A tactful desire to avoid any sensationalizing of Romney’s faith has created a tendency not to give it appropriate due. To read “The Real Romney,” which represents an exception, is to realize the utter centrality of religion in his life. One of the book’s most arresting passages describes a moment when Ann, his wife-to-be and then a Protestant, asks him what Mormons believe. His detailed explanation moves her to tears, perhaps because it’s so heartfelt, perhaps also because he’s so nervous about her reaction.
The news media’s caution about focusing on Romney’s religion mirrors his own reticence, which, as Frank Rich pointed out in New York magazine last week, may be a big reason he can’t connect with voters in a visceral, intimate way. He’s editing out the core of his identity. He’s muffling his soul.
“His church experience is, I think, one of the great humanizing influences in Mitt Romney’s life,” said Patrick Mason, a professor of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University. Mason noted that if Romney would embrace that side of himself, he could beat the rap that he’s never been exposed to hardship by recounting his missionary experience. “That’s usually a very spartan lifestyle, and by definition most of the people you’re talking to are going to be poor.”