The following post was contributed by D. Bell, by special request from RomneyExperience. Much appreciated, too.
Mark Davis has Mitt Romney’s Mormonism on his mind. Mr. Davis has expressed his belief that Governor Romney must proactively explain and defend the tenets of his faith in order to help voters become comfortable with the idea of voting for a Mormon. In two recent articles, one an account of an interview with Romney, Mr. Davis, in a civil and reasonable manner, makes the case that when Americans discover the eccentricities of Mormonism many of them will be discomfited; when this occurs, Mr. Davis argues, “it’s not lds.org or Wikipedia that needs to smooth it over. It’s Mitt Romney.”
First, we applaud Mr. Davis for stating that, in spite of their theological differences, “Romney’s membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a non-issue to me.” Furthermore, we agree with Mr. Davis that “most Americans have not examined what Mormons believe, and when they do, some of them are going to recoil.” It is this reality that led Mr. Davis to write his original column, urging Romney to “make people comfortable with his Mormon faith.” To his credit, Mr. Davis seems to be writing from the belief that it is in Governor Romney’s interest to explain his faith, rather than it being his obligation to do so (and in this he parts ways with many pundits and reporters who believe Romney is obliged to explain his religion while other candidates are not).
How would Mr. Davis recommend the Governor helping voters become more comfortable with his beliefs? Well, he makes mention of JFK’s famous address about his Catholicism, but it would seem Mr. Davis wants more than a simple “My loyalty is to the Constitution, and not Salt Lake City” speech. As mentioned above, Mr. Davis is suggesting Governor Romney actively “familiarize potential voters with his faith and convince them that there is nothing to fear,” as well as defend the faith from critics. We respectfully disagree with Mr. Davis, and believe that Govern Romney should refrain from storming the barns of Iowa and New Hampshire explaining the differences between Nephites and Lamanites and lecturing on the demographic realities of polygamy. It is our opinion that he should avoid doing this for two reasons, the first having to do with strategy, and the second with propriety.
To discover why it’s a strategic mistake for Romney to actively explain and defend his faith, one need go no further than Mr. Davis’ interview, in which he asks the Governor, “if an entire society existed in North America for centuries before and after the birth of Christ, planting crops, worshiping in a Judeo-Christian fashion, using an Egyptian-Hebrew hybrid language, riding chariots and smelting iron, wouldn’t there be archaeological evidence of it?”
Why on earth would any political candidate want to discuss such things? True, some voters would learn about Mormonism, and some of these may even come away thinking it isn’t as bad as they thought (though some would inevitably think it was). There is little question that such discussion would come to first dominate and then define Romney’s candidacy. If you were a reporter, would you be inclined to use your short time with Governor Romney to ask him about his views on Iraq, health care, and taxes, or would you ask him about polygamy and boy-prophets and wagon train massacres and gold plates (thus ensuring your article gets picked up by Drudge)? If you were a voter, would you be apt to walk away from a meeting remembering all the political stances of the candidate with which you agree, or his lecture on the godhead, which happens to contradict your deeply held religious beliefs? Would speaking about these topics make Romney seem like a faithful father and husband and business leader who happens to be Mormon, or would they cause his Mormonism to become his defining attribute in the mind of every reporter, editor, and voter? While speaking about his religion would make the Governor seem more open about his faith, and would satisfy the curiosity of some voters, in the end it would doom his candidacy. Mr. Davis is correct that there exists the possibility that Governor Romney will lose the primary because some voters regard as suspect his religion as well as his reluctance to discuss it; it should be noted, though, that there exists the certainty that actively discussing and defending his faith will ensure a primary loss.
Beyond strategy, there is the issue of propriety. In choosing to open up and discuss the various doctrines and practices of Mormonism, Governor Romney would be answering questions that have nothing to do with his fitness as a candidate. He would be attempting to sate the appetite of a political process that demands a candidate disclose every minute, personal detail and ultimately shed the last remaining vestiges of his privacy. (And it bears noting that this appetite will never, ever be quenched.) There are some things a voter needs to know before voting for a candidate; there are other things they don’t, as much as they would like to. The finer points of Governor Romney’s religious beliefs fall very much in the latter category.
So, while we appreciate Mr. Davis’ openness to voting for a Mormon, and his good faith effort to help Governor Romney reach those voters who are leery of his Mormonism, we believe the course of action he recommends would cause the Governor to lose the nomination as well as submit to the improper demands of the media and the public.