Dear Mr Romney,
We’ve only met once, but we have mutual friends — and in the strange and often surprising interconnectedness the internet provides, I write in the hope, however humble, that this letter will actually find its way into your hands. I’ve admired you ever since the SLC Olympics. I supported you throughout your governorship. I still desperately wish that you had won the nomination in 2008, and I’ve done what little I can do to support you through Evangelicals for Mitt. So I write this letter as a supporter.
I believe you will win the nomination. If the polls are correct, today you will win Florida. From there, you will be tough to beat. There are three points on which I want to encourage you. You may well win the nomination — and even the White House — whether or not you do these things. But I believe they increase the likelihood of your nomination, and of your election, and that they’re important for you personally and for us as a nation.
Point #1: It’s never, never “all about the economy.”
It’s practically a ritual every two years for Republicans to suggest that this election will be all about the economy — and it’s certainly a pattern every two years for Republicans to rediscover just how important social conservatives really are to their coalition. It’s by and large the social conservatives who have caused the wild swings from Bachmann to Perry to Cain and now to Santorum and Gingrich. Most of them are not ardently opposed to you. They’re just not yet convinced — and you can convince them.
Of course, it’s no mystery why you chose to focus on economic matters. Fixing the economy is the most important issue for American voters right now, and it happens to be your area of greatest expertise. You also know from previous races that your credentials as a social conservative are viewed with some skepticism. Besides, much of the opposition you face amongst conservatives is simply cultural. You’re a northeastern elite, and, well, can anything conservative come from Boston?
Of the remaining candidates, you will most effectively represent social conservative values. Why? For one thing, no politician can represent social conservative values in the White House if he cannot win the White House, and not a single one of your remaining opponents stands a realistic shot of winning the general election. For another, your friends tell me that you are sincerely committed to the cause. You will support pro-life and pro-family legislation, and name judges to the bench who support the same values. But it’s hard for me, as your supporter, to make the case that you really do care about protecting the unborn and preserving the traditional family structure when you rarely reference the issues, and then only perfunctorily.
Don’t get me wrong. Your campaign team, not unreasonably, believes that when the conversation is focused on the economy, you win. And as you’re attacked for your wealth, your overseas investments, and your many years as a leader in venture capital and private equity, you can and must become an explainer and defender of capitalism itself. Americans by and large (and through decades of attacks on capitalism in the academy) have forgotten the virtues of the free market and have let the “economic virtues” that support the marketplace deteriorate. In private settings, you radiate a Reagan-like optimism and confidence in the power of the free market. You need to show you’re a Reagan and not a Rockefeller Republican, that you want to transform our political picture and not merely manage the mess a little better. So, yes, you can and must sound a clarion call to industry and creativity, responsibility and self-reliance, thrift and stewardship, even as you build a movement for limited government and a private sector less burdened by the tax- and regulatory-structure.
But you also need to deliver a signature speech on abortion — and make it the best pro-life speech in recent memory. The speech should begin by explaining why, in the light of the death of your dear relative (Ann Keenan) to an illegal abortion prior to Roe v. Wade, your mother and your family in general took a “personally pro-life but not willing to impose that view on others” position; then it should confess the error of this position (as you have done before). Evangelicals love confessions, but few know the context of your earlier stance. Then the speech should explain your conversion in 2004 and the strengthening of your pro-life convictions in the years that followed; it should walk us through your reasoning on the tougher life-related decisions you faced as Governor; then, most importantly, it should set forth a stirring vision for an America that is good and decent and compassionate enough to protect the most innocent and vulnerable of human lives.
This is not asking you to pander. It’s asking you to give a thoroughgoing account of your deepening conviction that we must defend the unborn, and a vivid demonstration of your passion and your willingness to lead on these issues. When it comes to rallying religious conservatives, now and in the general election, abortion is the single most crucial issue. As long as there is a clear contrast between you and Obama on abortion, you will win the support of many religious moderates for whom abortion is the one non-negotiable issue. Muddy that contrast, lose the election. Make a profound pro-life case, and many religious conservatives who want to support you will be relieved that they can do so in good faith, and they will swell your ranks swiftly.
Point #2: Don’t give up on evangelicals.
Some very public evangelicals have very publicly denounced you and your faith. Your cherished religious community, the community in which you were raised by loving parents, in which you’ve raised your own children, the same community that you have served so tirelessly over decades, was slandered as a “cult” by an influential pastor. You, ergo, were portrayed as a cult member. Many evangelical leaders defended this choice of wording, and few have spoken out even against the more obvious efflorescences of anti-Mormon bigotry. To make matters worse, an entire generation of conservative evangelical activists/leaders gathered in Texas to rally around some candidate other than you. So it would be perfectly understandable if you felt that you had little incentive — or no stomach — for further engagement with evangelicals.
This, however, would be a mistake. Even with Santorum, Perry and Gingrich in the race, you won over 40% of evangelicals in New Hampshire, and you’re on course to win over thirty percent in Florida. Of those evangelicals who oppose you, few do so passionately, and most are compelled not by prejudice but by misinformation about your record and your positions. In other words, many evangelicals support you now, and many more are willing to support you if they can be convinced that your stances on abortion, the family and religious liberties are sincere and impassioned, and not simply assumed for political convenience.
Yet your outreach to evangelicals has to change. While a signature speech on abortion would go a long way, evangelical leaders will feel more comfortable with you when they spend some time with you. Young evangelical leading lights, president and deans of seminaries and colleges, pastors of mega-churches–I know many who want to see you win, many who are willing to lend their assistance if only you would ask. Your campaign is leaving an awful lot of assets unemployed in the evangelical world. I’d encourage you, in as many states as possible, to hold informal, off-the-record gatherings with religious conservatives where they can earnestly express their concerns and you can show them the sincerity of your convictions. Will there be some leaks and uncomfortable conversations? Yes. But the more comfortable with you they become as a person, the more they’ll trust you as the steward of their values and principles in Washington.
Point #3: Own your faith.
This may be the most important point of all. Your discipline is the stuff of legend. And after your father’s campaign for the presidency ran off the rails when he referred to a “brainwashing” on the Vietnam issue, the exercise of an extraordinarily meticulous self-control has become a pervasive theme in your family. But these things are largely responsible for the “Romneybot” moniker. Your behavior seems a little too programmed, too scripted, and therefore artificial. It makes it hard for many people to connect with you. And although Richard Land meant it in a different (and incorrect) sense, I believe he was inadvertently onto something when he said you’re “not Mormon enough” for many evangelicals.
You love God. You strive to follow God’s leading in your life. Although we would differ on the metaphysics of Christ’s nature, in practice your personal relationship with Jesus Christ looks an awful lot like the one that evangelicals enjoy. These are not things that northeasterners typically wear on their sleeves, and your campaign is understandably reluctant to shine a spotlight on your Mormonism. Evangelicals would grow more uncomfortable with you if they thought you were going to be making an argument on behalf of Mormonism throughout your presidency. So you should not engage in apologetics. But they will grow more comfortable with you if they see the depth, the vitality, and the heartfelt authenticity of your relationship with God. They will grow more comfortable if they better understand your pastoral experience (let’s call it what it is) as ward bishop and stake president. You have rich experiences in missions and preaching and pastoral counseling, and in all these ways you connected with ordinary people, ordinary workers, in the struggles of everyday life.
I think you need to let go. There is wisdom in self-discipline. But there’s wisdom also in simply being who you are and trusting the consequences to God. It’s time to let your faith flag fly. Be clear that it will not be your role to defend Mormonism or advance its interests. But be clear too that you love God sincerely and strive to follow His will in everything you do, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, sometimes bringing healing into broken families and communities. These things humanize you. They make you relatable. And the people will not support you with fervor unless they feel that they know you, heart and soul.
I’m praying that God will guide and sustain you, as well as all of the GOP candidates and our current President. This is a tough country to lead, and we need a leader of humility, integrity and wisdom now more than ever. I believe that you are the right man for precisely this time. Time will tell. Sincerely,