As you all know, I write from deep in the heart of what was, until very recently, Santorum Country. Democratic operative James Carville wasn’t too far from the truth when he quipped that Pennsylvania is Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Alabama in the middle. I live in the Alabama part–and you know how Alabama went this primary season. My Facebook feed was full of my friends getting their pictures taken at Sen. Santorum’s local events, and my posts about Gov. Romney tended to produce crickets chirping, not friends liking.
Now, obviously, Sen. Santorum has stood aside, and I find the attitude of my friends now towards Gov. Romney is very similar to the attitude a lot of people have toward broccoli: Yeah, I know, it’ll be good for me, and I’ll eat it eventually, but I really don’t want to. The trouble is, it isn’t enough for stoutly conservative folks simply to know that if they don’t vote for Gov. Romney, President Obama will have a second term (with flexibility!), just as if they don’t eat their vegetables, they will have health problems. Because we don’t need them simply to vote. We also need them to grab their friends and family members who don’t take the time to bone up on politics and get them to the polls. We need them to knock on doors and do phone banks. In an election that is sure to be close, we need their enthusiasm, not just their grudging assent to the inevitable. This really could come down to two percentage points in a few evangelical-heavy areas, such as mine, not to mention North Carolina, Virginia, and other swing states.
That’s why I’m glad to see, via one of those friends and also our friends at Mitt Romney Central, that Gov. Romney is giving the commencement address at Liberty University, which happens to be both the largest private university in Virginia (no small distinction, that) and the creation of the late Jerry Falwell. In my view, this kind of constructive engagement by Gov. Romney with conservative evangelicals is a key part of building trust. My strong sense is that in many quarters, there simply isn’t any real degree of trust right now. As I’ve said many times, I think there’s only a certain degree to which we should trust politicians, and that when we go beyond that, as many evangelicals did with President George W. Bush, the country loses because we don’t hold them accountable and they enact bad policies. But when it comes to conservative evangelicals, Gov. Romney is well below the ideal level of trust right now–and he can fix that without trying to be someone he isn’t. What he clearly is is a man who shares our values and is now defending them under hostile assault in the public square. Here’s hoping that comes through at Liberty and elsewhere.