Romney Prepping for Evangelical Dance

It’s all too predictable: Mitt Romney is being pressured to make nice with the evangelicals and social conservatives who spent time and treasure traveling to closed-door weekend meetings to devise ways to defeat him in the primary. That is, although some social conservatives are intent on having Rick Santorum remain in the race, others see the writing on the wall and are calculating ways that will mobilize the base in November.

That requires, of course, that Romney not run to the center to win over moderate voters, and that he pick a satisfactory running mate. A base mobilizer but not a game changer.

David Gibson of the Religion News Service notes that Mark DeMoss, the Christian public relations executive who, along with a handful of other prominent evangelicals, has supported Romney since his 2008 run, is copacetic about the prospects of evangelical support for the first Mormon GOP nominee. “I’m optimistic that things are coming together nicely behind Mitt Romney and could do so fairly quickly,” he told Gibson. But DeMoss is a PR professional; it’s his job to put the happiest gloss on the situation.

The pressure is on Romney to satisfy the base that he’s sufficiently anti-abortion and sufficiently conservative. “To have a candidate who tacks one way depending on where the wind is blowing feeds into that cynicism and really makes it difficult to get out the vote for them,” Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List, which endorsed Rick Santorum, told Gibson. He has an “intensity” problem, according to the Family Research Council’s Ken Blackwell (who was once deemed out of the mainstream by Republicans in his home state of Ohio). A move to the center would “kill him,” said Deal Hudson of Catholic Advocate, who thinks that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is too liberal.

All this talk is reminiscent of 2008, when dissatisfied conservatives were looking for ways to make John McCain more palatable. The base was thrilled — no, electrified — when McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, and Romney will be pressured to pick someone similarly enthralling (but of course without the baggage). Palin’s drag on the McCain campaign, from the Republican perspective, were personality-related, not ideological, and certainly not religious.

Romney’s claims that Obama is trying to impose a religion of secularism are probably the mildest attacks we’ll see. Judging from what is simmering over at Glenn Beck’s site and elsewhere, we’ll see the resurrection of Jeremiah Wright, Obama-as-Manchurian-Muslim, and more. The question is, in choosing a running mate, whether Romney will pick someone who will feed the fever swamp, or just the “respectable” redoubts of the religion wars, such as charging Obama with waging a war on religion with insurance coverage for contraception. Either way, it looks like Romney will try to bury questions his own base has about his religion by questioning and letting his surrogates attack Obama’s.

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