Why Romney's "Religion Speech" Won't Work

News & Politics
This post, written by Steve Benen, originally appeared on The Carpetbagger Report

After months of speculation and unsolicited advice, Mitt Romney suggested a few weeks ago that he was inclined to give a major campaign speech outlining his religious beliefs and how his Mormon faith might affect his administration, but his campaign aides were against it, saying it would "draw too much attention" to Romney's religious tradition.

Asked if he'd ever deliver a special speech on the subject, Romney added, "Perhaps, at some point." Now that Romney is falling behind, it looks like that point has arrived.

John F. Kennedy spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on Sept. 12, 1960, and made a powerful case that his administration would be neutral on matters of faith, hoping to assuage fears that his Roman Catholicism would be a problem in the White House. This week, Romney will also travel to Texas for a similar reason.
Mr. Romney plans to give the address, to be called Faith in America, at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Tex., 80 miles from Houston, the site of Kennedy's speech. His campaign is calling it an opportunity for him to "share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor's own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected." [...]
Suspicions about Mr. Romney's Mormon beliefs, which many conservative Christians consider to be heretical, have dogged his candidacy since it began, with many polls showing that large numbers of Americans would not vote for a Mormon candidate. The announcement comes a week after Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor whose rise in the polls in Iowa has been fueled by evangelical Christians, began running a television advertisement that describes him as a "Christian leader," which some viewed as a jab at Mr. Romney.
A senior Romney campaign official said the address is "not going to be a lesson in Mormon doctrine" but rather "an open discussion of how important and critical faith has been and is in Romney's life" and "how faith is what shapes our values."

This idea is almost certainly going to fail.

Sure, it will satisfy the DC establishment, and probably most of the campaign media, which has insisted for months that this kind of speech is necessary.

But as for changing the political landscape and alleviating the concerns of voters who are hesitant to support a Mormon candidate, it's hard to imagine how Romney's speech is going to do any good at all.

There are two broad considerations here: the theological and the political.

Theologically speaking, there's nothing Romney can do to convince evangelicals that Mormons are mainstream Christians. Giving a high-profile speech like this, as Noam Scheiber noted, may very well exacerbate the problem.
My sense is that a lot of people in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina only have the vaguest notion, if any, that Romney may not be a standard-issue protestant Christian. Devoting a high-profile speech to the subject only draws attention to his differences at a time when he wants to be downplaying them. That's true even if he speaks about faith in the broadest, most general terms, with little mention of Mormonism per se. The press will fill in the gaps.

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