The latest scuttlebutt on the 2008 presidential hopes of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has him cozying up to President Bush on the torture and interrogation of terrorists. And it's all in an attempt to differentiate himself from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been fighting Bush tooth and nail on the issue. Neither side is exactly the ideal candidate of what's been called the Christian right that helped loft Bush into power (evangelicals reportedly gave Bush nearly 40 percent of his vote in 2004), but that makes things all the more interesting.
Check out this analysis by Hotline On Call:
The clever back-and-forth came to halt Sunday, when Adam Nagourney, the NYT's chief political reporter, got Romney on the phone and on the record. "I am foursquare behind the president on this," Romney, said referring to McCain's dispute with Pres Bush over the torture issue. "I believe that we should do everything possible to support those people at the front line who are responsible for enforcing the war on terrorism." But Romney wasn't done. Asked if this was the "sharpest" area of disagreement with McCain, Romney said: " No. There are a number of things. We have different views on McCain-Feingold, differing views on immigration policy, differing views on the interrogation of terrorists." Perhaps looking to soften the blow, he then offered, "There are also many other areas where we see eye to eye."
The big question for me involves how Mormons view the torture issue theologically. As far as I can tell, their leaders do not address the issue directly and it's unclear that Romney would be willing to allow his religious beliefs to affect his politics. It is not a situation where Romney could be refused the church's blessing, as was attempted with John Kerry and other Catholic Democrats for their position on abortion, but I could be wrong. Are there any Mormon readers out there who have more information?
It's fair to say that big-name evangelicals who support Bush have not made noise over the torture issue, but the lack of noise does not necessarily indicate support for the policy. According to numbers compiled by The Economist, 60 percent of Bush's voters in 2004 were among theological conservatives, which includes evangelicals, traditional Catholics and, yes, Mormons. Where do these voters fall on the torture issue?
Will Romney pick up Bush's "theoconservative" supporters or will he end up alienating them? We know that McCain's position on torture is not endearing him to high-level Bush supporters, but what about the people in the pews? Will this stymie his efforts to gain the support of evangelicals because he is opposing Bush, or opposing a policy they may or may not consider critical to their safety or harmful to the country's moral foundation?