The Romney Campaign's Tin Ear

The Romney campaign continues to leave many evangelical voters feeling a bit out of sorts. It seems more and more the Romney campaign calculus is that the campaign will get the evangelical vote without much effort. As Ben Domenech wrote in his excellent Transom last week:


Now evangelicals shift from roughly half the pie in the primary to a quarter of it in the general (they were 24% of voters in 2008). They are making their peace with Romney, but the potential danger, as I’ve noted before, is that their lackluster feelings for him will result in lower evangelical turnout than needed to win. In order for Romney to win, he needs evangelicals to come out for him at the same levels they did for McCain or better. In 2004, George W. Bush won evangelicals over Kerry 79-21, while McCain won them over Obama 73-26 in 2008. While similar numbers will probably hold for Romney in 2012, he cannot afford any significant drop off in those numbers. Obama gained among White Protestants by a significant margin over Kerry, cutting it to a 45-54 win for McCain where Bush had won them by 19 points. (It’s also notable that McCain and Bush 2000 both underperformed their internal poll data among evangelicals prior to the election – Karl Rove made a repeated point of that defect, and was determined it would not be true in 2004.)

As an evangelical, let me explain something to those of you who may not be able to relate, don’t understand, or just don’t like it. Evangelicals view themselves as strangers in a strange land. To quote one of my favorite books of the New Testament, “People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:14-16 (NIV).For a good subset of evangelicals, they are not committed to the Republican or the Democrat. According to the most recent Barna Survey, evangelicals prioritize their issues first and second on the debt and taxes, but then abortion and gay marriage are up there in the top five, which deviates greatly from the general populace. They remain skeptical of Mitt Romney and, as they are just passing through on their way to eternity, a number of them may sit out.Just as troubling and extremely likely, they’ll vote for Romney, but they won’t give money, knock on doors, get their friends engaged, or show any other enthusiasm.For those of you who view Romney as better than Obama, evangelicals view them both as sinners in a lost world, which they fully expect to go to hell in a hand basket before the second coming.In other words, Mitt Romney cannot afford to take them for granted. While he will get close to three quarters of those evangelicals who do turn out to vote, he must ensure they do turn out. And that brings me to his tin ear.


For a demographic that makes up one quarter of the general election, these voters do not trust MItt Romney, do not think he appreciates them or can relate to them, and thinks he takes them for granted.Today, Chuck Colson died. Mr. Colson and I have both been involved with the same evangelical groups, including that group that threw its support to Santorum. Due to his health, I don’t think he really participated that much publicly or in meetings, but his spirit was there. He was mentioned several times by his friends who met in Texas. I was in that room. Those who threw their support behind Rick Santorum were his friends, compatriots, and kindred spirits. Chuck Colson was a most consequential figure in evangelical circles and within the Republican Party.Consider if you will Mike Pence’s statement on Chuck Colson. Rep. Pence is running for Governor of Indiana. Today, he released this statement:

“In the passing of Chuck Colson, the earthly life of a consequential American has come to an end and I mark this day with a sense of personal loss. He rose to the heights of political power and fell to the depths of disgrace, but in his fall, he found redemption in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having been given a second chance, Chuck Colson devoted his life to carrying the Christian message of second chances to those in prison, and he saw countless lives changed by his compassion and example. “His voice of moral clarity was an inspiration to millions of Americans and made him an invaluable counselor to leaders in government and business. I will always count it a privilege to have been able to call him my dear friend and mentor. His dedication to moral integrity, serving his fellow man and his steadfast faith have always and will always be an inspiration to me and my family. Karen and I offer our deepest condolences to Patty, the whole Colson family and to all who mourn the loss of Chuck Colson.”


Consider Speaker John Boehner’s statement:

“Chuck Colson lived an extraordinary life. He was a man who experienced tremendous lows yet went on to spark a movement of ideas and people focused on spiritual transformation. His calling was to minister to prisoners and their families through Prison Fellowship, an organization emphasizing spiritual renewal that is active in more than 100 countries across the globe. Chuck was a patriot who loved America. He was a Marine. He was a mentor. He was also a best-selling author, a broadcaster, and a leader – one who inspired a generation of Christian believers to defend the faith while showing true compassion for people forgotten by society. In the eyes of the world, he was a person who had it all and then lost it all. But in God’s eyes, Chuck’s path in life was just preparation for His higher purposes. Through the full picture of the life Chuck Colson led, Americans saw that a broken man can accept the gift of redemption and embrace a new life devoted to the service and redemption of others. This will be his legacy. We, his countrymen, join the Colson family in mourning their loss, and in celebrating the gift that was his extraordinary life.”

Now consider Mitt Romney’s

“Chuck Colson embodied and made possible an immeasurable amount of good in the lives of the people, families and communities he served in bringing a message of faith and hope. Ann and I are praying for Patty, the Colson family and all the people he touched throughout the world who will miss him.”


As several people noted on twitter, that might be the only statement released today that didn’t mention God, Christ, or Christianity. But that’s the minor issue. The major issue is two sentences. It may seem a trivial thing, but for a group already presuming they’ll be taken for granted and not really valued, it is a real problem.This evening an email exchange between a number of evangelicals on this very topic left a lot of them more certain than ever that Mitt Romney just expects their vote. He may get it, but not their passion or energy. That is the real problem for him. People used to witnesses won’t be for him.



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