This weekend's syndicated Chris Matthews Show spent the entire first segment talking about how America wants more centrist politicians looking to compromise with their political rivals.
The host and his guests believe the Republican presidential candidate that best exemplifies this moderate stance is Mitt Romney, with Time's Joe Klein actually saying he gave on Tuesday "one of the most impressive, impeccable debate performances I’ve ever seen" - but the panel still thinks Romney's got a very serious Mormon problem (video follows with transcript and commentary):
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: As a bottom line, we asked the Matthews Meter, twelve of our regulars including Katty and Joe, is Mitt Romney now in a position where he can stick to his views we’ve described him, center-right, and not bend to the far-right? Seven say no, Romney can't ignore the right. He has got to bend. But you two, Joe and Katty, you voted he could stick to that sort of middle he’s carved out there, that position.
KATTY KAY, BBC: Last weekend, Chris, we talked about Rick Perry and whether he could surge again in the polls. And we all agreed that it depended on him turning in a good debate performance. He didn't do that this week, which puts Romney increasingly in the position of being the frontrunner. Well, if he is already in that position, the onus on him to shift to the right and then have to do the double step back again to the middle is less at the moment.
MATTHEWS: Then why is he only at 23 percent, Joe? He can't get above the 23 percent in the Republican primary polling.
JOE KLEIN, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, I think that there is great doubt about his health care plan and there is great doubt about the fact that he’s a Mormon. But, you know, it's interesting that all of the headlines from the debate this past week was Herman Cain and 999. Mitt Romney gave, I thought, one of the most impressive, impeccable debate performances I’ve ever seen by a candidate. I mean, that should have been the headline. This guy has actually gotten pretty good at this.
MATTHEWS: I agree with you.
Romney did extremely well Tuesday, but was it one of the most impressive, impeccable debate performances you've ever seen? Isn't that a bit of a stretch?
Notice, too, the almost unanimous, enthusiastic support for Romney from this entire panel made up exclusively of liberals with the exception of the National Journal's Major Garrett.
Is it possible that much as they did with John McCain in 2008, the media have now settled on Romney as the least conservative candidate to face the person they want to win, and they're now starting the push to get him the nomination over the more right-leaning candidates in the field?
Of course, they still want viewers to know Romney's got a serious Mormon problem if he gets to the general election given what transpired in the program's final segment:
MATTHEWS: This week's big question: If Mitt Romney’s the Republican running against Barack Obama next year, will his Mormon religion cost him states in November? Joe.
KLEIN: Only if there is an Evangelical or Libertarian third party that comes as a result of the fact that they really do believe Mormonism is a cult.
KAY: It will be a question of whether enough Evangelicals or Baptists stay home in some southern states or states towards the south that possibly the Democrats might be able to take.
MATTHEWS: Name one of those states where it might change?
KAY: I’d say, you wonder whether it will have an impact on somewhere like Florida, I don't know enough, but could it have an impact in a state like that?
So Romney's Mormonism could cost him Florida or even create a third party candidate that would doom his chances.
Makes it pretty obvious what the media strategy has become now that Chris Christie and Sarah Palin have officially bowed out: get Romney in but continually remind people of his religion.
I don't remember Barack Obama's connection to an America-hating Reverend ever being such a focus by the media back in 2008, do you?