Romney Tries Again

June 02, 2011

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will officially announce today that he is running for president again (the picture is one I took of him at last year's "Values Voter Summit"). This is no surprise since he has basically been running for a couple of years. In addition to concerns about his flip-flopping on numerous issues (like abortion, gay rights, gun control, immigration, and campaign finance) and his health care reform he signed as governor, many Republicans also are leery of his Mormon faith. The issue of his faith dogged him during the 2008 campaign as many conservative evangelicals questioned the idea of supporting someone who was a Mormon. To try and ease these concerns--and counter the rise of former Southern Baptist pastor Mike Huckabee--Romney gave a speech on faith and politics in December of 2007. Many in the media called it his JFK speech or moment. However, Romney offered a dramatically different message than John F. Kennedy had given nearly five decades earlier. As I noted in a Houston Chronicle column last September, Kennedy argued that his faith should not matter and urged Americans to focus on the important issues confronting the nation. Kennedy stressed his strong support for the separation of church and state and refused to discuss his personal beliefs. Romney, on the other hand, gave a dramatically different speech as he attacked the principle of separation of church and state and talked about his personal beliefs. While Kennedy argued that there should not be a religious test for office, Romney appeared to support the idea of a test but insisted that he passed it. Despite this effort, Romney failed to stop Huckabee's rise in Iowa.

Huckabee's decision not to run this time removed Romney's biggest threat for the nomination (see post here) but there are several other candidates seeking to fill Huckabee's void and capture the support of conservative evangelicals, many of whom remain skeptical of Romney. As I noted in my new book (Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics), Romney is a unique case because he has shown he is able to use the confessional political style but faces questions within this system due to his faith. I also addressed the issue of Romney's Mormon faith in a recent interview with Church & State magazine. The Los Angeles Times had a good column yesterday arguing that the political attacks on Romney's faith are not a positive sign for our democracy. Similarly, one of Romney's prominent evangelical supporters--who is now an official campaign adviser--has argued that evangelicals should focus on issues other than a candidate's faith when deciding who to support. The question remaining is whether or not Romney will be able to adequately shake these concerns as he seeks political redemption in this presidential cycle.

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