This is a piece I wrote on last weekend’s CPAC that was never able to place. –JF
The name of Mitt Romney was booed relentlessly at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Fort Washington, Maryland.
This year’s CPAC was noteworthy for the relative absence of Christian Right speakers and the general downplaying of the religious wing of today’s conservative movement, but it still spoke volumes about the nature of the movement’s view of the role of religion in public life.
Donald Trump has used his bully pulpit to attack Romney for voting in favor of removing him from office during the Senate impeachment trial. At last month’s National Prayer Breakfast, the president made a less-than-veiled attack on Romney’s Mormon faith when he said: “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.”
On Saturday, as he spoke to the CPAC faithful, Trump called Romney “a low life.”
Trump’s followers on social media and conservative cable outlets have also excoriated Romney. Pundit Ann Coulter dubbed him a “useful idiot” for Democrats. Donald Trump Jr. demanded Romney’s remove from the Republican Party: “He’s now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled.”
In the immediate wake of Romney’s vote, Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, the special interest group that stages CPAC each year, tweeted that the 2012 Republican presidential nominee was “formally NOT invited” to this year’s conference. In a Fox News interview, he added: “This year I’d actually be afraid for his physical safety, people are so mad at him.
Schlapp may have been right about Romney’s safety at this year’s CPAC. Charlie Kirk, a pro-Trump activist who works on college campuses, encouraged the audience to boo every time Romney’s name was mentioned during the conference.
In a relatively successful attempt to work the crowd into a frenzy, Kirk claimed that Romney lied to the people of Utah about his conservative credentials while campaigning for his Senate seat.
These attacks on Romney at CPAC and elsewhere seem counter-intuitive when one considers that the Senator’s deeply held religious convictions informed his vote to remove Trump from office.
“I am a profoundly religious person,” Romney said as he fought back tears during his address on the floor of the Senate on February 5, 2020, the day before the removal votes, “I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.”
Whatever one thinks about Romney’s speech and its references to his Mormon faith, it is hard to argue with the fact that it was exactly the kind of faith-informed, conscience-driven style of politics that Christian conservatives have long championed.
Romney’s speech seemed to bolster, not undermine, what Kirk calls his “conservative credentials.” It was an exercise of religious liberty, one of the major political issues that led many conservatives to support Trump in 2016 and will lead them to pull a lever for the president again in November.
Why then would Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, a Christian RIght school founded by his father in 1971 to fight for conservative evangelical values and the freedom to express those values in the public square, tell Romney, in a Fox News interview, to “keep his religion in his personal life?”
Falwell and Kirk recently founded the Falkirk Center, a Liberty University think tank designed to advance Judeo-Christian values and defend “religious liberty.” Perhaps Falwell and Kirk should hire Romney as a spokesperson for their new center.
When Romney delivered his anti-Trump speech on the Senate floor, he was bringing religious belief and conviction to what John Roberts described during the impeachment trial as the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” Romney’s integration of faith and politics was a direct assault on secularism in government.
Romney exercised his religious-shaped conscience at a crucial moment in our nation’s political history. When future school children study his speech, they will inevitably think about it in this light.
Those who care about religious liberty for all Americans should cheer, not boo, Romney’s invocation of faith on the floor of the Senate. Unless, of course, Christian conservatives care only about faith-informed politics and religious freedom when it benefits Trump or their own political agenda.