For Romney’s religion to become a significant issue in the general election, the White House probably needs the media to play the Mormon card for them. Not through overt attacks on Mormon theology and practice, which would be out of bounds for most mainstream outlets. Rather, the Obama campaign’s best-case scenario involves a wave of theoretically evenhanded coverage come August and September – newsmagazine cover stories on Mormon theology, 60 Minutes specials on L.D.S. history, pieces about Romney’s own family tree – that end up reminding undecided voters of the things that they find strange and alien about the Republican nominee’s faith.
The media would have good reason to pursue at least some coverage along these lines. If there’s ever a year when the Mormon story is worth telling, it’s a year when a Mormon is on the presidential ballot. And there’s no way to tell the Mormon story comprehensively without bringing up issues (polygamy, race, the Book of Mormon’s alternative pre-history of the Americas) that highlight the distance between the Latter Day Saints and other forms of American Christianity.
For Mitt Romney himself, this is the strongest case for not just playing defense on the faith question.