To schedule the speech at the George H.W. Bush presidential library at Texas A&M University is puzzling. Romney aides say it was the idea of Ron Kaufman, longtime Republican National committeeman from Massachusetts and faithful aide to the elder Bush. Kaufman told me it was scheduled there because Romney had mentioned a possible speech on religion when he spoke at the Bush library in April. Others in the campaign indicate the paramount reason is that Romney will be introduced in Texas by the former president, in what might be interpreted as a tacit endorsement. Romney's Iowa supporters would have preferred the candidate speaking in their state, addressing an audience of voters.
But what can Romney say? He will no more explore Mormon theology than John F. Kennedy dissected Catholic doctrine in his 1960 Houston speech to Protestant preachers, and he will avoid the slippery slope of discussing whether a Mormon is a Christian. Huckabee should not be criticized for dodging that question from George Stephanopoulos on ABC Sunday. To answer that Romney is a Christian would have earned the former Baptist preacher obloquy from Protestant and Catholic clergy alike.
All that is left for Romney to write is a speech that asserts the Constitution imposes no religious test for the presidency. However, that runs the risk of implicitly indicting anyone who votes against Mitt Romney as a bigot. As he awaited the Texas speech this week without knowing what Romney will say, one adviser hoped that the candidate would come across as a man of faith and integrity.
That adviser is hoping to reverse Romney's performance in last week's dismal Republican presidential debate at St. Petersburg, Fla. Romney no longer is called the perfect candidate hampered solely by religious prejudice. After a half-hour immigrant-bashing duel with Rudy Giuliani, he looked like somebody who would say anything to be nominated. At College Station today, Romney will try to correct that impression, even if he does not win over bigots.
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