On Tuesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch accused the Obama campaign of planning an attack on former Gov. Mitt Romney for his Mormon religion. Hatch, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints, told GOP activists in Utah, "You watch, they're going to throw the Mormon Church at him like you can't believe." Hatch singled out David Axelrod and David Plouffe, saying, "There is nothing they won't do."
Whether this was a pre-emptive strike or a slip of the tongue is hard to know. Maybe Hatch was catering to his own base. But the simple fact is that the charge is outrageous and the attacks on Romney and his religion have come from within Hatch's own party—from hardcore, conservative, evangelical Christians, especially in the South and in rural states. To somehow blame Democrats and Obama, who knows something about religious attacks, is disingenuous at best and an outright falsehood at worst.
David Gregory, just Wednesday night on Jay Leno's The Tonight Show, took another tack. He said:
Let's be honest, [Mormonism] is the core of who Mitt Romney is. He was a missionary in France for two years. He has been a bishop in the church, which, in the Mormon Church, is effectively like a priest. Philanthropically, he's made huge contributions. He's had a big impact on the church. And yet he doesn't talk about it. It's the core of who he is, and yet he doesn't feel it's safe to talk about.
When a Ron Paul supporter began reading from the Book of Mormon in a Wisconsin town hall this week, Romney responded with a simple "No" when asked whether it was a sin for whites and blacks to intermarry. (By the way, a Public Policy Polling survey showed that 29 percent of Mississippi Republican primary voters thought interracial marriage should be illegal and 21 percent thought the same in Alabama.)
The real question for Romney is not whether he is a strong believer in his church—he is—it is whether he believes he needs to explain his faith further to voters. Does he need to talk about it, as John Kennedy did about his Catholic faith in his famous Houston speech? Or, instead of a speech, does it make sense to weave it in when talking about why he is running, why he believes in public service, why he has tried to help people, both in his public and private life?
Does Mitt Romney, as Gregory said, hurt himself by not acknowledging "the core of who he is?" Is he too worried about turning off those voters he saw in the Republican primaries who are prejudiced toward the Mormon Church? Or does he simply believe that it has no place in politics and in running for office or holding office?
One thing is clear: There will be no attacks from Obama and Democrats about religion. How to handle his faith is for the Republicans and Mitt Romney to sort out.