In the age where the 800+ word column is dead, The Washington Post seemed to make an exception Thursday for political writer Jason Horowitz to explore a sterile saga about Mitt Romney’s ’94 Massachusetts senate run against Ted Kennedy.
The question is why did The Washington Post decide it was pertinent to publish this 3,800-word piece at this point in time? Is it because Mitt Romney gained another point in the Gallup poll? Regardless of the political angle, Horowitz's piece was filled with innuendo about Romney’s faith, as if the ’94 race was part of some grand Mormon conspiracy.
Horowitz notes the Republican meltdown during the 1980s where a litany of candidates had their personal lives implode their chances at public life. Romney’s dabbling into politics is described as “cautious” – as if that would be the defining characteristic of Mitt Romney if he were elected president in November.
The Mormon talk becomes pervasive in the narrative when Ann Romney’s father died, which prompted Romney to have a ‘seize the moment’ sort of epiphany about entering public life. However, that came after “Romney accompanied his brothers-in-law to a Mormon temple, where, donning white robes, he solemnly watched as they posthumously baptized their father [Ann’s father] through a proxy, according to a person present at the ceremony.”
When he did run for the senate in 1994, Romney had to be “freed” from his Mormon overlords.
When George Romney, the highest Mormon authority in Detroit as stake president, considered running for governor decades earlier, he sought the counsel of David O. McKay, then the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mitt Romney, having followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming the Boston stake president in 1986, also needed to consult a higher authority. The office’s term usually lasted about nine years, and Romney appealed to his church’s leaders for an exemption from service. According to Gordon Williams, Romney’s mentor and predecessor as stake president, the burgeoning politician expressed concern to the church hierarchy in Salt Lake City that the church would be tainted with politics if he maintained his official position while running. The church agreed, and freed him up in March 1994.
After this emancipation, Horowitz insinuates that the ’94 campaign was a Mormon plot writing, “Romney’s connections in the church proved critical at the inception of his political career. Months before the hierarchy released him from his obligations as Boston’s highest church authority, Romney called Richard Bitner Wirthlin, Reagan’s chief strategist and pollster, who had become a high-ranking church official in Salt Lake City.”
In a way, Horowitz is implying that Mormonism would be a problem, and should remain a dilemma, for Romney in any campaign. He harkens back to the discussion he had with Ron Scott, Romney’s communications specialist in the ’94 campaign, saying that his religion would be a problem.
It couldn’t possibly be that Romney was a Republican in a deep blue state running against a member of the Kennedy family. However, his Mormon faith seemed to be a problem, at least in Horowitz’s eyes, since he noted that Romney’s Republican opponent in the ’94 primary, John Lakian, referred to him one as “Mr. Mormon” by mistake.
Another potential contender, former talk-show host Janet Jeghelian, who was pushed out before Romney was nominated, reported that Romney’s “Mormonism was a ‘sub rosa’ issue. “It wasn’t one of those things that was openly talked about but behind the scenes [it] was.”
Even after Romney was defeated in the ’94 race, his tenure at the Winter Olympics was due to Mormon design. Horowitz wrote that “when Kem Gardener, a Utah developer and the Boston church’s former mission president, tried to recruit Romney to run the Salt Lake City Olympics, Gardener went first to Ann, who had just had multiple sclerosis diagnosed.’ She insisted he go out and take on the Olympics,' said Mitt’s sister Jane Romney. Years later, during her husband’s first presidential campaign, Ann told a family friend and fellow Mormon, Dennis King, that Mitt’s running was something 'God wanted him to do.'”
Cautious, Mormon, and secretive are the three descriptions that Horowitz seems to be trying to pin to Mitt Romney, especially with the notion of his faith being a “sub rosa” issue. It’s a surreptitious attack on his religion, and it hardly casts the Post as a beacon of religious tolerance in their political coverage.