But back to the polling data. According to the Gallup organization, roughly 22% of Americans simply will not vote for a Mormon to be President. Period. It doesn't matter who the incumbent is, or the party affiliation of the respective candidates. If a presidential candidate is identified with the L.D.S. Church, these voters simply will not cast their ballot for that candidate. Among Republicans and Independents that number drops down to 20%, and among Democrats, specifically, the number skyrockets up to 27%.
So, can Mr. Romney win against these odds? We'll see how things shape-up once the Republican Primary process unfolds. But one thing is for sure: Team Romney most avoid the mistakes of the previous campaign.
Early in his last presidential bid, Mr. Romney claimed that he didn't want to talk about his church, but instead, wanted to talk about being President. But the "Mormon thing" proved to be unavoidable then, and will be that way again this time.
Thus, Mr. Romney should stop trying to prove to "them" - theologically conservative Evangelicals, and Catholics - that he is one of "them." The more he insists that we are all "on the same page," religiously speaking, the more that theologically conservative Catholics and Protestants will say "oh, no we’re not..."
Instead, Mr. Romney should explain why his Mormonism matters to the cause of American civic leadership; that his faith enables him to understand the dignity of the human person, the sanctity of life, the profundity of marriage, the necessity of human liberty, and so forth. He needs to honestly admit that, while the theological divide is real, our American values are universal.
On this point, Romney could borrow from the immediate past Commander-in-Chief. In a little-known speech from March of 2001, President George W. Bush spoke at the opening of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington. Bush, of course, is a Methodist (with strong ties to non-denominational Evangelicalism), yet he managed to do a remarkable job of stating to the Catholic hierarchy, "I may not be a parishioner…but I'm a sojourner with you..." and then brilliantly went on to say that we are "one" with our values.
Romney must avoid appearing as though he's denying the existence of theological tensions. At the same time, he needs to stay out of theological debates, and steer the "religious questions" in to a discussion about values.
It is a difficult task at hand for Mr. Romney, yet his Mormonism nurtures our American values. He needs to say as much.
Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.
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