Mitt Romney—one of the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination—confirmed that he plans to deliver a long-anticipated speech on Thursday to respond to questions about his Mormon faith. The decision came as Romney slipped behind former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee—a Baptist minister—in polls in Iowa, where evangelical Christians who view the Mormon church as a cult are a big voting bloc.
What the commentators said
Thursday’s speech will be a “make-or-break moment” for Romney, said Jessica Fargen in the Boston Herald. The former Massachusetts governor resisted talking about Mormonism as long as he could. Now that Huckabee has pulled ahead in the polls, Romney is making a “desperate attempt to regain his foothold” before his campaign unravels.
He has to do it, said Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin in The Politico, but this speech is still a “wildly unpredictable gamble.” Romney will have to “allay reservations of evangelicals, a huge bloc in the early-voting states of Iowa and South Carolina, while not making his own religion the defining issue in the wild race for the Republican presidential nomination.”
Romney is playing “a game he can’t win,” said Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times (free registration). He can’t pull of a “JFK speech” the way then-senator John F. Kennedy “dealt with his Catholicism.” Calling evangelicals “bigots”—“no matter how gently”—will win him no friends. “Electability is still more important than theology to most Republicans, and that's where he should take his stand.”
Kennedy had it easy compared to Romney, said Richard Cohen in The Washington Post (free registration). All JFK had to do was “shoot down the canard about Vatican control, while Romney has to deal with reality: Mormonism is a significant departure from conventional Christianity.” But it’s absurd that he has to defend his beliefs at all, while “Huckabee does not have to explain how, in this day and age, he does not believe in evolution.”