We see it in sports: a team trailing its opponents attempts a risky play – an end zone pass on a fourth-and-one situation or attempted steal against an accurate-throwing catcher. It usually fails, but managers and coaches sometimes figure the risk is worth it to “turn the game around.”
Utahns have now seen a similar high-risk play in local politics when Senate hopeful Mike Kennedy, a little-known legislator attempting to wrest the Republican senatorial nomination from Mitt Romney, cozied up to an anti-Mormon pastor. It earned Kennedy media attention, but hardly the type he wished for.
Though he has stumbled in his on again-off again love affair with Donald Trump and made mainstream Republicans cringe with recent cruel attacks on immigrant families, Romney is a fairly deft politician. He plays his cards correctly, and he had the winning hand when he rightly criticized pastor Robert Jeffress for his religious bigotry.
Kennedy immediately took Romney to task. He called the pastor and “apologized on behalf of (Romney’s) comments”. He told the media he opposed intolerance, apparently seeing Romney’s condemnation of the pastor as inflammatory and lacking civility.
Sorry, Mike…you are riding the wrong horse. We know you are basing your campaign on appealing to hard-core Trump admirers, but you can’t tout tolerance and then apologize to a fanatic like Jeffress.
Here is a sampling of what Jeffress has uttered and written in the recent past:
Mormon founder Joseph Smith is a servant of Satan…Mormonism is a theological and dangerous cult…People cannot be saved if they are Jewish and Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell…A vote for Romney (when he was running against Barack Obama for the presidency) is a vote for Satan.
Memo to Mike Kennedy: Becoming a buddy to a nut like Jeffress is not a winning Utah ticket. In baseball terms, you are swinging for the fences – but you are already behind by 10 runs and you should be strategically looking for a good pitch to hit, not a pitch two feet out of the strike zone.
Mike Kennedy is a decent person. (I have personally worked with him on printed materials for an early legislative campaign.) As both a medical doctor and a practicing attorney, he might be the most “book smart” member of the Utah Legislature. While he is not a particular favorite of his Capital colleagues his is respected and principled.
But he’s running against Utah’s own Teflon candidate. According to the Deseret News, Mitt Romney has a two-to-one lead heading into the June 26 primary election. Romney doesn’t have to search for a hot-button issue. He can coast to victory.
In contrast, Mike Kennedy thinks “we should find reasons to unite and fewer reasons to divide.” Sure, but you don’t do it by bringing the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party to a Bar Mitzvah dinner.
Being principled means you solidly stand against hatred and bigotry instead of minimizing it as a free expression difference of opinion. Romney seized the opportunity; Mike Kennedy threw a Hail Mary that landed in the bleacher seats.