I’m a graduate of Liberty University; I did not agree with the university’s decision to invite Mitt Romney as commencement speaker.
Tobin Grant did some analysis at Christianity Today [link] and noted that as a graduation speaker Romney’s not out of line with lots of graduation speakers. He mentions John McCain (2006), George H. w. Bush (1990), Newt Gingrich (1991, 2007), Ben Stein (2009), and Glenn Beck (2010). He didn’t mention Oliver North (1988), who subsequently ran as a Republican for Senate in Virginia, Bill Armstrong (1985), Donald Hodel (1986), Pat Buchanan (1992), Phil Gramm (1995), or Clarence Thomas (1996). He fairly notes that Romney isn’t even the first Mormon, and that Stein is Jewish; he doesn’t delve into which speakers are Roman Catholic (Gingrich; Thomas) and which proclaim no religion affiliation whatsoever (Rove).
I have to admit that I’m disappointed in the choice of Romney, for a couple of reasons. One is that I think it sends a message that someone should be held in high esteem by Liberty graduates regardless of their religion so long as they’re Republican. Here Liberty seems to be following the trend we see at other historically Christian but practically secular universities, where the religious or spiritual speaker speaks at baccalaureate and the aspirational speaker speaks at graduation. I think it’s more a question of “isn’t there someone from within our movement, whatever it is, who is worth inviting to speak?” rather than “why are we paying a Mormon to speak at our graduation?”
And finally, I have to admit that I don’t think this bodes well for Romney’s chances in the fall; with Santorum and Gingrich having suspended their campaigns Romney is as they say the presumptive nominee, so by now he should have solidified his popularity with the traditional Republican base and “moving to the center” to court the 20-40% of so-called undecideds. The fact that he’s speaking at Liberty suggests he hasn’t won over his base yet. This reminds me of 2008, where John McCain got almost to the party convention without having won over the so-called values voters, and we all know how that ended.
I am not a big fan of Robert Jeffress; I don’t know a lot about him, but he came to my attention during the fundraising campaign for his downtown Dallas campus a couple of years ago. At the time I thought he was a pretty good example of what’s wrong with the Southern Baptist Convention: he’s a strong personality, has a board that apparently agrees with him on everything, doesn’t mind saying or doing controversial things that have nothing to do with the Gospel, etc. If I had a “big-name conservative pastor dead pool,” a list of guys I expect to blow up or break down within the next five years, I suspect Jeffress would be on it.
I’d rather be wrong, of course. As always I’d much rather learn I’ve misunderstood someone, or see someone who is being reckless have a change of heart and learn to moderate their behavior, or whatever. And some recent posts by Tom Rich at his FBC Jax Watchdog blog [e.g. link] suggest that perhaps Jeffress isn’t just another loose cannon in the pulpit.
Still, I am inclined to see Jeffress’s recent “Mormonism is a cult” comments much the same way a lot of secular commentators have seen them: as just an uncomfortable religious/political favor done by a high-profile pastor for the high-profile governor of his state. In this case, a favor done by Jeffress for Texas governor Rick Perry.
I was interested to see that National Public Radio went to Richard Land for comment on the Jeffress flap [link], and I would love to hear Land’s unedited comments. Land is right: “cult” is a term with a bunch of meanings, and Mormonism’s relationship with little-oh orthodox Christianity is complicated. And I’m not surprised to see Land here lumping where Jeffress is splitting: despite Land’s apparent position as someone who advocates on behalf of a religious group with political organizations, I would argue that what he really does is sell Republican Party decisions to Southern Baptists. So the Jeffress flap puts Land in a difficult position, since Land will be stuck selling Romney to Southern Baptists if and when Romney is the Republican nominee.
It would take a lot for me to vote for Romney; I tend to see second-generation political figures who switch their position on abortion midlife (or midcareer) as not being solidly pro-life and not likely to do much to deliver on pro-life campaign promises, and as a former Massachusetts governor I just don’t see Romney as being all that conservative. I won’t say I’d vote for Obama over Romney necessarily, but I’m going to take some convincing to vote for Romney.
I tend to see Romney as being in that Bush Sr/Dole/McCain mold, an establishment Republican that evangelical opinion leaders sell at their peril. I’d be willing to guess that in his heart of hearts Richard Land wishes he had a better candidate to sell. Or at least that Robert Jeffress would shut up.
Early last month Jill Rische of Walter Martin Ministries put in an appearance on Issues Etc. speaking about Warren Jeffs and the history of polygamy within Mormonism [link]. It makes for fascinating if thoroughly unpleasant listening, and I recommend it.
It’s probably a stretch to suggest that the folks at Issues Etc. decided Warren Jeffs was newsworthy because Mitt Romney was/is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for President, vs. Michele Bachmann, a former Lutheran and one-time guest on Issues Etc. Still, it’s reasonable to ask a couple of things after a discussion like this:
- Whether it’s sensible to ask Romney questions about historical Mormonism generally and the behavior of founding Mormons in particular, especially regarding a practice that has been repudiated by the LDS church.
- What if anything polygamy as described here bears any resemblance to polygamy as practiced by biblical characters or modern Muslims.
I think we’re in for a fascinating if unpleasant election cycle with Romney and Perry being the 1/1A selections so far; I suspect we’re facing a difficult moment in the Religious Right, where we decide whether we can sensibly vote for Mormons, or whether it’s just okay for them to vote for “us.” So I’m tempted to read that theme into any discussion of Mormonism within Religious Right media between now and the 2012 Convention. Stay tuned.
A few weeks ago Mark Hemingway from the Weekly Standard put in an appearance on Issues Etc. with Todd Wilken to comment on the GOP frontrunners and said they were former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, with current Minnesota Congressional representative Michele Bachmann having a very slim chance of clinching the nomination.
There’s not much good news here, unless you take comfort in the absence of say former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, and real estate developer Donald Trump from this list. In other words, the news isn’t good but it could be much worse.
Since then, of course, Texas governor Rick Perry has announced his candidacy, and so far as I can tell nobody is talking about Tim Pawlenty any more.
A few weeks ago I juggled my podcast listening and picked up a couple of Moody Radio products, including In the Market with Janet Parshall. I think it would be fair to say Parshall participated fully in the Rick Perry rollout, devoting both hours of her show, I think, two days in a row. Careful readers will note that Parshall is the wife of Craig Parshall, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB). Given the NRB’s past involvement in the manufacture of consent among conservative evangelical voters, I can’t help but suggest that the Parshalls might be considered a “power couple” within evangelical circles at the moment. Anyway, I tend to think that it is significant that Parshall devoted so much uncritical coverage to Perry on her show.
For the record, I’m baffled that opinion leaders in evangelical circles are seriously suggesting we might want to vote for another Texas governor so soon. I am so disappointed with the presidency of George W. Bush that whenever I’m dealing with a religious opinion leader (I’m thinking of Richard Land here, but not just him) I’m inclined to ask whether they endorsed Bush in 2000 or 2004, and whether they’ve reconsidered in the interim, before taking their endorsement in 2012 seriously. Yes, the last four years under Obama have been rough, but they haven’t been so rough as to make me forget the Bush Administration.
Finally, it appears that the Lutherans at Issues Etc. have decided to forgive Michele Bachmann for having bolted for an evangelical megachurch as part of her bid to become the first Lutheran President. I don’t much blame them; I suspect Bachmann will get the Tiger Woods treatment from both evangelicals and Lutherans: on her good days she’ll be one of “us,” on her bad days one of “them.”
I am personally dreading having to pick between Romney and Obama. Somebody please find me someone I can vote for.
There’s a discussion going on among Liberty alumni on LinkedIn about who should be the 2011 graduation speaker at Liberty. In summary, most of the nominations are either Fox News personalities, politicians (mostly right of center, natch), or Christian authors. My suggestion that former Moral Majority lieutenant and Liberty dean and professor Ed Dobson would make a good selection did not meet with universal approval, partly because of Dobson’s appearance on Good Morning America in 2008:
Here’s a list of Liberty graduation speakers from 1985 on; I’d appreciate any help in filling gaps
- 1985 Senator Bill Armstrong, R-Colorado
- 1986 Donald Hodel, Secretary of the Interior
- 1988 Lt. Col. (Ret.) Oliver North
- 1989 W. A. Criswell
- 1990 President George H. W. Bush
- 1991 Rep. Newt Gingrich
- 1992 Pat Buchanan
- 1993 Dr. James Dobson
- 1995 Sen. Phil Gramm
- 1996 Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas
- 1997 Billy Graham
- 1998 Dr. John Borek Jr. (outgoing President of the school)
- 2004 Karl Rove
- 2005 Sean Hannity
- 2006 Sen. John McCain
- 2007 Rep. Newt Gingrich
- 2008 Chuck Norris
- 2009 Ben Stein
- 2010 Glen Beck
I think it’s interesting to note that during the heyday of Moral Majority the speakers were relatively minor figures; it’s important to note that during those days Liberty was still a school of less than 6000 students. Resident enrollment has doubled since then, and total enrollment has increased eight-or-nine-fold. It’s also interesting to note that the three speakers selected since Jerry Sr. died have all been commentators and entertainers. I have no idea what that means.
Among the names above only two are preachers: Criswell and Graham, so I’d be really surprised to see Liberty select another high-profile Christian preacher or author who isn’t also involved in politics somehow for 2011.
Video for the 1996, 2004, and 2006 addresses are available at C-SPAN [search].
Finally: it’s interesting to note that of the twenty or so names commonly mentioned as possible 2012 Republican Presidential nominees, only Newt Gingrich is listed above. That may or may not be significant; I do think it’s interesting that Mike Huckabee isn’t on that list. Mitt Romney not so much.
I had never heard of Doug Wead until a few days ago, when I heard Russ Baker, the author of Family of Secrets, suggest that Wead was the man who pitched to George W. Bush what became his literal come-to-Jesus story, complete with Alcoholics Anonymous overtones. Baker did not clarify whether Wead also suggested the Billy-Graham-on-a-beach part of the story. I’ve long been fascinated with the way politicians appear to promise so much to evangelical Christians, deliver so little, and still get their support election after election, so I found the story interesting even though I have no way of knowing whether it’s true or not.
A little digging online and I found this article from Wead’s on blog, from 2008, on how to court the evangelical vote and how Mike Huckabee blew it.
When seeking to establish a base among evangelical voters, presidential contender, Governor Mike Huckabee, made a big mistake. It is one that many presidential wannabes have made before him. He went over the heads of the evangelical leaders of influence and talked directly to the people. It works well with most constituencies, Catholics, Labor, Jews, Hispanics, Women but it never works with Blacks and it never works with evangelicals either. It cost Mike Huckabee the presidential primary in South Carolina and it will probably cost him the nomination.
I recommend the entire article; it makes for unpleasant reading, but it’s helpful for understanding e.g. why voting instructions go from politicians through Richard Land to Southern Baptist voters and not the other way around.
Oh yeah: Mike Huckabee. For Huckabee to become a viable candidate he needs to get past Sarah Palin among evangelicals and past Newt Gingrich (and Sarah Palin again) among Fox News viewers. And he has to rid himself of the stink of failure from his loss to McCain and Romney in 2008. And he has to explain to law and order non-evangelical voters why they should trust him as head of the Executive Branch after he pardoned Maurice Clemmons, who went on to shoot four police officers in Washington state. The phrase “Huckabee’s Willie Horton” doesn’t just alliterate; it’s just too good to pass up.
Intrade has Huckabee at about 7% chance of winning the 2012 nomination. That strikes me as a bit high.
Mark Byron has a post defining the field for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2012 on his blog dated this past Monday. It looks like he’s lining up to say Palin-Romney-Pawlenty-Huckabee maybe Daniels or Jindahl and a bunch of dwarfs. I like his reasoning; I’d like to think Gingrich won’t still be in the conversation a year from now. I’m disturbed to see Gingrich e.g. flogging the Ground-Zero-Mosque issue as a fundraiser; I don’t believe for a second that giving a dollar to Gingrich’s political action committee will make Cordoba House less likely, slow the spread of sharia in the Western world, or touch any of the scary stories Gingrich tells in his article.
I don’t know why Byron doesn’t mention Thune; I’m guessing it’s a result of his picking a Pawlenty-penned list as his starting point, and that list doesn’t mention Thune. Intrade still has Romney 30%, Palin 18.5%, Thune 15%, Pawlenty 11.5%, Gingrich 11% and nobody else going off at better than 8%.
I’m already thinking about the 2012 Republican nomination for a number of reasons. One is that people I know socially from my days at Liberty started talking about 2012 in November 0f 2008; another is of course Glenn Beck’s appearance at Liberty graduation this year and Jerry Falwell Jr’s subsequent comments about political priorities. But personally I’m interested because the field appears so wide open and the candidates are so poor.
The Republican party has for the last several election cycles (say since 1976 or 1980) had three big constituencies (and a host of minor ones). These three are more or less
- The former fiscal conservatives: the captains of industry, pro-business types, so-called country-club Republicans.
- The social conservatives: the Religious Right, the Theocons, what-have-you.
- The libertarians.
Among these three groups it’s hard to win the nomination without strong support from one of the three and at least middling support from one of the others. The art of the campaign involves pitching messages that will be heard a particular way by one or more of these groups without coming back to haunt the candidate in the general election, and/or finding groups that overlap these groups and getting their support without alienating others. Breaking down the party this way explains why for example Ronald Reagan needed George H. W. Bush or maybe George W. Bush needed Dick Cheney, but why John McCain had a tough job motivating his base even with the help of Sarah Palin.
Wikipedia lists about twenty current candidates, which I think is about the size the list was a couple of months ago. I’ll use that as my baseline. If I had to pick first and second tiers of candidates from that list I’d probably pick the following:
- Romney, Palin, Huckabee, Paul
- Gingrich, Daniels, Pence, Pawlenty, Thune
And at the moment I don’t consider any of the others viable candidates. I’d probably break those nine down as follows:
- Pro-business/establishment Republicans: Romney, Gingrich, Daniels
- Social conservatives: Palin, Huckabee, Pence, Pawlenty, Thune
- Libertarian: Paul
Among the pro-business types, Romney is probably the prohibitive favorite. Unfortunately for him he doesn’t currently have much appeal among social conservatives (apart from other Mormons, of course). Gingrich has reached out to James Dobson and been on his radio show, so he has at least made overtures to the Religious Right. Daniels is probably just Vice Presidential material.
Among the social conservatives, there’s Sarah Palin and everybody else. Huckabee has experience but has already run one failed campaign. Thune, a graduate of Biola, probably has the best evangelical credentials, but he’s from a small state. Palin, because of her appearances at various Tea Party events, stands a good chance of overshadowing Ron Paul as well.
I don’t really consider Ron Paul a real candidate; he’s older than John McCain and might fail to win the primary in his home state if Rick Perry were still in the race, but he’s the most solidly libertarian of the bunch.
Here are the InTrade bid/ask values for everyone with a bid of ten or more:
- Romney 24.2/27.6
- Palin 17.0/19.2
- Thune 13.3/16.7
- Pawlenty 11.0/20.1
- Gingrich 9.1/11.4
A bid of ten is an arbitrary cutoff but it does a pretty good job; the other four cluster around 5-7%.
The real challenge for any candidate is to appeal to two of the three groups; Palin has crossover appeal at the moment between the Religious Right and the Tea Party crowd; everyone else is in for a tough road. At the moment it’s hard to imagine how Romney can manage to appeal to the Religious Right or the libertarians, unless of course he can package himself as a Mormon who is acceptable to evangelicals, a la Glenn Beck.