The New York Times set a fire yesterday with its report that a GOP Super Pac developed plans to resurrect controversy over Barack Obama’s former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright in order to sabotage the Democratic National Convention in September and the Obama re-election campaign.
A plan produced under the oversight of Republican strategist (and one-time Jon Huntsman guru) Fred Davis and funded by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts threatened to focus in on Wright in order to “show the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed and why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.”
And the group reportedly registered a domain name: “Character Matters.”
Just a few hours after the story broke, the plan has been quickly denounced by, well, just about everyone, from its own authors to Team Romney to House Speaker John Boehner.
Still, it boggles the mind: a Republican strategist seriously thought it would be a good idea to leverage controversial statements on race by a religious leader once tied to Barack Obama into a character attack? And got paid for it?
What would happen if controversial statements on race by Mormon leaders with ties to Romney were leveraged into a character attack on Romney’s candidacy? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints withheld full standing in the faith—priesthood ordination for men, temple worship for men and women—from people of African descent from the early twentieth century through 1978. Whether that policy was the result of human error or divine direction is still a matter up for debate among LDS Church members. Romney himself has conveyed that he was deeply relieved when the ban was lifted in 1978, but he has never repudiated or criticized the ban itself. Nor has he ever demonstrated particular grace or inclination to address racial or religious matters, let alone controversies that strike at the intersection of the two.
The Obama campaign has pledged to keep religion off the table. Aside from accepting $1 million from bigot Bill Maher, they’ve steered clear of anti-Mormon antagonism. And Obama has already handled the Wright matter in his widely-viewed and widely-praised speech on race and religion delivered in Philadelphia in March 2008.
If GOP operatives drive the campaign towards the crossroads of race and religion, it’s Mitt Romney who has the most to lose.