The hundreds of millions of Americans who haven’t read Newsweek in years will not have noticed that former Bush speechwriter and respected commentator David Frum has a piece in the most recent issue arguing that Romney’s Mormonism, though currently a political problem, can be an asset to his campaign if it is framed properly for the electorate. Writes Frum:
Voters are likely to know two things about Mitt Romney: that he’s rich and that he’s a Mormon. At the same time, more than one fifth of Americans tell pollsters they won’t vote for a Mormon for president. Yet if Americans understood Mormonism a little better, they might begin to think of Romney’s faith as a feature, not a bug, in the Romney candidacy. If anything, Romney’s religion may be the best offset to the isolation from ordinary people imposed by his wealth.It was Romney’s faith that sent him knocking on doors as a missionary—even as his governor father campaigned for the presidency of the United States. It was Romney’s position as a Mormon lay leader that had him sitting at kitchen tables doing family budgets during weekends away from Bain Capital. It was Romney’s faith that led him and his sons to do chores together at home while his colleagues in the firm were buying themselves ostentatious toys.
Frum makes an important point. Mormonism forms a core part of Romney’s personal narrative; he needs to own it, or others—the press and political opponents—will present his religion for him in a less flattering light.The line Romney must walk is a tough one. Any sense that he’s using the platform of a presidential campaign to proselytize would alienate much of the country — and especially the GOP base, where the Mormon faith is often seen as a dangerous anti-Christian heresy.Somehow, he has to leap over that barrier and let people know how engaged his faith has led him to become in the lives of all kinds of people at all kinds of socio-economic levels. Whatever doctrinal issues orthodox Catholic and evangelical Christians have with Mormon theology, the family values, strong local communities and help for the poor and sick found among the Latter Day Saints speak to deep American values.Romney’s assignment, or that of his campaign, must be to highlight and make real the service and engagement that come out of his faith without looking as if it is trying to promote that faith. It won’t be easy, but the odds against a Romney victory lengthen to the degree that the campaign can’t find its way over this obstacle.