The conventional wisdom is that many Republican voters are uncomfortable with Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. Call them old fashioned. But could it be that Romney would have a better shot and defeating President Obama if he turned up the volume on his life story, a story that Mormonism is interwoven throughout?
Frank Bruni writes in the New York Times that “Mitt’s Muffled Soul” is hurting his ability to connect with voters in a real and meaningful way. The guarded Romney, who is getting tripped up by his comments about the poor and those he’s fired, comes off as a more distant man who is out of touch with most Americans. But voters care about getting to know the real Romney, and that includes his Mormon faith.
His aloofness, guardedness and sporadic defensiveness: are these entwined with the experience of belonging to a minority tribe that has often been maligned and has operated in secret? Do his stamina and resilience as a candidate reflect his years of Mormon missionary work in France, during which he learned not to be daunted in the face of so much resistance that he won a mere 10 to 20 converts, according to “The Real Romney,” a biography published last month?
“His church experience is, I think, one of the great humanizing influences in Mitt Romney’s life,” said Patrick Mason, a professor of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University. Mason noted that if Romney would embrace that side of himself, he could beat the rap that he’s never been exposed to hardship by recounting his missionary experience. “That’s usually a very spartan lifestyle, and by definition most of the people you’re talking to are going to be poor.”
Should Romney step up and be more open about his faith, or should he keep it on mute? It’s likely that none of this will matter until this summer. But come the campaign against Obama, Romney is going to need to humanize himself.