There’s a Mormon running for the White House and radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt has written a book on him, and the prospect of A Mormon in the White House. Hewitt took questions from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez Tuesday night about Mitt Romney and his prospects.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Three percent, in the latest Gallup poll, Hugh? As a presidential candidate, is he worth a book on?
Hugh Hewitt: I think the New Hampshire number is much more important (Romney is a very close third), as is the Iowa organization (Romney way out in front), and of course the money primary. I know that the cable nets need to have a new storyline every night, but we all realize that the race begins in Iowa, and Romney is planning the classic trampoline campaign, and the calendar sets up nicely for him.
And, yes, he’s a compelling figure and well worth a book, as is the central question I tackle: What is and should be the role of a candidate’s faith in a presidential campaign? I interviewed scores of folks on the subject of whether Romney’s LDS faith should be an issue in the campaign, from Chuck Colson and Archbishop Charles Chaput to Doris Kearns Goodwin, Christopher Hitchens, Jon Meacham, and Mike McCurry. The question elicits very different answers from the spectrum of people I interviewed, and many of those responses were quite shocking.
Lopez: You say you’re not endorsing him but that if the California primary were held today you’d vote for him. How is that not effectively endorsing?
Hewitt: Because things change. As I note in the introduction, candidates cry in the back of trucks, get caught in scandal, say really ridiculous things. The long campaign is a crucible, and a good one, I think, for evaluating. I think I am a little like a Vegas odds maker, assessing the field far out, but always open to new data. Right now I think Romney is the best candidate to be the best commander-in-chief, with Rudy G. a very close second. I am very much looking forward to their conversations among themselves and the other candidates.
Lopez: I’m a huge fan, as you know, but I’m still waiting for Governor Romney to make the case that he’s the guy I want to take over as commander-in-chief in January 2009. You’re sold?
Hewitt: I have purchased an option to buy, I guess. His capacity to lead in these very difficult times is I think unquestioned, and his ability to absorb information, assess options, and make the right –though difficult– choice is to me certain, and his ability to think through these very complicated problems is very unique. Time and again I would pose a very tough question to Romney and he’d answer in a way that demonstrated to me the sort of smarts plus instinct that we will need in the White House.
I began the book as a pessimist about the country’s ability to survive this war. Romney made me an optimist, provided we elect the right leaders in the House, Senate, and presidency.
Lopez: Why do you buy the governor is pro-life? Does it matter if he believes it?
Hewitt: I do believe it, very strongly, and the chapter on the subject details my reasons including my conversations with Romney as well as my conversations with Peter Flaherty, his long-time legal adviser and a very, very strong pro-lifer, and a man of unquestioned integrity. Peter would not be with Romney — nor would pro-life stalwart Jim Bopp and South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint — if the governor wasn’t truly committed to the cause of allowing states to protect the unborn. Americans have seen the YouTube video and the 2002 debate — they know Romney changed his mind since he ran against Ted Kennedy. As Archbishop Chaput said to me, we need many more Americans to do the same. Any pro-lifer who reads this book will be satisfied that Mitt Romney will nominate Scalias, not Souters.
Lopez: Is there anything you don’t like about Romney?
Hewitt: As I note in the book, Romney is perhaps unaware of the hit that is coming from his Bain Capital days, and I also disagree on the non-release of tax returns, or at least the promise that, if nominated, he will release his 2008 returns. I also see a political weakness in his genuine lack of guile when it comes to answering questions. He has picked up Senator McCain’s mantle from 2000 in this regard. Very smart people always seem to believe that the best logic wins. In politics, it often doesn’t.
But generally, I am hard to impress, and I have worked for and with some very, very smart people since getting into politics in 1974. Mitt Romney is the equal of any of them in talent.
Lopez: So, Romney’s Mormon I hear. How is it bigotry to be concerned about what Mormons believe and how it might affect how they lead?
Hewitt: I detail in the book the American tradition, one confirmed by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham in interviews: Candidates get to set the rules, and we don’t demand a theological accounting from them as has already been demanded by various writers of Romney. We also do not question specific religious practices. I would have found it off-limits to ask John Kerry, for example — or Rudy Giuliani — when they last went to confession, or to defend the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine of papal infallibility or belief in Lourdes or Fatima.