You know something strange is happening within the Republican Party when the supporters of one GOP presidential hopeful start complaining that another is using religion to polarize the electorate.
A few weeks ago, we noted how the National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, a vocal Mitt Romney backer, was accusing Mike Huckabee of using the issue of faith in order “to change the subject away from policy and record issues” – as if that has not been the Religious Right’s primary tactic for the last two decades.
Now it looks as if this talking point has been picked up by others inside the Romney campaign as well:
Mark DeMoss – a fellow Southern Baptist leader and outspoken supporter of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney – argues that the most important qualification when electing someone to public office is proven ability to manage the country rather than the religion litmus test.
“I believe faith plus character plus experience plus competence is a recipe for the ideal presidential candidate,” wrote DeMoss in an opinion piece posted on the Web site Beliefnet.com. “But faith alone should neither disqualify one from getting my vote, nor guarantee that they will.”
The Christian public relations guru added that a candidate’s “character cannot be overstated” but that his or her “faith can be” and in “this election probably has been.”
Likewise, James Bopp, who is also a Romney supporter, took to the pages of the National Review yesterday to make much the same point:
By emphasizing his qualification for office as a “Christian leader,” the Huckabee campaign, however, has implicitly, and some of his supporters have explicitly, promoted a religious test for office. This threatens to tear this religious coalition apart. And if evangelical Christians legitimize a religious test for public office, they will pay the heaviest price. The liberal elites have long sought to drive people of faith from the public square. They view Mormons as a curiosity, like Christians on steroids, but they loath and fear evangelicals. If a religious test is legitimate for public office, then the Democrats will drive evangelicals out of our democracy.
In other words, Bopp and DeMoss realize that the issue of faith is important and helpful politically only so long as the Republican Party can lay exclusive claim to it and use it as a cudgel against Democrats. But now that Huckabee is doing to Romney what Bopp, DeMoss, and the rest of the Religious Right have been doing to their opponents for the last twenty years, there is a lot of hand-wringing about the inappropriateness of having this type of “religious test” for political candidates and fears that he’s ruining the Religious Right’s favorite tactic.
If the Romney campaign really is opposed to this practice of not-so-subtly denigrating a political opponent’s faith and values, does that mean that he will eschew it should he become the GOP’s candidate? If so, he might want to disband his “Faith and Values Steering Committee” – which is filled with people like Mark DeMoss and James Bopp.