MORNING LINE -- October 10, 2011 at 9:04 AM ET
GOP Presidential Contenders Attempt To Sidestep Controversial Comments About Mormonism
Republican presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney addresses the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington on Oct. 8, 2011. Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images.
Navigating spurts of massive media attention to his Mormon faith is nothing new for Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor spent a significant amount of time during his last presidential campaign fielding reporters questions on the topic and ultimately decided to give a high profile speech about faith in December 2007.
Romney has been exerting discipline during this campaign to keep the focus of his message almost entirely on the economy and on portraying himself as the best man to fix it.
However, the candidate and his campaign understood the inevitability of Mormonism becoming a political hot topic in the context of the 2012 GOP nomination contest.
And it became just that over the weekend after a Baptist Pastor from Dallas, Robert Jeffress, referred to Mormonism as a "cult" shortly after introducing Gov. Rick Perry at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C.
Patrick O'Connor of the Wall Street Journal notes Mitt Romney's refusal to take the bait:
"For all the words spoken about Mitt Romney's Mormon faith over the past few days, the Republican presidential candidate offered only six indirect lines of his own, telling an audience of mostly Christian activists that "poisonous language" doesn't advance the conservative cause."
"Mr. Romney employed the scalpel approach to safeguard the public image he has sought to build, centering almost entirely on his credentials to turn the economy around."
"The decision to deflect questions about his religion also marked the latest example of a lesson Mr. Romney learned from the 2008 race"
In Iowa on Friday night, Gov. Perry made clear that he disagreed with the man who introduced him earlier in the day at the summit and does not believe Mormonism is a cult.
When Perry was asked about Romney's faith the next day in Iowa, he simply referred back to his Friday comments.
As tricky and complicated it is for Mitt Romney to navigate these waters due to the suspicion a slice of the Christian Evangelical base of the Republican nominating electorate has toward Mormonism, it is also a bit of a briar patch for his GOP competitors who seek to woo those voters to their candidacies.
Both Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain appeared on Sunday morning talk shows and both refused to say whether or not Mormons are Christians.
"Well you know, this is so inconsequential as far as this campaign is concerned. We have religious tolerance in this country and we understand that people have different views on their faith, and I have a very sincerely held belief on faith, and I think we just leave it at that," Bachmann said on CNN.
"I am not gonna do an analysis of Mormonism versus Christianity for the sake of answering that," said Cain.
This will not be the last burst of attention to Mormonism this campaign cycle. Watch to see how Romney and his chief competitors calibrate their responses when it next appears center stage.
Just a few days after Mitt Romney unveiled a foreign policy agenda focused on more soldiers and a "new American century," rival Jon Huntsman plans to contrast himself against the frontrunner in a foreign policy speech of his own at Southern New Hampshire University Monday morning.
Huntsman is expected to say that we shouldn't be spending so much money on foreign wars and the Pentagon.
The AP's Philip Elliott has a preview of the speech:
"Huntsman, a veteran diplomat and former Utah governor struggling to win over voters in the GOP nominating contests, looked to paint himself as uniquely qualified to address foreign policy questions that, so far, haven't been a deciding factor in the race. In a speech planned for Monday in this early nominating state, he called for a scaled-back U.S. role in international engagements, such as Afghanistan, and called for spending cuts at the Pentagon.
"Simply put, we are risking American blood and treasure in parts of the world where our strategy needs to be rethought," Huntsman said in remarks prepared for delivery...
In his speech, Romney said the U.S. will need 100,000 new troops and said Obama's budget proposals were a threat to the country's security. Huntsman would scale back the Pentagon, a position that puts him at odds with the GOP field.
"We spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined. We still have remnants of a top-heavy, post-Cold War infrastructure," Huntsman said. "Simply advocating more ships, more troops and more weapons is not a viable path forward. We need more agility, more intelligence and more economic engagement with the world," Huntsman said."
Huntsman's efforts to stake out the moderate ground in the Republican primary haven't done much to give him a chance at his party's nomination - his name is usually toward the back of the pack in national polls. Even in New Hampshire, a must-win state for Huntsman, the Real Clear Politics polling average has him in fourth with about 8 percent, miles away from Romney's 39 percent average.
His willingness to buck the party line on defense stands in sharp contrast to Romney, who in addition to calling for more soldiers and ships recently announced his list of foreign policy advisers - and it reads like a who's-who from the Bush administration. Huntsman is expected, per Elliott, to say he would use force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The speech is set for 11 a.m. EST and you can watch it live here.
ROMNEYCARE, HOLLYWOOD STYLE
Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign is out with a new YouTube video that wants to make sure Republican primary voters think that the health care reform enacted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts is the basis for President Obama's health care reform, and they've cooked up a flashy ad to drive the point home.
The campaign again copies a Jerry Bruckheimer-style movie trailer to create a dramatic scenes where Mr. Obama's reflection in a mirror suddenly changes to Romney's image. In another section, Mr. Obama's voice praises the current GOP frontrunner. "I agree with Mitt Romney," Obama says over a tense orchestra soundtrack
You can watch the ad, titled "Romney's Remedy," here.
The line of attack from Perry has already been part of the debates, and is likely to come up in Tuesday's debate in New Hampshire.
Romney has said that he supports states coming up with their own health care solutions and does not favor President Obama's national health care reform.