As you may have noticed, I have had a few things to say about Romney and the “Mormon factor” in this election, so I suppose I should comment on the news (via Noam Scheiber) that Romney will be giving the long-awaited speech that is aimed at allaying fears and doubts about his religion.  I have noted before that Romney has an impossible balancing act to maintain when he addresses this question, which may be why he has carefully evaded it for months, but it is also the case that Romney cannot keep evading the issue so long as he wishes to define his campaign and his “values” in terms of being a “person of faith.”  The impossible balancing act is stressing the political irrelevance of the theological differences Mormonism really does have with Christianity while simultaneously claiming that this very same religion, whose distinctive substance is supposed to be irrelevant, informs and shapes his “values” that he will rely on to make judgements about policy.  Another part of the balancing act (which is where it becomes really dangerous politically) is to declare that it is “un-American” to judge a candidate based on his religion without insulting the millions of voters who consider a candidate’s religion an important part of selecting their preferred candidate, while also paying homage to the “separation of church and state” without actually endorsing the idea that the separation of church and state has any constitutional basis (which a fairly large number of religious conservatives doesn’t accept).  His speech will have to go something like this: “My faith, which is very important to me and has made me who I am, should not be important to you, but it is important that we have a person of faith leading this country, and that person happens to be me.”

I agree that the timing of this couldn’t be worse, but I wonder whether the timing makes that much difference.  The extensive opposition to a Mormon candidate wouldn’t have disappeared had he given the speech earlier.  However, by giving the speech now he may be exacerbating what is already a bad situation for himself.  Had he done it three or four months ago and laid the issue to rest, at least as much as he could, he could have reduced the publicity surrounding the speech and tried to contain the damage.  Now that there is just a month left until the caucuses, he is using valuable time and exposing himself to the backlash that we knew was coming at a time when he cannot afford to shed any more support.  In the end, Romney has always been in an impossible position: a sizeable percentage of his own party will never vote for someone of his religion, and these are the same people he needed to win over to become the unchallenged social conservative consensus candidate, which is why Romney’s campaign has always been a fool’s errand as I’ve said from the beginning.  My guess is that Romney gives the speech on Thursday and his campaign in Iowa begins to implode, as his shallow support there evaporates.