Got an outraged e-mail about this last night that relayed the quote but not the context.

I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that “jihadism” is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, “…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration.”

That’s a bizarre answer insofar as it reduces the cabinet to an almost mathematical quota system, which is why I’m suspicious of the ellipsis. Read the piece. The “I” in that passage is Mansoor Ijaz, making the case for appointing a Muslim ostensibly for the cultural understanding he’d bring to the war on terror but mostly just because it would be a nice sign of inclusiveness. How did Ijaz present his question? Was it “Will you consider appointing a Muslim to your cabinet?”, whereupon Mitt launched into some freaky non sequitur about quotas? Or was it “Don’t you think it’s important to have all races and religions equitably represented at the top levels of government? And if so, will you consider appointing a Muslim?” If he framed the question in terms of quotas — and judging from the tenor of his op-ed, that’s distinctly possible — it makes Mitt’s answer potentially more coherent. E.g., “There are lots of ways you could go about deciding appointments. If, for argument’s sake, you follow the quota model you’re suggesting, then…” See why I’m curious about the ellipsis that replaced the beginning of his answer?

As Powerline says, “If Ijaz’s quote is accurate, Governor Romney has demonstrated a remarkably poor understanding of an issue he should have thought through long ago.” Quite so, especially given the eagerness with which some of his supporters accuse others of religious bigotry. If that’s really what Mitt said, unbidden by any question about quotas, then it looks like a cop out aimed at promising conservatives he won’t appoint Muslims — a promise he shouldn’t make and shouldn’t have to make given the fact that there are eminently qualified candidates — without stating the real reasons why. A simple, meritocratic “I’d appoint the best man or woman for the job” would have done nicely.

Update: The Romney camp is skeptical of Ijaz’s account. Follow the link to find a more solid answer.

Update: Anything else CSM would care to tell us about our correspondent here?

Update: Democratic donor or not, he doesn’t seem to much care for Harry Reid.

Update: Reporters pounced at a presser today in Florida. How did he get from this Point A to the Point B recalled by Ijaz?

At an availability with reporters here, Romney answered questions about today’s report suggesting that he would not appoint Muslims to his Cabinet. “No, that’s not what I said. His question was, Did I need to have a Muslim in my Cabinet in order to confront radical jihad, or would it be important to have a Muslim in my Cabinet?’ And I said no, I don’t think you need a Muslim in the Cabinet to take on radical jihad any more than we needed a Japanese American to understand the threat that was coming from Japan or something of that nature.”

Romney continued, “It’s something I rejected, number one. And number two, point out that haven’t given a lot of thought to the people I would have in my Cabinet. I don’t have boxes I check off in terms of ethnicity, and it’s not that I need a certain number of people representing ethnic groups. Instead, I would choose people based on their merits… I’m open to having people of any faith, ethnic group. But they would be selected based on their capacity and capabilities and what they could bring to the Administration, but I don’t choose people based on checking off a box.”

Good answers all, but where does the part about Muslims not having enough numbers to warrant a cabinet spot come in? Is he excusing Ijaz of simply making that up?

Update: Jim Geraghty spoke to Ijaz and was assured that the quote was perfectly accurate and fairly contextualized.

He is certain that his question was whether Romney would “consider” including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, and that there was no aspect of quotas, guarantees, or promises to the question. He asked the question, Romney repeated the question so that everyone in the room could hear, and Ijaz clarified when Romney believed the question was whether he would have Muslim advisors regarding the war on terror.

Someone must have video.