John Charles-Duffy, writing at Religion & Politics, traces Mitt Romney’s relationship with evangelicals. Most pundits have noted that whatever problem Romney had with evangelical voters has disappeared. It seems this is indeed the case, especially now that Rick Santorum has dropped out of the race.
But I have not heard much from those hard-core conservative evangelicals who met together in Texas in January to endorse Santorum. I assume that they will vote for Romney in November, but, as Charles-Duffy notes, some of them might sit the election out.
Here is a taste of his piece:
The moral of this story is not that evangelicals are sacrificing their doctrinal objections to Mormonism for political expediency. Romney’s Mormonism per se was never an issue for most evangelicals. A majority were always open to voting for him—if he didn’t insist Mormonism was Christian, and if they judged him sufficiently conservative. By assigning disproportionate weight to the minority of evangelicals in the “Don’t vote for a Mormon!” camp, commentators missed an important shift: by 2012, if not earlier, doubts about Romney’s conservatism replaced concern about blurred theological differences as his greatest evangelical liability. That’s not because politics trumped theology; it’s because Romney learned to respect evangelicals’ theological boundaries.
It remains to be seen whether a minority of evangelical purists might sit out this election rather than vote for a Mormon (although former hard-liner Robert Jeffress has already softened his stance). As in the 2007 “faith speech,” Romney has continued in 2012 to effectively address evangelicals’ concerns about theological compromise. In May, he delivered the commencement address at Liberty University where he managed to extol conservative Christian values without ever explicitly identifying himself as Christian. Afterwards, the provost of Houston Baptist University commended Romney for “not pretend[ing] to agree with the theology of the Liberty University audience.” Romney must continue to walk that line to keep evangelicals’ anxieties about religion safely neutralized. He has enough to do already, handling their doubts about his politics.