Mitt Romney will speak at 10:30am EST from the George H. W. Bush library at Texas A&M to address his faith a la JFK in 1960. In a speech he's reportedly written himself, according to The LA Times, his intention was not to address Mormonism directly but instead to "discuss his concern that 'faith has disappeared from the public square.'" (Which, as Dave Dayen at The Right's Field notes, is the exact opposite of JFK's point in his speech, but whatever, Mitt.)
All in all, this strategy is probably wise. In an appearance on Face The Nation in October, when asked about his faith, Romney was downright incoherent. On one hand, when asked if he took Mormonism's teachings literally, he said:
I do. I'm not gonna try to distance myself in any way shape or form from my faith.
But when confronted with a specific teachings of his religion, he wouldn't answer it:
SCHIEFFER: I`m told that the Mormons teach that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri. Is that correct?
ROMNEY: You know, there are probably the right folks to give you the answers to questions related to Mormon teachings. So I`ll probably let them respond to questions about specific doctrines.
According to excerpts from his speech, as prepared (TPM has them,) Romney intends to try to have it both ways, by playing up his Christian bona fides but also insisting that he actually shouldn't have to answer specific questions about his faith because the constitution prohibits a "religious test," setting up an interesting tension between the two documents that people, depending on their view of religion in politics, insist should guide our nation.
"When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."
"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."
Will be interesting to see if he can pull this balancing act off. There are large swaths of the Republican primary electorate who do not want to hear that any religion other than their own should be seen as equaly valid, which appears to be part of Romney's point today.
Update [2007-12-6 10:40:2 by Todd Beeton]:Romney seems nervous. He is not a natural speech giver. He looks like he's reading. 2 minutes in, he's said "freedom" 10 times or so. He's directly addressing JFK. "Almost 50 years ago, another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president...I do not define my candidacy by my religion...Let me assure you that no authorities of my church or of any other church for that matter will ever exert influence on presidential decisions."
Update [2007-12-6 10:43:6 by Todd Beeton]:Finally, some applause at 10:39am: "If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one causecause and no one interest. A president must serve on the common cause of the people of the United States."
Update [2007-12-6 10:47:25 by Todd Beeton]:Geez, now he's actually answering his thoughts on Jesus Christ. "I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind. My church's beliefs about Christ may not be the same as those of other faiths...these are not bases of criticism but rather a test of our tolerance." So, so much for the 'no religious test' thing, eh, Mitt?
Update [2007-12-6 10:47:25 by Todd Beeton]:His first genuinely good line: "No candidate should should become the spokesman for his faith for if he becomes president, he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths." Much applause.
Update [2007-12-6 10:50:16 by Todd Beeton]:Now he's setting up secularism as a common enemy with the religious right: the enemy of your enemy is your friend.
Update [2007-12-6 11:8:33 by Todd Beeton]:"Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of god, not an indulgence of government." This got some delayed applause, Romney had actually already begun his next thought. This guy really does not give a good speech. But hey, if he throws enough instances of "liberty" and "freedom" he's good with this crowd.
Update [2007-12-6 11:8:33 by Todd Beeton]:He's playing on people's nationalism, saying that one of the things that separates us from Islamic extremists is our religious tolerance. In other words, you don't like me for my religion, you're a terrorist, simple as that.
Update [2007-12-6 11:8:33 by Todd Beeton]:Chris Matthews: "If he wins the presidency, it started here...I heard greatness here." Gag. Pat Buchanan: "I don't know how he could have done it better." Joe Scarborough: "He hit this out of the park." My what a diverse crew MSNBC has covering this event. I will say one person on Chris's panel got it exactly right, I don't know her full name, first name is Sally, who said:
"I think it was an obliteration of the idea of the separation of church and state...if you believe in God or Christ you're on my side, if not, you're not."
Update [2007-12-6 11:15:2 by Todd Beeton]:The reviews of his speech seem to be raves, which is very good news, I'd love to run against Romney. Sadly for Mitt, though, the cable news channels have cut away from their raves about him to give updates on the Omaha mall shooting. But never fear, Mathhews will no doubt continue his genuflection on Hardball later today.