I'm sorry to bring this up, but it's time -- once again -- to wrestle with the complicated reality that is GOP superstar (sort of) Willard Mitt Romney and the challenges he presents to mainstream reporters who cover his, at this time, unofficial candidacy for the White House in '12. Let's try to see this story through the eyes of a very specific voter, some would say the worst possible voter.
So you are a typical evangelical Protestant in, oh, South Carolina who is highly active in state Republican affairs there and, well, across the Bible Belt. Whenever you hear the name "Mitt Romney" you immediately think that he is:
(1) That Yankee with all the money. (2) The guy who did semi-government health-care in Massachusetts before President Barack Obama took the idea national. (3) The sort-of conservative Yankee who took a long time to make up his mind of moral and social issues. (4) The guy with the strong jaw and great hair. (5) The Mormon candidate. (6) All of the above. (7) Any of the first four options, but not No. 5.
Apparently, if you are an editor at Time magazine the answer is No. 7.
I base that conclusion on a new Time story, entitled "Election 2012: Mitt Romney Readies a Different Kind of Campaign," that is supposed to be about the hurdles that he faces this time around -- based on the outcomes of previous primaries. While it is clear, at this point, that there is no reason whatsoever for religion to dominate the story, the closest it comes to even mentioning Romney's sincere and vital Mormon faith is a brief aside about the family Christmas card.
At his first two events in New Hampshire, his former state-level campaign strategists hovered in the back of the room, apparently ready to dive in. Soon after, supporters got the Romney-family Christmas card, which pictured the candidate with his wife and 14 of his 15 grandchildren, one of whom seemed to be crying. "Guess which grandchild heard that Papa might run again?" ran the caption.
Then again, readers with any memory of the GOP race to 2008 were also sure to flinch when they read this chunk of the story.
The most damning indictment of Romney's 2008 campaign came from his archrival, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who began telling a story to reporters a few weeks before he beat Romney in the Iowa caucuses. It was the tale of a wealthy man who opened a dog-food company, hiring the best nutritionist, the best marketing people and the best sales force in the industry. When the product was released to great fanfare, sales flagged, so the wealthy man gathered his staff and demanded to know why. "There was a long silence," Huckabee would say. "And then finally somebody in the back of the room said, 'Because the dogs won't eat the darn stuff, sir.' "
So why, pray tell, are many GOP dogs declining to eat what Romney is selling?
Meanwhile, we are, of course, talking about the Rev. Mike Huckabee and the reason he is Romney's "archrival" is that they both need the support of religious conservatives and, the last time they faced off, the Southern Baptist candidate did not bite his tongue and keep silent when offered a chance to discuss the Mormon issue. Surely you recall that rather provocative incident? And Comedy Central was rather fond of punching the religion card, as well.
Whatever. I am sure that many GOP voters have gotten over that and that they have moved on. I am sure that strategists in the Romney campaign are not discussing this issue and, perhaps, even working hard to find the right kind of stump-speech language that will reach out to as many religious voters as possible (since, after all, there are many evangelical and Catholic Republicans who have, at one time or another in the past, endorsed Romney). The potential (cough, cough) candidate may even be trying out that language during his many test flights in New Hampshire, like the events covered in the Time article.
But there is no need to even mention that issue in a story about the challenges facing Romney. I am sure that religious and cultural issues will not play a major role in the upcoming campaign. Besides, it's best not to talk about religion, whenever possible. Religious issues make simple political stories too complicated.