2002 is a deficiency in an otherwise good argument and weakens his defense against Romney’s pro-life critics.

Mitt Romney’s opponents should be on notice that Hewitt does a masterful job covering all reasons that Romney is a formidable candidate, except for the less-than-well-presented case on judicial picks. He spent more time discussing Romney’s stand against former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami’s speaking to Harvard than he did on Romney’s judicial picks. Though Hewitt asserts that “Romney has a record” and that “Romney made six appointments to the crucial appeals courts of the commonwealth,” he fails to mention a fact pointed out by the Boston Globe, which reported, “Romney, who touts his conservative credentials to out-of-state Republicans, has passed over GOP lawyers for three-quarters of the 36 judicial vacancies he has faced, instead tapping registered Democrats or independents — including two gay lawyers who have supported expanded same-sex rights.” One apparent strength Hewitt fails to build on is that Romney, from gay rights to abortion to the handling of the Terri Schiavo matter, is a strong believer in states’ rights and federalism. Similarly, he does a poor job of objectively laying out Romney’s weaknesses, which Hewitt lists as “The Ken Doll/Guy Smiley/Game Show Host Gambit,” “Vietnam,” “Wealth,” “Nearly 200 Captured Castles,” and Romney’s faith.

Hugh does not mention Romney’s two major weaknesses. The first is the appearance by Romney of being a political opportunist, having been in favor of abortion before he was against it, against President Bush’s tax cuts before he was for them, for campaign finance reform before he was against it, for liberal immigration reforms before he was against them, etc. The second is that not only do polls show Romney would probably lose his home state in a presidential run (in more than 100 years, no President has lost his home state and still won the White House), but Romney did not run for re-election in Massachusetts because he probably would have lost.

Hewitt offers a great snapshot of what truly delightful people Mitt Romney and his family are and tries to make the case for Romney as the conservative standard bearer in 2008. But in objective substance, Hewitt comes up deficient. In his conclusion, he quotes Dr. Al Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention as saying, “I would be hesitant to do anything that would draw attention to Mormonism as a mainstream part of American culture and, therefore, more likely to appear as a legitimate Christian denomination when I do not believe it is.” He also quotes blogger Ed Morrisey, who said, “If Mitt can avoid too many public connections with the Mormon Church and show some strength in the early primaries . . . he can win the nomination.” Those quotes draw me back to one of the strengths Hugh cites — the great horde of Mormon missionaries who will help Mitt in the Iowa caucus, the very first state on the road to the White House. I wonder why it is that Romney can take such a great advantage of these young people, but evangelicals and others should not even consider it. Hugh’s failure to substantively, objectively address that issue, the central issue of his book, will leave all but those already supporting Mitt Romney or leaning in his direction, wanting more.