Philip Klein responds to my post on Governor Romney’s speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition with this, in pertinent part:
The reason I found Romney’s answer odd was that I thought it was a missed opportunity for him to connect with a Jewish audience by emphasizing a kinship he may have with them as a member of another minority religion. Though I’ve been critical of Romney’s candidacy, I have defended him against attacks aimed at his religion. I think part of this may be attributed to the fact that as a Jew, I’m sensitive to religious bigotry. Yesterday, he gave a standard answer on Mormonism and evangelicals supporting his campaign rather than tailor his response to a Jewish audience that would have been very sympathetic to a message of a shared commitment to religious tolerance.
First, I think I misunderstood Klein’s original post. I thought he was trying to say it was odd that so much time was spent on this issue in front of a Jewish audience. Rather, he was critiquing Governor Romney’s answer, as others have, too. Sorry for not getting the memo.
Second, I think the critique–which boils down to the idea that Governor Romney should have connected emotionally with the audience over religious bigotry–is way, way off. As David has noted, Governor Romney’s strategy in addressing the “Mormon issue” so far has had nothing to do with portraying himself as a “victim” of “bigotry” or anything else. I agree with David that that’s the way to go, for many reasons. Other than those David noted, I’d add two others, especially in this context.
One is pragmatic. Conservatives don’t like folks who play the victim. It’s just a fact. It will not be a winning strategy. And as a corollary, even if conservatives were not generally indisposed to such claims, it would not work well in this context. Governor Romney is not going to convince wary evangelicals to vote for him by telling them they are “intolerant” if they don’t. And I think that would be the connotation of the kind of appeal to the RJC that Klein suggests.
The other is principled. Simply put, unless Governor Romney wanted to try and bond about the past persecutions of Mormons–which would be totally out of character–he doesn’t really have a common bond with Jewish voters, and he’d seem a fool for trying to say otherwise. Let’s compare tragedies here. Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years, with one of the most notable examples being when untold numbers of them were put to death in concentration camps. On the other hand, Governor Romney is dealing with a group of folks who are disinclined to support him because they disagree with his religion. Frankly, saying those two are anything close to equivalent would probably get him the kind of headlines that his thinking out loud about his sons and military service did.