Mitt Romney and Social Conservatives

Note to Mitt Romney: if you want continued success with religious social conservatives (read ‘conservative Evangelical Christians”) you’ll need to change a couple of things.
Right now you are basking in the afterglow of receiving the endorsement of Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation and a founder of the Heritage Foundation. Many believe this endorsement helps you with all conservatives — the fiscal conservatives, the national defense hawks — but most importantly, with religious social conservatives.
Governor, a few months ago you said that you don’t want to talk about your church, but instead, you want to talk about being President (that, by the way, is exactly what I want to hear from you). But the “Mormon thing” has proven unavoidable. So let’s work on this one.
First, stop trying to convince “them” that you are one of “them.” The more you publicly ascribe terms like “born again” and “Christian” to yourself, the more you’ll hear some say that you’re wrong. Instead, tell them why your Mormonism matters, and that your faith enables you to understand the dignity of the human person, the sanctity of life, the profundity of marriage, and so forth. Try to convey that, while the theological divide is real, values are universal.
On this point, you might borrow from the current Commander-in-Chief. In a little-known speech from March of 2001, George W. Bush spoke at the opening of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington. Bush, of course, is a Methodist, yet in a variety of ways he embodies more of an Evangelical nuance. Nonetheless, the President did a remarkable job of stating to the Catholic hierarchy, “I may not be a parishioner…” but then brilliantly went on to say that we are “one” with our values.
Of course it’s easier for Bush (or anybody else) to suggest that Catholicism and Protestantism are two sides of the same coin, than it may be for you to connect Mormonism to Evangelicalism. But try this approach: tell them that our respective faiths inform our values, and that our values unite us. And then leave the theological distinctions to other people.
Secondly, do not underestimate how “visceral” this theological divide can become. In 2001 and 2002, I worked for another Mormon statesman, former U.S. Congressman Matt Salmon, as he ran for Governor in his Mormon-friendly home state of Arizona. Despite the Republican advantage in Arizona’s voter registration, and despite three visits from a then-popular President Bush, Salmon lost the election to his Democratic challenger now Governor) Janet Napolitano, by . 0.9 % of the vote.
Was the campaign imperfect? Sure. But most disheartening and most telling was the fact that after the election, an examination of the ballots revealed that literally tens of thousands of Arizonans had voted a straight Republican ticket, yet left the Governor’s column blank. Most of us in the campaign interpreted this peculiar outcome to indicate that, while these people couldn’t vote for a Democrat, they wouldn’t vote for the Mormon, either.
Beware, governor, the road ahead.  It will be challenging. But stay strong – – and tell us more about your “values.”
And here’s a note to various “leaders” among the religious social conservatives: if Mitt is the guy to carry your torch, would you please say so?
It’s interesting that when the Senate was confirming the nominations of Judge Alito and Judge Roberts to the Supreme Court, many religious social conservatives complained that a “religious test” was being applied in the line of questioning of the judges, by certain Democratic Senators who often get a bit “preachy” with their secularist dogma.
In fact, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins stated in September of 2005 “Judge John Roberts deserves a fair hearing that does not involve questioning about his deeply held personal beliefs.”
Senators are agents of the government, and as such are forbidden by the Constitution from applying a “religious test” when choosing a judge. But folks in the private sector can apply any kind of “test” that they want when choosing a President.
It appears that many religious social conservatives are applying a “religious test” to you right now. And in principle, this is a clear double-standard.
Some of these leaders may be afraid of a backlash from their Evangelical financial supporters, should they publicly support a Mormon. That fear may not be irrational.
But among younger Evangelicals, there could be great acceptance of a Romney endorsement. Younger generations of Evangelicals are often more diverse, culturally and otherwise, and often more broad-minded than their parents were, and are better able to extrapolate “values” from somebody else’s faith tradition.
I hope you consider my ideas. And I hope the other leaders do as well.