During Monday night's Republican primary debate, Mitt Romney acted in a classy manner when the subject of shariah law encroaching onto American life — a favorite bit of red state red meat — came up. His response also offers a hint of the campaign to come, both in the primaries and beyond.
Here's what Romney said:
Well, first of all, of course, we’re not going to have Sharia law applied in U.S. courts. That’s never going to happen. We have a Constitution and we follow the law.
No, I think we recognize that the people of all faiths are welcome in this country. Our nation was founded on a principal of religious tolerance. That’s in fact why some of the early patriots came to this country and we treat people with respect regardless of their religious persuasion.
Obviously, anybody who would come into my administration would be someone who I knew, who I was comfortable with, and who I believed would honor as their highest oath — their oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States.
Contrast this with former House Speaker and Tiffany's afficionado Newt Gingrich, who compared Muslims to Nazis, or pizza magnate Herman Cain, who explained that despite earlier statements that he wouldn't appoint Muslims to cabinet positions, he was in fact only worried about those Muslims who are “trying to kill us."
Romney is obviously right, of course. "Unlikely" is far too weak a word to describe the possibility of the American Constitution and the laws that sprang from it being superseded by a radically conservative interpretation of Islamic law. If you're worried about sharia law in the U.S., you might as well also be worried about Worcester's crocodile problem.
Romney's response was politically significant, as well. It hints at the fact that, when it comes to the 2012 race, the hypothetical "candidate who can beat Obama" looks much more like Romney than like Gingrich or Cain.
Make no mistake — it will be an uphill battle either way. But the point here is that while the GOP field has no shortage of candidates who can fulminate endlessly about socialism and Islamofascism and any other number of other big, evil abstractions that aren't hugely connected to American life but which will be gobbled up by the Republican base, what the party really needs for success is some degree of blandness.
Because the only way the GOP is retaking the White House is if the economy continues to look really, really bad come November of 2012. And if that happens, what will moderate swing voters — many of whom will have voted for Obama four short years prior — be looking for? Not crazed denunciations of sharia law, that's for sure ("I haven't worked in 18 months and my house is being foreclosed upon. So I really, really want someone in the White House who will prevent an Imam from rolling into town and forcing me to kneel and face Mecca five times a day.").
No. They'll want a somewhat bland, competent-seeming bureaucrat-type who will give them an excuse to say, "Well, we gave Obama a chance to fix the economy and he couldn't do it. This other candidate doesn't blow me away, but my sense is s/he is competent and can pull us out of that hole." A Romney-type figure, in other words.
None of this is to say our former governor will get the nomination, of course. But the higher-ups within the GOP are far too smart not to realize that there's a difference between feeding sympathetic crowds tripe about creeping sharia law and actually changing the minds of swing voters.