With onetime Republican presidential frontrunner Senator John McCain in meltdown, Mitt Romney suddenly finds himself under fire from some of the Christian right’s most influential activists. Romney’s evangelical critics claim the former Massachusetts governor and devout Mormon was complicit in the Marriott hotel chain’s sale of pay-per-view porn on its in-room television sets when he served on the corporation’s board of directors from 1992 to 2001. Two Christian-right operatives involved in orchestrating the charges have enlisted as Internet organizers for former Senator Fred Thompson, who is preparing to enter the race formally. The tactics of these religious-right players, targeted below the radar against Romney, are calculated to alter decisively the outcome of the Republican primary contest.
The assault was launched on July 5 with an opening shot in the form of a breathless press release issued through the mega-ministry Focus on the Family. In it, veteran antiporn crusader Phil Burress called Romney’s failure to take action against pay-per-view hotel porn during his tenure on Marriott’s board “extremely disturbing.” That same day, a Focus on the Family spokesman took to the radio airwaves to ask whether Romney would “turn a blind eye” to pornography if elected President. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which functions as Focus’s Washington lobbying arm, immediately joined the pile-on. He briefed the Associated Press on the record, explaining that Romney must “take some responsibility” for his supposed connection to Marriott’s porn profiteering. The AP report on the accusation against Romney was subsequently reprinted in the pages of major outlets from the Boston Globe to the Washington Post. It only took a full six years after Romney resigned from Marriott’s board for the Christian right’s leading lights to profess their outrage–and only hours for the press to echo it.
This carefully sequenced attack on Romney over hotel porn is just the opening volley in what appears to be a concerted effort to doom his candidacy. Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association’s Michigan chapter, told me, “This is just part of a broader pattern of concern over Mitt Romney’s record of aggressively promoting abortion on demand, the homosexual agenda and gun control. We are judging Romney by his record.” Glenn is a leading Christian-right operative in the home state of Romney’s late father, former Republican Governor George Romney, one of Romney’s bases within the Republican Party. Glenn is also a member of the DC Group, a conference of fifteen antiporn activists that meets four times a year to plot political strategy. The DC Group devised its plan to undermine Romney at its most recent gathering, Glenn revealed to me.
The hostility of segments of the Christian right to Romney coincides with its mounting interest in Fred Thompson. Less than two weeks before Focus on the Family launched its attack on Romney, the Family Research Council began an informal campaign to rally support for Thompson. Without fanfare, the Family Research Council’s director of web communications, Joe Carter, and the group’s web editor, Jared Bridges, founded Blogs for Fred, a website that alternately shields Thompson from criticism and promotes him as the Great Right Hope. When Carter and Bridges are not plumping for Thompson, they blog on the website of the Family Research Council, advancing the causes of faith, family and freedom for the purportedly nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization.