Mitt Romney: Constitutionalist

Written by David Frum on Wednesday October 19, 2011

On the Las Vegas stage, Anderson Cooper asked the candidates about the role of faith generally and then specifically to the disparaging comments about Romney's Mormonism by the pastor who introduced Rick Perry at the Values Voters Summit.

Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich used the opportunity to describe religious faith as a bona fide job qualification for the presidency.

Gingrich: "And how can I trust you with power if you don't pray? "

Perry unpleasantly tried to play it both ways, both edging away from the disparaging remarks while refusing to criticize the pastor for making them.

I have said I didn't agree with that individual's statement. And our founding fathers truly understood and had an understanding of -- of freedom of religion.

And this country is based on, as -- as Newt talked about, these values that are so important as we go forward. And the idea that we should not have our freedom of -- of religion to be taken away by any means, but we also are a country that is free to express our opinions. That individual expressed an opinion. I didn't agree with it, Mitt, and I said so. But the fact is, Americans understand faith. And what they've lost faith in is the current resident of the White House...I have. I said I did not agree with the -- Pastor Jeffress's remarks. I don't agree with them. I -- I can't apologize any more than that.

Now Romney:

What I actually found was most troubling in what the reverend said in the introduction was he said, in choosing our nominee, we should inspect his religion. And someone who is a good moral person is not someone who we should select; instead, we should choose someone who subscribes to our religious belief.

That -- that idea that we should choose people based upon their religion for public office is what I find to be most troubling, because the founders of this country went to great length to make sure -- and even put it in the Constitution -- that we would not choose people who represent us in government based upon their religion, that this would be a nation that recognized and respected other faiths, where there's a plurality of faiths, where there was tolerance for other people and faiths. That's a bedrock principle.

And it was that principle, Governor, that I wanted you to be able to [say], "no, no, that's wrong, Reverend Jeffress." Instead of saying as you did, "Boy, that introduction knocked the ball out of the park," I'd have said, "Reverend Jeffress, you got that wrong. We should select people not based upon their faith." Even though -- and I don't suggest you distance yourself from your faith any more than I would. But the concept that we select people based on the church or the synagogue they go to, I think, is a very dangerous and -- and enormous departure from the principles of our -- of our Constitution.

That may have been the most full-throated defense of religious separation on a Republican platform these past 30 years - and we owe it to Rick Perry's weasely  attempt to "disagree" with Rev. Jeffress' anti-Mormon animus while still profiting politically from that animus.