Mitt Romney’s “Mormon Speech” will apparently be given this coming Thursday at Texas A&M University and the George Bush Presidential Library. This will be a make or break moment for the campaign. Undoubtedly it will have some sort of effect on the campaign.
The decision to give this speech is undoubtedly due to Mitt believing that they need a shot in the arm and need to try to slow Huckabee’s ascension. It also is apparent that the campaign does believe that Mormonism is a weight limiting Mitt’s rise, and it needs to be addressed.
Certainly this is a gutsy move. No other candidate has had or will have such a defining moment that can destroy or complete make a campaign before the first vote is cast. In a worst case scenario, the speech will come off terrible and give off the perception that Mitt will take orders from Salt Lake City. This is highly unlikely.
What is likely, is that Mitt gives a great speech that is very clear, however it will fairly ambiguous – not quite embracing Mormonism, while not equating Mormonism with Christianity; he will try to ride the middle of the road. This is definitely the safest route, but undoubtedly there will large chunks of Christians who will dissatisfied and will look for short sound bites and snippets to take out of context.
At the same time there will be significance criticism from handfuls of Mormons who will think that Mitt did not defend the Church well enough or that he didn’t define the Church as being Christian.
Thus, these are things I am confident will result: 1. There will be no consensus on how Mitt did and if it quelled the Mormon question. 2. This will have zero affect with Christians who have already made up their minds about Mitt and Mormonism. 3. Building off of #2, this will not put to rest the Mormon Question. 4. There will be significant criticisms from a good part of the Mormon community. 5. There will be significant praise from the Mormon community.
So, a positive effect will not be huge. But is large enough to justify giving the speech. Mitt doesn’t need 20% of the 25% of those who say they will not vote for a Mormon to change their mind, he doesn’t even need 1% of those to change their mind (at least not yet). What Mitt needs is for those voters in Iowa who are leaning away from Mitt largely because of his Mormonism, to change their minds. My wholly unscientific estimation is that about 5-8% of the Iowa voters like Mitt and would otherwise vote for him if not for the whole religion thing, but who still may. It appears that most of those voters are lining up behind Huckabee, so if Mitt can pull 4% into his camp (about 50-70% of those mentioned) and away from Huck, Mitt can pull out a win in Iowa.
Ultimately, however, this speech can destroy his campaign. How it plays is all determined by how it plays in the media and on the blogs. If previous reporting on the campaign is any indication of how things will shake out, Mitt is in for tough ride. It could be a lose-lose situation. The media has not given Mitt the benefit of the doubt on anything. He seems to be the most criticized and attacked of the GOP candidates (at least Giuliani has Fox News to downplay his scandals).
However this time may be different. The media likes victims, they like people or groups facing tough odds and opposition. Thus, there may a bit of sympathy for Mitt and Mormons. If so the coverage on the MSM may be quite positive and a significant benefit to the campaign. However, don’t look for the same kind of sympathy on the blogs. There will be a lot of pro-Mormon vs. anti-Mormon ramblings going on. There will columnists who will completely trash Mitt and Mormonism and even make stuff up. Likewise there will be columnists who will defend Mitt and Mormonism to illogical levels.
No matter how it shakes out, this week is going to be abuzz about Mitt Romney; that can’t be a bad thing for the campaign, at least not until Thursday afternoon.