Mitt Romney’s not-so-secret elves

It’s no secret that David and Nancy French have been supporters of Mitt Romney and want other evangelicals to join with them. They even built a website in 2006 around the idea. Time magazine just discovered the couple, though, and they want you to know about it.

Nancy and David French, a couple from Columbia, Tenn., are perhaps the most visible evangelical supporters of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

It’s difficult to measure visibility, but I’m surprised the article doesn’t mention Mark DeMoss, an advisor to the campaign and the head of a public relations firm. As you read the rest of the piece, it’s worth considering the reporter’s choice of words, including contradictory descriptions (bolded words are my own).

Though David and Nancy French deny it, campaign finance experts say the couple’s group looks like a thinly disguised extension of the Romney campaign.

…Indeed, what is perhaps most interesting about Evangelicals for Mitt is how apparent its links to Romney Central are.

I’m just not sure how secretive this is, considering they have written about this for five years.

The Frenchs are also quietly linked to two wealthy Romney donors in Massachusetts, John Kingston and Kurt Keilhacker, and all four have close ties to Romney’s campaign funding organization through a web of companies and nonprofits.

The article goes on to reveal what the reporter has found on their networks and where they might be getting money. It’s good for reporters to do some background checking, looking at what finances are going where. But sometimes if you include all of your research in an article, you look like you think something is dubious even if you can’t exactly pinpoint what.

Here’s what David French has to say in a post at Patheos:

We disclosed on Evangelicals for Mitt that Nancy worked with Ann on a book project and worked for the campaign in 2008 to get Mitt on the ballot in Tennessee. Heck, I’ve told the same thing to reporters for years.

As for the “quiet linkage” to John Kingston and Kurt Keilhacker, all I can say is the linkage is so quiet that we put it on a website (note to Nancy: please update our bios and pictures!)

There’s also a brief, unsubstantiated line in the piece.

David and Nancy French come from modest means.

Even French disputes the suggestion.

As an aside, the “modest means” line made me laugh. In actuality, we’re blessed by any reasonable measure. (I liked one Facebook friend’s line: ”You went to Harvard Law School but are of modest means. Does this make you the Wal-Mart 1%?”).

Besides, I’m slightly surprised the piece doesn’t note that Nancy French co-authored Bristol Palin’s memoir. Finally, the piece makes a sweeping statement about the couple’s advocacy.

If Gingrich continues to win that crucial evangelical voting bloc, Romney, ever the victim of evangelical caution towards Mormonism, may have to rely on David and Nancy French more than ever.

You would think Romney has run for president at least 10 times. Yes, he probably faces some cautious voters in the primaries, but what about Pew’s recent numbers showing that support for him during a general election could surge? Here’s how French puts it.

This qualifies as perhaps the most astonishing overstatement of our abilities I’ve ever read. If we were as effective as we wanted to be, Newt Gingrich wouldn’t be winning over the “crucial evangelical voting bloc.”

…Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for my lavishly-funded pro-Mormon evangelical conspiracy meeting.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    This kind of paranoia about Mormons and Mitt Romney is becoming another internet game. People are so intoxicated by the fiction that they refuse to come back into reality and sobriety. All of the conspiracy theories that critics claim are being invented by Glenn Beck are as nothing compared to the conspiracy theories they themselves are fabricating about Mormons and Romney.

    Any statement about Mormons gets twisted to serve the conspiracy theory. If you call Mormons ignorant, then they are mindless slaves of their church leaders. If you call Mormons more educated than average, then they are going to use their smarts to take over the country. You can accuse Mormons of being extra violent criminals (as Jon Krakauer did in his book) or note how many Mormons work in the FBI and are going to clamp down on dissent when they take over the Executive Branch.

    It is reminiscent of the things often said about the Jews back in the days of unlimited anti-Semitism, before educated people became ashamed of the genocide that was justified by those sentiments. The connection between religious bigotry and the Holocaust is not the content of Judaism, but the hatred that motivates prejudice against any minority religion.

    For all of the politically correct education that “diversity” in schools is supposed to engender, it does not seem to have had any effect in dissuading many people against religious bigotry.

  • Jeffrey

    I’m not sure what your gripe with the story is. That the Frenches are well known in elite conservative and Evangelical circles doesn’t undercut the arguments made in the Time story that question the relationship to the campaign. I’m not sure the Frenches or their surrogates have really answered that in the campaign to attack the story.

  • Martha

    Well, I am shocked! Shocked, horrified and appalled, I tell you!

    A politician running for office has wealthy supporters who set up various methods for funding his campaign and drumming up support for him! Oh, was there ever such a thing heard of in the history of democracy before!

    And worse and worse, we have the mingling of religion and politics! Oh, where to begin to bewail such a travesty!

    After all, it’s not like oh, let’s say, the Arcus Foundation donating over $400,000 (plus a follow-up grant of $90,000) to The Episcopal Church’s Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to develop a rite for same-gender blessings, is it?

    No, it’s completely different when a private advocacy and lobbying group with stated aims about changing attitudes by “challengIing) popular culture, media, faith communities, religious institutions and texts that perpetuate the devaluation of people based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation and gender identity” and “Separation of state and religious institutions is fundamental to thriving democracies and freedom” and by advancing policy changes globally in general and in Michigan in particular.

    That’s not mixing politics and religion/spirituality at all.

  • Evanston2

    David French recently had a post about the sexual mores of evangelicals at National Review Online: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/285426/evangelicals-collapsing-sexual-mores-david-french

    I mention this because Mr. French’s organization is “Evangelicals for Mitt.” Is Mr. French really an evangelical? In the NRO post he seems to take an article from Relevant magazine at face value regarding who is/not an “evangelical.” GetReligion has thoroughly discussed this topic in the past, so I’ll keep my observation in the present tense: Mr. French doesn’t seem to care about the definition of “evangelical” any more than a rookie reporter would. So Mr. French is quite evidently evangelical about Mitt, but perhaps a bit casual about the actual substance of Evangelism.

  • http://evangelical.patheos.com Timothy Dalrymple

    Evanston2:

    You question whether David French qualifies as an “evangelical” because he does not question the definition of evangelical employed by Relevant magazine (and the Barna group, with whom they do their studies)? That’s fairly bizarre. David has written in defense of evangelicals in many places, and sometimes points to things that evangelicals (like himself) need to do better, such as living up to our commitments on sexual ethics. So he’s written, for instance, on how evangelicals are failing to lead in the way they should on issues like gay marriage and abortion (where Catholics and Mormons are increasingly taking the lead), and he’s written on how evangelicals need to take more seriously the problem of divorce within the church. Does this mean that he’s not an evangelical? Of course not.

    It disturbs me that we’re so quick to challenge each other’s evangelicalism. Do you really know anything about the life and character of David French (or Nancy)? I know both of them well, and I can assure you that they’re thoroughly evangelical by any reasonable definition. They attend a conservative, Reformed evangelical church. David has worked for the ADF and now works for the ACLJ. Their faith has led them to (in David’s case) join the military and share in the fight against terrorism (if other men were risking their lives protecting him, David thought, then he should do the same), to develop service projects to needy children and adopt a child of their own, to missions trips and activity in their church, and etc.

    Although the reporter from Time never mentions it, SixSeeds is devoted to serving families and helping families find ways of pursuing the good together. So they do family service projects and develop content related to thoughtful parenting. Probably the most glaring omission from the report was the reference to SixSeeds “raising funds” but saying nothing of the good causes for which the funds are raised. This was just a ridiculous article, full stop.

  • Daniel

    I’m not sure what your gripe with the story is. Mine was that it’s not a surprise, or news.

  • Evanston2

    Timothy, Thank you for the response. Quite lengthy. Yet you failed to deal with the plain fact that Mr. French accepted Relevant’s definition for “evangelical” at face value. How about reading the post by Mr. French? Instead, you just say that my question is “bizarre” and point to how “David has written in defense of evangelicals in many places.”
    How about citing those “places” by giving a link as I did? Or at least provide further info regarding what you mean by “defense” — does he define “evangelical” in these articles? That, after all, was my point: whether Mr. French is as sloppy as a rookie reporter in his use of the term.

    Or by “defense” do you mean that Mr. French fails to define the term “evangelical” but defends this undefined population against supposedly scurrilous accusations? If so, your citation of such articles is irrelevant (or should I say “bizarre?). Further, you go off on a tangent that has nothing to do with the original post or my comment. I did not question whether Mr. French is an evangelical or not, just whether he is (conveniently?) sloppy in the use of the term.

    It is also bizarre that you believe your personal experience is relevant to this discussion. I am attempting to square Mr. French’s own writing with the title (presumably provided by Mr. French) of the fundraising organization described in Sarah’s post.

    The bottom line is it’s swell that you know “David” and “Nancy” as personal buddies but when it comes to questioning whether someone is acting in good faith, it is you who are going beyond the apparent facts and speculating on motivations.

  • Evanston2

    Timothy, One final note. I recognized your name from the ChristianityToday.com daily updates I receive. Since you seek to establish a footprint in the blogosphere, perhaps you care to honor the focus of each blog?
    Here at GetReligion.org, tmatt does his best to keep everyone on-topic. Essentially, whether the Press “gets” religion or not. Today you can see 2 posts by tmatt regarding word usage: the more recent regarding “evangelist” and “evangelical” and the older regarding the journalistic definition of “religion.” So the usage of terms within the profession is appropriate for this blog. To see parallels with the legal profession, see Verbruggen post at NRO regarding common usage vs. corpus: http://www.nationalreview.com/bench-memos/285720/textualism-and-corpus-analysis-robert-verbruggen

    Mr. French is an attorney so he should have proper respect for word usage and definitions. As noted by Sarah, he is also a political advocate so when he uses the term “Evangelical” for fundraising he presumably intends its definition to be its common, everyday definition (since the fundraising appeal is to the general public). Still, he ventures into the journalistic realm with his NRO posts, including his comments regarding sexual mores of “Evangelicals.” He adopts, without qualification, the standards applied by Relevant magazine in their article and then launches into his observations about Evangelicals as a group. Finally, TIME makes Mr. French the subject of what “Evangelicals” are doing for Romney and whether such is improper.

    I belabor all this to point out that from many different journalistic angles, it is important for Mr. French to exercise some discipline in his usage of the term “Evangelical.” He certainly has the legal training and experience — far superior to my own — to do so. You also have an impressive resume and presumably the experience to choose words carefully. Yet neither of you seems to give much respect to your choice of words. So if my questions are “bizarre” I can live with that, particularly since they are appropriate for this blog. Again, your personal friendships and appeal to authority are not applicable.


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