I think it's a mistake for Mitt Romney to give "the speech" -- the one aimed at addressing his Mormonism and its relevance, or irrelevance, to his candidacy.
There have long been rumors that Romney would make "the speech," but the matter seemed dormant until recently, when evangelical Mike Huckabee began surging in the polls, especially in Iowa.
Some Romney strategists fear his conservative Christian supporters in Iowa are shifting to Huckabee -- an ordained Baptist minister -- because they are uncomfortable with Mitt's Mormonism.
Huckabee's Christian credentials are doubtlessly helping him with many Christian conservatives. But I don't think Mitt's Mormonism is driving Romney voters to Huckabee. If Romney's Mormonism didn't bother them before Huckabee surged, it isn't bothering them now.
This is not to say that Romney's Mormonism isn't a potential liability for him. I think it is, but not among those who have already been supporting him. The more attention he draws to his religion, the more of a liability it will become. He should leave well enough alone.
Indeed, Romney's hurdles with Mormonism are probably greater than those John F. Kennedy faced with his Catholicism. Protestants might truly have been concerned that he would take his marching orders from the Pope and that his first allegiance would be to the Vatican, not the Constitution. Apparently, Kennedy's speech confronting those concerns directly went a long way toward dispelling any anxieties.
Some similarly fear Romney's primary loyalty will be to Mormon authorities. But I think a bigger problem is that many consider Mormonism a cult with certain bizarre beliefs.
So, you ask, shouldn't Romney give a speech to clarify and assuage their concerns? I don't think so.
With all due respect, many will find certain distinguishing Mormon beliefs disturbing. Romney would be better off relying on people's relative ignorance of other religions and grateful that Mormonism presents itself as more mainstream Christian than it actually is.
Please don't misunderstand. My purpose here isn't to attack Mormonism. Mormons generally are very good people who live moral lives. But it's inevitable that some voters will react negatively to Mormonism the more they learn about it -- and that can't possibly help Romney.
Romney also runs a risk in giving a "religious" speech that skirts all theological questions, which is likely. After all, we almost never hear Mormons talking about what distinguishes their religion from mainstream Christianity. They emphasize -- even on their TV commercials -- their belief in the Bible and their emphasis on Jesus Christ.