Mitt Romney did not rise on the power of his rhetoric. At the Detroit Economic Club in February, his speech was swallowed by its stadium venue, overshadowed by a gaffe (his wife’s “couple of Cadillacs”) and weighed down by leaden language. Early in the primaries, Romney’s attempts to wax poetic on the virtues of America — often by quoting patriotic hymns — were waxen…

But a good speech can make use of any setting. And Romney’s Liberty University address on Saturday was more than good. It gave evidence of creative, lively intelligence somewhere near the center of the Romney campaign machine.

The speech performed a number of moves that carry a high degree of difficulty. Its language was fresh and graceful. The students heard that their faith “demands and creates heroic souls” — a phrase that deserves remembering. Romney strategically conceded the theological tensions between Mormons and evangelicals — “people of different faiths, like yours and mine” — but described a broad overlap on matters of service and morality. His depiction of this shared moral ideal was ethically rich: “justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick, or mercy for the child waiting to be born.”