Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s commencement speech at Pat Robertson’s Regent University was widely covered as a test of whether the former governor’s Mormonism can appeal to an audience that regards the religion as a cult. From the Salt Lake Tribune:
It could have been just one of the routine commencements held across the nation Saturday – but this was a Mormon addressing students of a school that labels itself “America’s pre-eminent Christian university,” a scene pundits could predict would be tense given the evangelical community’s concerns with followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In that sense, Romney’s visit was a success. Oft-quoted political scientist Larry Sabato said that “Being at Pat Robertson University is the message he needs.” The parent of one Regent grad told a reporter, “It wasn’t until he was about halfway through his speech that I remembered he was Mormon.” You can’t buy press like that.
But Romney’s pilgrimage to Robertson’s headquarters is hardly just a Kennedyesque ecumenical visit. Despite assurances of some embarrassed religious-right leaders to the contrary, Robertson maintains impressive influence in a segment of the population aggressively courted by Republican candidates. Romney has spent the last four months trying to establish his right-wing bona fides, desperate to vault ahead of the pack and distance himself from his pro-choice past; this visit to Regent is no different.
After leading its article with the news that Romney “did not discuss his Mormon faith,” the Washington Post later notes that Romney’s visits to Regent (this was his second) “underscore the competition for support from top Christian conservative leaders such as Robertson, whose television programs have millions of viewers.” Indeed, Romney is hardly alone. Rudy Giuliani, who needs to shore up support from the Right to compensate for his own ideological straying, will be speaking at Regent next month.