The first duty of American conservatives is to use their talents, time, and treasure to conserve America. And not just any sort of America, but one in which all men and women are understood to have been created equal and endowed by their Creator with “certain unalienable rights,” rights which are best protected through the institutions created by the Constitution and operated under that Constitution’s design of mediated majoritarianism.
Conservatives understand the value of life, including the life of the unborn; the deep and enduring benefits of freedom of religion and of the press; the absolute necessity of the right to hold property free of excessive governmental intrusion; the joy, efficiency, and breathtaking productivity of free markets and free minds; the necessity of an uncorrupt judiciary fairly dealing out justice under a rule of law and the dangers of unelected judges asserting for themselves roles and claiming for themselves powers outside their constitutional duties.
Conservatives also understand clearly the war in which the West finds itself. Serious conservatives know as well that the war can be lost and the world engulfed in a barbaric darkness, one suddenly brought about through the release of the awful powers of nuclear weaponry or through contagions manufactured for the purpose of spreading disease and death.
Conservatives are deeply uneasy as the nation moves toward the end of the Bush presidency. We know that there is not a single serious contender for the Democratic nomination who has evidenced anything resembling seriousness about the war. A Democratic Congress cannot lose the war although it will make victory much more difficult. But a Democratic president can indeed lose the war and unleash through weakness, incompetence, and blindness awful forces as Jimmy Carter did when he failed to prevent the installation of a revolutionary Islamic Republic in Iran, and as Bill Clinton did when he did not move decisively against the nuclear ambitions of North Korea or the menace of an al Qaeda nested in a barbaric, Taliban-led Afghanistan.
Many conservatives do not see a standard-bearer in the field, or at least one with a prayer of success.
Senator John McCain is a nationalist, and a man of unquestioned courage and resolve with regard to the war. He reminds many of Douglas MacArthur. But he is no conservative. Senator McCain allowed his fear of money to trump his faith in free speech, and sacrificed the latter in a-vain-redesign of the First Amendment via the McCain-Feingold campaign finance fiasco. Senator McCain later chose the rituals and privileges of the Senate and his love for the spotlight over the Constitution’s clear design when it came to the nomination and confirmation of judges. His Gang of 14 backroom deal undercut the vast majority of his GOP colleagues, his president, and his party, and did not even in its second year of operation gain for judicial nominees the up-or-down floor votes promised them.
Senator McCain also chose to trust Senator Kennedy and not his own party on the issue of border security. Then, as the elections of 2006 approached, he engaged in a dramatic demand that the Supreme Court-mandated and Bush administration-designed law governing the trials and treatment of War on Terror detainees be redone according to his own vision of the good. It was a train wreck-causing public relations stunt that led to cosmetic changes in the law and the loss of crucial legislative weeks. With those lost weeks came the loss of crucial legislation and nominations, and quite likely many seats in both the House and Senate.
Conservatives do not trust Senator McCain. It is difficult to believe that even the best campaign by him will erase that distrust.
Conservatives admire Rudy Giuliani, the mayor who strode towards the Towers, and whose reputation for toughness and clear-eyed understanding of the enemy is the equal of McCain’s. But Mayor Giuliani will not change his long-held views on abortion rights, including partial birth abortion-he believes in Roe v. Wade and its even more extreme progeny. Like Senator McCain, Mayor Giuliani is simply not upset by the assault on marriage by arrogant judges. For many conservatives, Rudy Giuliani would make a superb Secretary of Defense. But president?
Florida’s Jeb Bush is sidelined by his name, even though in any other year he might be the one conservative who could rally the party. But not this year when everyone knows the GOP nominee must in many ways be the anti-Bush: not from Texas, not given to malapropisms, not a late bloomer, not connected to the perceived mismanagement of post-Saddam Iraq, and definitely not named Bush.
Enter Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, former leader of the Salt Lake City Olympics, a billionaire venture capitalist who blazed his way through Harvard’s Business and Law Schools and then built a reputation as one of the country’s most brilliant and successful entrepreneurs. The eloquent, funny, self-deprecating father of five sons and grandfather to eleven grandchildren has been married to Ann Romney for more than three and a half decades. He is pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-Second Amendment. He understands economic growth and the world economy as only wildly successful international businessmen do.
Romney grew up in politics with a father who was a three-term governor of Michigan (and a one time front-runner for the 1968 GOP presidential nomination), and later a member of Richard Nixon’s cabinet.
And Romney knows the war. He has worked to learn its complexities and the nature of our diverse enemies, constantly reading the sorts of books that must be absorbed. He has made journeys to places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Beijing, Tokyo, and the border between the Koreas to gather the sorts of facts that cannot be found in books. When Iran’s former president-a terrorist himself complicit in a regime devoted to terrorism-was inexplicably granted a visa to the United States and extended an invitation to Harvard, Romney denounced both decisions and refused him the courtesies normally extended the former leaders of foreign countries.
The preceding suggests what has long been known to America’s political obsessives: Mitt Romney is unique. He has a talent for politics and leadership that is extraordinary amongst the ranks of professional politicians. What’s more, his record of accomplishment in both the private and public spheres is remarkable. If Mitt Romney’s personal characteristics and record of achievement didn’t clearly qualify him for the presidency, there would be no discussion about his faith. But he is a serious candidate for president; a very serious candidate.
Indeed, it is no wonder that Romney had the best 2006 of all the Republicans. He was the best prepared. In a year that destroyed first the ambitions of George Allen and then those of Bill Frist, Romney soared in the speculations of the political class as he raised more money for the GOP than John McCain and Rudy Giuliani combined. When the James Baker-led Iraq Study Group issued its report urging engagement with Iran and Syria, Romney-as did McCain rejected the idea as the absurd neo-appeasement it was. The Boston Globe attempted to discredit Romney for his strong stance on border security and the fencing mandated by Congress with a story breathlessly reporting that the landscaping company that trimmed his Belmont, Massachusetts, home’s hedges had employed illegal aliens. Instead of having its desired effect, the story triggered laughter directed at the Globe-not criticism of the candidate.
A short while later, concerned opponents dug into the 1994 files of Romney’s unsuccessful run against Ted Kennedy and locked onto statements from that campaign to disingenuously charge that Romney was not really pro-life in 2007, only to discover that most Republicans are more impressed by his steadfast defense of marriage and his strong pro-life stands as governor than by accusations of what he believed or didn’t believe fourteen years earlier as a rookie candidate.
Even Romney’s long and strongly held beliefs on the necessity of treating gay and lesbian Americans with the dignity and respect that is owed all our fellow citizens-thought by his opponents to be a certain momentum killer-turned out to mirror the feelings of most conservatives regarding the appropriate approach to take towards the private lives of all Americans. Romney’s long-standing and consistent record of acceptance for gay Americans made his vigorous fight to preserve the traditional definition of marriage all the more credible as a defense of constitutional majoritarianism rather than bigotry.
“Mitt Romney possesses a combination of intellect and warmth that is very rare in politics,” Congressman John Campbell told me in an assessment of Romney that echoed sentiments I have heard repeatedly from individuals who, like Campbell, have had success both in politics and business and who have only recently met Romney.
Campbell was elected to Congress in the fall of 2005 in a special election. He arrived in D.C. after five years in Sacramento as a state representative, a senator, a couple of turns as Arnold’s debate prep partner, and a shining career in business that made him not only wealthy, but also an admirer of financial and management talent.
“During my political career,” Campbell continued about Romney, “I have never seen anyone so equally gifted in an interview or debate, in a one-on-one conversation and speaking to a thousand people. He has all the raw materials to be a great candidate and a great president.”
Reviews like Campbell’s have accumulated, contributions have flowed, and Romney’s star has unquestionably risen. As Campaign 2008 got off to its unprecedented very early start, conservatives began to see in Romney what they needed: a national security conservative who also brought along a set of shared values on other crucial issues and about whom there was no doubt as to incredible intelligence, energy, eloquence, and, crucially, integrity.
With the higher profile have come the inevitable and necessary questions-questions this book will answer: What role did his father’s political career and failed presidential campaign play in shaping Romney? What is the “Bain Way,” and what’s that got to do with Romney? Does leadership of the Olympic Games really matter in politics-and if so, why?
And what about his family-his wife and kids and grandkids? Was he a success as governor of Massachusetts? Is he really pro-life? Did he fight the good fight on marriage? What are his advantages as the campaign for the presidency begins? What are the handicaps?
Those are the first nine questions, and then there is the tenth question: ‘What about the Mormon problem?”
As the buzz on Romney has increased, so too has the murmuring about his religion. Many among the political elite began to say, “Romney is a Mormon, and a Mormon cannot win the nomination, much less the presidency.”
Bret Stephens is the extremely talented member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board who was previously the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post. Early in 2006, I asked him about Romney’s Latter-day Saints (LDS) beliefs. “It’s out there that it’s a l50-year-old version of Scientology,” Stephens said. A moment later he caught himself and asked if this was an on-the-record conversation, and I assured him it was.
“The Scientology comparison is a keeper,” I replied, but I also assured him that it would be accurately reported not as what he believed but what he has heard among the sippers in the reporters’ bar and the gluttons at the press room buffet. (When I quoted Stephens to Romney and asked for a response, the governor responded immediately, emphatically, and with a look of genuine offense written across his face. “It’s not.” How would he explain the difference? “!’lll leave that to the Church authorities,” he prudently replied, avoiding any potentially controversial comments on either Scientology or the LDS theology, much in the manner that Catholic politicians beg off at having to defend this or that position of Rome, past or present.)
Though Stephens was careful to distance himself from an endorsement of the comparison, by the close of 2006, less responsible journalists were ready to adopt the “150-year-old version of Scientology” charge as conventional wisdom.
Jacob Weisberg is the editor of Slate, the online magazine now owned by the Washington Post Company. Weisberg is a talented writer, a columnist for the Financial Times, an alum of The New Republic. He is a Yalie and a Rhodes Scholar. He is also, most surprisingly, a bigot, and an unashamed one.
In a December 20, 2006, column for Slate, “Romney’s Religion: A Mormon President? No Way,” Weisberg declared bluntly that if Romney “gets anywhere in the primaries, Romney’s religion will become an issue with moderate and secular voters-and rightly so.”
“Objecting to someone because of his religious beliefs is not the same thing as prejudice based on religious heritage, race, or gender,” Weisberg declared in a bold break with American political tradition.
“One need only recall the innumerable rants against a president who is born again, prays daily, thinks he has a hotline to God, and is bent upon replacing our constitutional order with a theocracy,” Neuhaus noted. “In the game book of unbridled partisanship, any stick will do for beating up on the opposition.”
Neuhaus had arrived exactly where 1 had journeyed after a year exploring the subject. On the evening of my first extensive interview with Governor Romney in his Massachusetts State House office, I had dinner in Harvard Square with an old classmate, Joe Downing, who asked me why 1 was writing this particular book. Although this is my eighth book, none of my earlier efforts had been biographical even in part, nor have I written extensively on the issues presented by a Mormon candidate for president.
I responded to Joe’s question of why I was writing on this topic by saying, “Because Mitt Romney ought not NOT be president because of his religious beliefs.”
“That’s a very American view,” Joe replied.
Joe was correct, but given the Weisberg column-and many others of similar tone and substance that preceded it and that will follow-I have to wonder if my belief in our “civic religion’s” commitment to abhorrence of religious bigotry remains steadfast. The civic religion is the accumulation of principles, traditions, and institutional practices that over time come to define a country. Only some of the civic religion makes it into law, but the most important aspects do find some expression in our founding documents. Our nation’s abhorrence of religious bigotry was embodied in Article VI of the Constitution, which prohibits “religious tests” for office.
“Not applying a religious test for public office,” Weisberg asserted without any evidence or argument, “means that people of all faiths are allowed to run, not that views about God, creation, and the moral order are inadmissible for political debate.”
When Weisberg declares, “I won’t vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism,” he is imposing a personal religious test. It is true that Article VI no more prohibits Weisberg’s bigotry than the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits racial bigotry on the part of Klansmen. But Article VI embodies the civic religion’s ideal, and it is that ideal that Weisberg and others are trashing, and the danger is general to all people of faith, not just Mormons.
“Everyone has skin in this game,” Dean Barnett wrote me after reading this manuscript. Dean is my co-blogger at HughHewitt.com, a longtime friend of Romney’s, and a keen editor who worked on the final drafts of this book as long and as hard as I did.
“If it becomes permissible to question the tenets of Romney’s faith, all religious people will be vulnerable,” Dean argued. “All religions require a faith in the fantastic and a belief in the unbelievable. If Romney’s belief in the Book of Mormon is used as evidence that he is a fool, a new kind of political attack will be legitimized. Christians who believe in the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the literal truths of Communion will be dismissed out of hand.
“It almost goes without saying that certain secularists already hold such views. But if members of other religious communities support the attacks on Romney’s faith because of some animus towards Mormonism, the weapon they legitimize will in short order be turned against them.”
If any significant number of voters disqualify Romney from their consideration because of his faith, it will be a disheartening breach of the Framers’ contract with themselves and their political heirs on the subject of religion’s place within the American Republic. The concern is more than academic. An astonishing 43 percent of 1,000 people polled by Rasmussen Reports in mid-November of 2006 told the pollsters that they would not even consider voting for a Mormon, a higher negative response than atheists or Muslims received, and double the number saying they would not vote for a Mormon in polls taken in the late ’90s. More than half of self-identified “evangelicals” told Rasmussen that voting for a Mormon was out of the question.
If this general objection becomes a concrete prejudice in the presidential campaign of 2008, it will prove a disastrous turning point for all people of faith in public life. If much of the campaign of 2007 and 2008 is spent exploring, evaluating, debating, and mocking the Mormon faith, expect the very arguments used to diminish Romney’s qualifications in this regard to return in the future against devout evangelicals or orthodox Catholics. Once a long-closed door to a religious test is opened, it will not be easily closed again.
If Romney is attacked-openly or sub rosa- for the particulars of his faith, and those attacks, alone or in dominant combination with some other assault, keep him from the Oval Office and he was the man who ought to have been there, then the country will have walked out on one of our most vital founding principles. This problem-a core problem, a fundamental problem-is what inspired this book, though my examination of Mitt Romney’s life and career has raised other questions unique in the history of presidential campaigns. Should we welcome or fear the role of the MBA class/venture capital/uber-business consultant on the national and international stage? Is the country really going to accept a billionaire as president?
“What Romney needs to do,” she concluded, “is just to say that his religion is a part of his life, it always has been, and he believes that America is a place that was founded on religious freedom, and he can quote from John Kennedy from that Houston speech.”
Will that in fact be enough?
This book is in essence an inquiry into Mitt Romney’s candidacy for the presidency. As such, it must necessarily tackle two main questions: 1) Does this still relatively obscure blue-state governor have the “right stuff’ to be president; and 2) If the answer to the first question is yes and most Republicans believe that answer is yes, will Mitt Romney’s faith nevertheless disqualify him from being the Republican nominee for president?
Now for some disclosures.
I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Mormon. No member of my family is or has been a Mormon. My wife had a first cousin who converted to the LDS faith. She died a few years ago and we never had the occasion to discuss her conversion with her.
That said, I love Mormons and count many among my friends. In 1996 I conceived and hosted a national series on religion in America for PBS, Searching for God in America, which took me into the history of the Saints and to Brigham Young’s Beehive House in Salt Lake City for many hours of interviews with Apostle Neal Maxwell, at that time one of the most senior leaders of the denomination that numbers ten million. I returned to Utah a few years later at Elder Maxwell’s request to conduct another lengthy bit of taped questioning for another PBS series, this one for Utah viewers only. Elder Maxwell became a friend, one with whom I had the chance to talk politics both in person and via the phone from that time until his death in 2005.
I also have a friend in Dr. Jim Davies, a brother-in-law to Mitt Romney, an accomplished eye surgeon, and a convert to the LDS faith, as is his sister, Ann Romney, Mitt Romney’s wife. Jim’s an extraordinary fellow, so giving that he has donated a part of his own lung to a young lady with cystic fibrosis. Jim is also passionate booster of his brother-in-law.
Many friends of mine in evangelical, Catholic, and Jewish circles of Massachusetts are admirers of Mitt Romney. I have been hearing great things about him from them since he gained the Commonwealth’s statehouse in 2002.
All of which goes to the issue of whether I can be fair in analyzing Mitt Romney’s candidacy and the impact on it of his faith.
I will leave that to the reader to decide, but note only that I wouldn’t promote my best friend’s candidacy if I thought his background-including his religious beliefs-would result in massive Republican-base defections because of some personal characteristic. I have no interest in winning arguments and losing elections. The times in which we live don’t allow for quixotic stands that end up with the nomination of a candidate who cannot win.
By the same token, though, if the best candidate who could undoubtedly win the general election is denied the nomination and as a result the White House is lost to a Democratic Party currently constituted as being against serious prosecution of the war against Islamist fascists, then a deep and potentially fatal error will have been made.
The war against Islamist fascism can be lost. Devastating blows far beyond even the horrors of 9/11 can be delivered. Mushroom clouds or rapidly spreading diseases can appear in America. We have been well protected and well led since 9/1 I-and lucky.
The Democrats do not believe this. They will return us to the 1990s, to the years that followed the first World Trade Center bombing, to the era of Khobar Towers, the African embassy bombings, the attack on the Cole. They will return us to a course of inaction, of fecklessness, to desperate attempts to maintain the appearance of peace while ignoring the reality of a growing menace.
If the nomination of Mitt Romney would lead to his election and continued COP stewardship of our national security, Republicans would have cause to cheer and the nation would benefit. But if, because of his faith, he lost in the Republican primaries to a less able candidate and that in turn led to the election of Hillary, the defeat of Romney on the grounds of his religious beliefs would be a national tragedy.
Thus this book.
In the book’s first part, I’ll try to help the reader get to know Mitt Romney as I’ve come to know him through many interviews with him, his family, friends, and associates that I conducted for the specific purpose of preparing this book. After Part I, hopefully you’ll share my conclusion that Mitt Romney is qualified to be president. Perhaps even over-qualified.
And then we’ll move on to Part II, a review of Romney’s political positions of special concern to conservatives. Part III is a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the Romney candidacy at the start of the campaign, and concludes with an examination of Romney’s Mormon faith and what it should mean and, perhaps more importantly, should not mean to Romney’s fellow Republicans and fellow Americans.
Before introducing you to the Mitt Romney I’ve come to know, I think one more word regarding the preparation of this book is in order. While the governor cooperated with this endeavor, this is not an “authorized” biography. The conclusions I’ve reached are my own. Mitt Romney will only come to know them in the same way you will-by reading this book.
I have not endorsed Governor Romney and will not do so until a moment comes when I have to decide whom to vote for in California’s Republican primary. The next year will tell us many things about all the candidates, and no voter should be unwilling to absorb the twists and turns and revelations about the men and woman running to replace George W Bush.
But in fairness to the reader, I do have to disclose that if the California primary were held tomorrow, I would indeed vote for Mitt Romney. I have been around American politics for a long time, beginning with work on a congressional campaign in Massachusetts in 1974, the year of the post-Watergate deluge. I was a Ford man in the ’76 primaries, and led the “Youth for Ford” campaign in Massachusetts as a Harvard junior. Seven years later, after a ghost-writing career with Richard Nixon that began at America’s Elba, San Clemente, and continued after RN’s move to New York and three years at the University of Michigan Law School, I went to work for Ronald Reagan, first at the Department of Justice as a special assistant to William French Smith and then Ed Meese, and then in the White House Counsel’s office before moving to the agencies. Since beginning my teaching and broadcast career, I have studied and repeatedly interviewed the most senior officials of government and in politics during more than seventeen years behind microphones and in front of cameras.
I have never met a more intellectually gifted, curious, good humored, broadly read, and energetic official than Mitt Romney. Whether he can convey these gifts to the electorate and thereby earn their support is another question entirely. Like every other reporter and most other voters, I’ll be watching to see if that is the case.
But even at this early stage I am certain about one thing: bigotry about Romney’s faith ought not to be a legitimate part of this campaign, or any future campaign for the presidency.
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