On campaign trail, Romney ratchets ups God rhetoric
By Dan Merica
(CNN) – At campaign events these days, Mitt Romney often says that if he is elected president, he will emphasize the role of God in American society and will not “take God out of the public square.”
That kind of rhetoric is a departure from earlier less God-focused versions of the Republican candidate’s stump speech and his early apprehension with discussing his Mormon faith.
According to Mark DeMoss, Romney’s adviser to the evangelical community, such lines are designed to create a contrast with a Democratic Party that had to fight to get God into its platform at its recent convention.
“I will not take God out of my heart, I will not take God out of the public square, and I will not take it out of the platform of my party,” Romney has been saying in his stump speech since the Democratic platform fight this month.
The former Massachusetts governor used the line at a campaign stop in Mansfield, Ohio, on Monday. In nearly the same breath, he said that “we are nation under God.”
DeMoss says the new rhetoric is not a departure from anything but is “as much as a response to something that really shocked a lot of people.”
“I think the governor is probably doing two things,” said DeMoss, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign: “reinforcing his own commitment to God and, secondly, showing some contrast.”
Some religious leaders and scholars see Romney’s new God talk in a somewhat different light.
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and media commentator, said Romney’s line that “I will not take God out of my heart” is a coded way to question to veracity of the President Barack Obama’s Christian faith.
“Critiquing the president for taking God out of the public square when he regularly refers to God and implicitly critiquing him for taking God out of his heart, any way you look at it, is offensive,” Martin said.
In his critique of Romney’s religious rhetoric, Martin cited Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
DeMoss, a Christian PR executive, said questions about the president’s faith should not be read into the speech.
“I take that comment as a reinforced pledge and commitment that God is not going to be stripped from anything if he has anything to say about it, whether it is his heart or the public square or the party platform,” DeMoss said. “I think it would be unreasonable or unfair to suggest that that was a comment on the president.”
Last week, at an event in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Romney pledged to keep God on U.S. currency.
“Our pledge says ‘under God,'” Romney told thousands of energetic supporters at the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach. “I will not take God out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coins. And I will not take God out of my heart.”
On Tuesday, the anniversary of terrorist attacks of September 11, Romney tweeted, “On this most somber day, America is united under God in its quest and freedom at home and across the world.”
The increased God rhetoric adds to a campaign that has frequently discussed religious issues, even as Romney says the economy is the most important issue.
From debates over religious liberty — sparked by the Obama administration’s “contraception mandate” for health care plans — to abortion rights, the Romney campaign has taken stands on a number of religious issues, attempting to draw a distinction with Obama.
Jacques Berlinerblau, a Georgetown University professor with an expertise in religion and politics, says he sees the change as a response to a president who is doing better in recent polls.
“When (Republicans) get nervous about a loss, they go into base-whip-up stage,” Berlinerblau said. “They try to energize the base even more.”
He argues that such rhetoric will not appeal to “moderate religious voters” and that it is pushing Romney off his economic message.
“They are totally getting off-script,” Berlinerblau said. “We hear that this election is all about the economy, but now we are talking about religion and faith issues.”
DeMoss says it’s possible to emphasize both religious and economic issues.
“I am comfortable with the balance that he has struck about talking about his faith and other people’s faith, and I was comfortable with the balance at the Republican convention,” DeMoss said. “It is part of the equation, but it is certainly not the dominant part.”
— CNN’s Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this report.