Mitt Romney opened his Friday speech to the Value Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. with a string of one-liners he delivered with all the rhetorical-fire-in-the-belly of a Donnie Osmond.
His greatest hits? “Nancy Pelosi’s numbers have being going down a chute faster than a Jet Blue flight attendant” and “President Obama’s idea of a rogue state is Arizona.”
As for the substance of Romney’s speech, what was most notable was the absence of talk about values, let alone religion.
Instead, Romney sounded every bit the corporate buyout and turnaround specialist, criticizing the “anti-growth,” “anti-investment” Obama administration for forgetting the private sector truism that “the key to any turnaround is focus, focus, focus” . . . a line that fell pretty flat with the values folks.
The speech did eventually take a brief values-oriented turn as the formerly pro-choice, pro-marriage equality Massachussetts governor sounded a few notes in defense of the “sanctity of life” and the “protection of marriage.” But my built-in Mormon meter (call it Mo-dar) did not budge until about 11 minutes in, when Romney stated that the Obama administration fostered “counterfeit” values. “Counterfeit” is a word often used in Mormon religious discourse to characterize how Satan misleads by disguising evil as good. Obama and Satan.
And that was it for religious content.
Romney quickly returned to B-school talk, descending into a cheerful, ambling discourse about how corporate brands often reflect the personality of their founders. Walmart and Sam Walton. Microsoft and Bill Gates. Apple and Steve Jobs. Disneyland and Walt Disney. America and the Founders. Liberty. Greatness. Romney then concluded with his book-title-cum-two-word-campaign-slogan—“No apologies!”—his campaign’s version of a fist pump.
It’s hard to tell from the livestream or the C-SPAN footage exactly how Romney’s speech went over with the Values Voters, although Sarah observed he lacked the requisite fervor to rile the crowd. On the political blogs, some report that the “Values” crowd was cold on Romney, while others argue that he remains the nominee apparent. But leave it to the scoreboard to tell the real story. By Summit’s end, Value Voters gave Indiana Republican Congressman Mike Pence first place, with 24%, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee second place with 22%, and Romney third with 13%. Sarah Palin finished fifth with 7%.
No apologies for beating Sarah Palin, to be sure. And Romney also had the dignity not to apologize for his Mormonism (as Glenn Beck did when he spoke at Liberty University this year) or to pander insincerely to evangelical voters who are unwilling to meet him on some ecumenical “values”-oriented middle ground. Like most multi-generational Mormons, Romney understands that there’s no reasoning with anti-Mormon animus. (After all, his very own great-great grandfather the beloved Mormon apostle Parley P. Pratt was murdered while proselytizing in Arkansas.)
And yet, Mitt Romney still wants to be liked, as most Mormons (and most humans) do. So his speech at the Value Voters Summit finally reminds me most of one of the television spots from our Church’s new “I’m a Mormon” advertisement campaign:
Hi, I’m Mitt Romney. I’m the son of a moderate Republican, a formerly moderate Republican governor, and a big time corporate CEO, trying to build a presidential campaign during the Tea Party. And I’m a Mormon.
(Please like me.)