Robert Jeffress’s anti-Mormonism is the last thing Republicans need.
Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, made news last week when referring to Mormonism as a cult while introducing Texas Governor Rick Perry to the Values Voters Summit.
In the past couple of days, Jeffress is doing anything but backing away from his comments, saying on Sunday that “Part of a pastor’s job is to warn his people and others about false religions. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Mormonism are all false religions. And I stand by those statements.”
My views on these various religions aside, this sort of rhetoric is distinctly unhelpful in reaching the goal that : ending the Obama administration after one term.
The “mainstream” media are already foaming at the mouth over Jeffress’s remarks, using them to reinforce their journalism school-learned bias against Republicans as small-minded bible thumpers, or perhaps, to coin a phrase, as people bitterly clinging to religion.
Liberals, like the Washington Post’s Sally Quinn, are already making parallels such as wondering if Jeffress’s statements are Rick Perry’s “” But there’s a big difference: those same liberals wanted nothing to do with the Reverend Wright story even though Barack Obama’s attendance at the anti-Semitic Wright’s America-hating church for two decades said much about that candidate.
They didn’t want to talk about any of Obama’s other unsavory friends, either, such as unrepentant terrorists Bill Ayers and his wife Bernadine Dohrn, or criminal and helpful house-finder Tony Rezko (except perhaps to say that Obama had given away Rezko’s donations and was distancing himself from the convicted felon.)
While Obama attended Wright’s church for twenty years, soaking in the reverend’s hatred and lunacy, Rick Perry does not attend Mr. Jeffress’s church. Indeed, a 2010 story in an Austin newspaper discussing the fact that Perry and then challenger Bill White “mirror (the) population in attending more than one church,” does not mention First Baptist Church as being a place whether either man worships, not surprisingly since Perry lives in Austin, not in Dallas.
It’s true that Pastor Jeffress sent members of his congregation to an August 6th prayer rally organized by Governor Perry called “The Response.” In an interview prior to that event, Jeffress said that Perry had assured him that the governor’s remarks at the rally would stay away from the political, and that he believed Perry’s “heart was pure about this.”
If Jeffress thought that it was wise to keep an overt mix of religion and politics away from his candidate — and their apparent shared desire to beat Barack Obama in 2012 — it’s hard to understand why he continues to try to inject religion into the Republican primary with his repeated attacks on Mormonism, going from calling it a “cult” to mentioning it in the same breath with Islam, obviously implying it is a threat to the nation.
Jeffress may think that he is weakening Perry’s leading opponent (though Herman Cain may soon take that position if current trends continue), but he is doing much more damage to the GOP and its electoral hopes, and perhaps to Rick Perry, with the distraction he is creating and the minor furor he is allowing the media to foment.
Rick Perry has released an aggressive ad attacking Mitt Romney for “Romneycare,” tying the man and the issue to President Obama and Obamacare. The ad has high production value and might be effective in getting more conservative voters to think twice before supporting Romney.
But the “earned media” that Perry should be getting on this ad is being overrun with talk about Jeffress’ remarks about Mormonism. In part because Mitt Romney seems like a decent guy no matter what you think of his policy positions, Jeffress’ attacks on Mormonism make Romney seem like the victim of a small-minded extremist, thus working directly against Perry’s interests.
Furthermore, one cannot doubt that these questions will be front and center in tonight’s Republican debate in Hanover, New Hampshire. Instead of being able to go after Romney on the issue of health care (to be followed, certainly, by Romney going after Perry on immigration — a battle of issues that I agree with Ann Coulter represents a bigger problem for Perry than for Romney), Perry will have to spend his time criticizing his would-be supporter and trying to gracefully defend his opponent.
One can almost hear Perry already, trying to thread the needle while keeping some suspicion of Romney’s faith alive: “Pastor Jeffress speaks for himself. While I am not a Mormon and can’t say I understand that faith entirely, Governor Romney has shown himself to be a fine family man. Voters will simply have to decide for themselves how they want their candidate’s faith to inform their political views. With me, the answer is plain.”
And the controversy will live on, spurred by the gleeful liberal media who live to create divisions with the Republican Party, especially when the president they have so much invested in is teetering on irrelevancy.