The EFM Feature

Yes, I know I’ve been a delinquent poster, but I have a good excuse: The Supreme Court of the United States ruined my week. But while I’m still busy picking up the pieces of free association on campus, I had to weigh in on what seems like an emerging meme: Mitt Romney will “surrender” evangelicals in 2012.
Such talk is wholly and completely premature. As much as we all like to speculate about political strategies in campaigns that won’t start for more than a year, it’s pointless. We just won’t know what the world will look like in late 2011 and early 2012, when the Republican primary will be most intensely contested.
I do think, however, we can predict the circumstances under which the Governor’s religion will (or will not) be an important factor in the race. In fact, we can map it out with near mathematical precision: The focus on the Governor’s religion will be directly related to Republican confidence in victory over Obama and inversely related to the unemployment rate.
In other words, the greater the Republican confidence in victory, the greater the likelihood that a fellow Republican — in a no-holds-barred quest for electoral victory — will try to destroy Mitt through any means possible, including playing the religious card. We’ll call this “pulling a Huckabee.” Why was the Clinton/Obama primary so intense? Perhaps because the Dems knew that the general election was theirs to lose, so the primary became the real contest. Preserving party unity is less important when you believe the general election will be a cakewalk.
At the same time, the worse the economic situation (as embodied by the unemployment rate), the greater the Governor’s chances of countering a religious attack as a diversion. Unquestionably, the public views his economic expertise as his greatest strength, and as the economy worsens (or remains in tough shape), the greater the demand for his expertise.
Fundamentally, I believe that if the economy remains bad, that will be the single greatest factor in the upcoming election (unless there’s a dramatic development in the war, a natural disaster, or an unforeseen scandal), and that fact alone will allow the Governor to deflect most of the religion questions.

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