Mitt Romney: Part-Time Defender of The Faith

Back in his Massachusetts days, he played the opposite game, stressing to that state’s socially liberal electorate—often by resorting to highly personal anecdotes—that he didn’t share Mormonism’s views on abortion and homosexuality, even though he deeply loved the church itself.

The approach was tailor-made for a state with an enormous population (50 percent of the electorate) of Roman Catholics, many of whom feel a similar tension between their own progressive social attitudes and the conservative teachings of the church into which they had been born and raised.

In both of his Massachusetts campaigns, Mr. Romney leaned on that very analogy for insulation whenever he was grilled about his social views.

In 1994, for instance, a panicked Senator Ted Kennedy, trailing for the first time ever in a general election, dispatched his nephew, then-Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, to hold a press conference in which he tied Mr. Romney to all of Mormonism’s sins against social policy—including the church’s exclusion, until 1978, of blacks.

Mr. Romney acted as the victim of a bigoted religious attack, and the media savaged Mr. Kennedy for resorting to the same guilt by association that his brother had faced as a Catholic Presidential candidate in 1960.

Eight years later, as a candidate for governor, Mr. Romney was confronted with questions about his $1 million donation to Brigham Young University, his alma mater and a school that actively seeks to expel gay students.

He responded by passionately affirming his dedication to a host of initiatives aimed at advancing gay rights—again shaming his Catholic opponent for holding him responsible for his church’s views.

Today, Mitt Romney embraces those views—which is fine. It’s just hard to tell if means it.

Steve Kornacki works as an organizer for Unity08, a group that advocates a bipartisan Presidential ticket in 2008.