Modern American political history is littered with disastrous –and memorable—moments:
John Kerry’s “global test.”Howard Dean’s scream.The first President Bush looking at his watch in 1992.Michael Dukakis in the tank in 1988.Gerald Ford on Poland in 1976.Ed Muskie crying in 1972.The 1968 Democratic Convention from start to finish.
Then Senator Kennedy’s Houston speech in 1960 is one such moment.
And yesterday’s speech by Mitt Romney may well join this very short list if Romney holds on to the momentum he began and the passion and brains he displayed in Bush Library speech.
The stakes were very high, and many in Romney’s inner circle advised against the address. I was among those pundits who also thought that such a speech could not possibly work in the fractured media environment of today, especially given the rancorous rhetoric directed at people of faith in the U.S. by a secularist-dominated Manhattan-Beltway media elite.
But incredibly Romney’s address was carried from start to finish not only by CNN and other cable nets, but by CNN International, an unheard of level of interest by a candidate for a nomination.
And of course in all but the most jaded, iconoclastic or biased eyes, he carried it off magnificently.
Here’s the objective measure: When was the last time that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Medved, Fred Barnes, Charles Krauthammer and me all focused on the same subject and all agreed on the merits?
Sure, they will all support a GOP nominee against the Democratic nominee, but on any other subject?
Recall the immigration debate of just nine months ago, and the extraordinarily varied responses to the McCain-Kennedy bill.
Or the Dubai ports deal.
Or Harriet Miers.
The conservative commentariat just does not sing from the same page very often.
Now add James Dobson to the list of enthusiastic endorsers of the Romney speech’s message.
Here’s what Dobson said in a press release yesterday:
“Gov. Romney’s speech was a magnificent reminder of the role religious faith must play in government and public policy. His delivery was passionate and his message was inspirational. Whether it will answer all the questions and concerns of Evangelical Christian voters is yet to be determined, but the governor is to be commended for articulating the importance of our religious heritage as it relates to today.”
Dobson doesn’t endorse in primaries, nor does Rush Limbaugh, but between the two is more influence on the GOP primary electorate than any other five commentators combined. Limbaugh’s audience dwarfs in size and loyalty any other audience in broadcast period, much less among conservative influencers.
And James Dobson’s influence on evangelicals is far greater even than the enmity in which Dobson is held by the opponents of what Romney branded the “common creed of moral convictions” that has endured from the Founding to this day..
This outpouring of praise and sustained attention is occurring 72 hours before absentees are available in New Hampshire for that state’s primary January 8.
There are a few outliers in the world of conservative influencers who were not with this group of enthusiasts, but now that the reactions are in and counted, there is simply no basis for considering the Romney speech other than a triumph of staging and substance. Whether or not he gains the nomination or the presidency, Romney put himself in the political history books with an address that, along with “the Kennedy speech” will be shorthand for the powerful presentation of the civic religion of America which holds that no man or woman’s religion will be a bar to the presidency.
Hugh Hewitt is a law professor, broadcast journalist, and author of several books includingA Mormon in the White House?: 110 Things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney.