Romney, Giuliani and the Republicans' God Trap
In a span of 24 hours, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney each fell victim to what can be called the Republicans' "God Trap." That is, running as "men of faith" to lead what many of its own members call "God's Own Party," Giuliani and Romney are being called on it. And while Rudy's Catholicism and Mitt's Mormonism are now rightly drawing the attention each invited, the second tier Republican candidates are waging a holy war on each other.
The issue of whether or not the twice-divorced, occasionally cross-dressing Giuliani was a "good Catholic" crystallized during a Tuesday town hall meeting in Iowa. Asked point blank if he as a pro-choice politician (and one to whom Pope Benedict said he would deny communion) is a Catholic in good standing, Rudy replied:
"My religious affiliation, my religious practices and the degree to which I am a good or not so good Catholic, I prefer to leave to the priests. That would be a much better way to discuss it. That's a personal discussion and they have a much better sense of how good a Catholic I am or how bad a Catholic I am.
I believe that things about my personal life should be discussed personally and privately. It's just sort of gossip. I've never been big on gossip."
Not, that is, unless he's making a full court press to win the votes of the evangelical Christian voters who dominate the Republican primary process. Seeking to counter the opposition of religious right leaders such as the late Jerry Falwell ("I couldn't support him for president"), Giuliani began making the rounds last year to testify to his religious faith. As Newsweek's Howard Fineman recounted in March 2006, Giuliani took to the stage of the annual convention of the Global Pastors Network and "wowed pastors with a revival-style witness to his faith in God." As Andrew Sullivan put it that February, "If Rudy is talking Jesus, he's going to run."
Mitt Romney, too, had it coming. In 2006, the former Massachusetts governor told Fox News, "People in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their president." On Tuesday, WHO radio host Jan Mickelson took him up on it, and questioned Romney (video here) about his Mormon faith. An agitated Romney complained he was not "running as a Mormon" and that Mickelson was "trying to tell me I'm not a faithful Mormon."
Romney, of course, brought this on himself. In a February 2007 interview in South Carolina, Romney acknowledged Americans' natural curiosity about his faith. In May, Romney gave a graduation address at Pat Robertson's Regent University, despite the latter's past description of Mormonism as a "cult." And just two weeks ago, Romney signaled he would likely follow in the footsteps of John F. Kennedy and deliver a major speech describing his Mormon faith and how it would inform his presidency:
"I have thought about that. I haven't made a final decision, but it's probably more likely than not. It's probably too early for something like that. At some point it's more likely than not, but we'll see how things develop."
In the interim, Romney's refusal to answer questions he raised by his "person of faith" claim has left the field open to others. For example, the New Republic in its January 15th and 29th issues examined the impact of Mormon doctrine, including its tenet that the Second Coming of Christ will occur in the United States, upon a Romney presidency. Over at the National Review, Kathryn Jean Lopez tried to make Romney's case for him. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported in June that as Romney tries to evade inquiries about his little-known faith, Mormons across the nation increasingly find themselves under the microscope.
Romney foe and Kansas Senator Sam Brownback isn't making his life any easier. In June, a campaign aide for the evangelical turned Catholic Brownback sent an email to Iowa GOP leaders criticizing Romney's Mormon faith. Among other attacks, the email from Emma Nemecek noted "the LDS Jesus is not the same Jesus of the Christian faith." While Romney ultimately accepted Brownback's apology, as recently as two weeks ago Mitt complained:
"I expect that evangelical Christians who believe in life and family values are going to vote for someone who shares their views and has a real prospect of being nominated by our party and becoming president. The difference between me and Sam Brownback is he has run a uniformly negative campaign."
Meanwhile, Brownback has shown it is better to receive than to give. In one of campaign 2008's most ironic moments, a Catholic-turned-evangelical supporter of Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee attacked the evangelical-turned-Catholic Brownback. The Reverend Tim Rude of Walnut Creek Community Church in Windsor Heights, Iowa emailed colleagues:
"I know Senator Brownback converted to Roman Catholicism in 2002. Frankly, as a recovering Catholic myself, that is all I need to know about his discernment when compared to the Governor's. I don't if this fact is widely known among evangelicals who are supporting Brownback."
Although Rude eventually apologized, the Christian fratricide between the Huckabee and Brownback camps continues. When Brownback demanded an apology from the Arkansas governor, Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman offered this distinctly un-Christ-like response:
"It's time for Sam Brownback to stop whining and start showing some of the Christian character he always seems to find lacking in others."
Which brings us full circle. All of the 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls find themselves in a faith-based fix. That is, desperate to win the support of the Christian conservative voters who control the GOP primary process, they each made a Faustian bargain by publicly proclaiming their deep religious faith. Now, the American people want proof.
Judging by their infighting and tiresome complaining, the men of God's Own Party are realizing they may have made a deal with the devil.