Romney uses Mormon faith to deflect attention from wealth
Romney rarely has spoken about his religion during the primary campaign, conscious perhaps of polls showing that as many as half of white evangelicals believe the Mormon religion is not a Christian faith. In one of the few times he has highlighted his church, he made Rick Perry seem intolerant for refusing to disavow Pastor Robert Jeffress’s assertion that Mormonism is a “cult.”
Now Romney is talking about Mormonism in order to head off the perception that he’s an out-of-touch rich guy — a view reinforced by his attempt to silence Perry’s attacks on his healthcare record by offering him a $10,000 bet during Saturday’s Republican presidential debate. Given his personal wealth, estimated at $250 million, Romney needs to avoid any more moments that make him look like Judge Elihu Smails, the country club president from “Caddyshack” who tried to use his money and background to purge the club of undesirables like the brash outsider Al Czervik, played by Rodney Dangerfield (and, yes, Caddyshack culminated in a bet between the two).
Today at a lumber mill in northern New Hampshire, Romney hearkened back to his ten years spent moonlighting as a Mormon pastor while living in Boston. That work included counseling those who had lost their jobs or were in dire financial circumstances. “What struck me, not having grown up in poverty, was revealing and important to me,” he said.
“What impressed me was that we’re all the same in the things that we aspire for, the things we love, our families, our faith, our country. People are patriotic, rich or poor. And also when people are out of work, when people don’t have a job, when they don’t feel like they’re contributing to the betterment of their family and their future they get pretty depressed and sometimes marriages come apart, sometimes people lose their faith. Being out of work for a long period of time is real tough. And it’s not the fault of the person who is out of work. Overwhelmingly, it’s the fault of our economy.”
Today’s discussion of his Mormon counseling came after the normally buttoned-down Romney told voters in southern New Hampshire yesterday about his missionary work in France in the 1960s, and described using outdoor squat toilets and paying “a few francs” to use a public shower once a week while living on a shoestring budget. “Most of the apartments I lived in had no refrigerators, no showers. No bathtubs,” Romney said.
Romney’s wealth and business background will be a much bigger issue in a general election match-up than during the primary. After all, Republican primary voters didn’t seem fazed when Romney asserted that “corporations are people.”
Still, his message is most effective when he’s linking the success of businesses to the creation of new jobs, something Romney attempted to do today even as he distanced himself somewhat from businesses owners.
“We’ll compete successfully as long as we get a government that makes America attractive for investment by the tax, regulatory trade polices and energy policies, and I will do that,” Romney said. “Not because I love businesspeople. I love all the good things that businesspeople do to the entire American people.”
Photo credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder – Mitt Romney holds a brief news conference after a campaign stop in Hudson, New Hampshire December 11, 2011.