What Brian Schweitzer meant by his ‘polygamy commune’ remark

at 01:13 PM ET, 04/20/2012

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) is causing a bit of a stir with his comment that Mitt Romney’s family came from a “polygamy commune.”

In an interview with the Daily Beast on Thursday, the outspoken governor suggested Romney could identify with Latinos better if he talked about his family’s roots in Mexico.

It’s “kinda ironic, given that his family came from a polygamy commune in Mexico, but then he’d have to talk about his family coming from a polygamy commune in Mexico, given the gender discrepancy,” Schweitzer said. (Schweitzer noted that women, in particular, object to polygamy, or the practice of having multiple wives.)
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2007. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

President Obama’s campaign quickly disavowed the comments and said it would not engage in “attacking a candidate’s religion.” In fact, the remarks are outside the bounds of what both sides have said is acceptable discourse for the campaign.

But despite Schweitzer’s overly blunt and inartful phrasing, it’s worth looking at the broader point he was trying to make.

The truth is that Romney should be able to draw on his personal history for ammunition to fight back on issues such as the Latino vote and his image as a fat-cat businessman. But in both cases, fighting back would require reminding people that he’s a Mormon.

In much the same way that Romney doesn’t talk much about his Mexican roots because of the polygamy connection (detailed here in a great story from last year by The Post’s Nick Miroff), he also rarely speaks of his record of charitable giving — in large part, it would seem, because the vast majority of the donations went to his church.

Romney has given more than $11 million to charity over the past 12 years, but 80 percent of it went to the Mormon Church, according to a recent Boston Globe report. So even if Romney wanted to talk about the $1.8 million that went to other causes, he would probably have to broach the Mormon issue — at least a little bit.

In the meantime, Democrats are successfully painting a picture of a wealthy businessman who is looking out only for his fellow millionaires. The candidate’s history of charitable giving, it seems, would be a strong counter-punch.

The former Massachusetts governor has been reticent to talk about his religion in anything but the broadest of terms during this campaign. Reminding people of his religion and its tenets, after all, risks turning off the significant portion of the American population that still has reservations about his church.

Although Romney gave a speech on Mormonism during the 2008 presidential campaign, he hasn’t done anything similar this time around. His campaign has also declined to participate in stories about the religion and even his Mexican roots.

That’s not to say, though, that the campaign has totally ignored his Mexican family or his charitable giving.

Romney has mentioned his father being born in Mexico a couple of times, at least — once in remarks at an Iowa event in December and once at a January debate in response to Newt Gingrich’s allegations that Romney was “anti-immigrant.”

“Mr. Speaker, I’m not anti-immigrant,” Romney said. “My father was born in Mexico. My wife’s father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I’m anti-immigrant is repulsive.”

He also talked about his giving to the Mormon Church when asked about it on “Fox News Sunday” around the time he released his tax returns.

“This is a country that believes in the Bible,” Romney said at the time. “The Bible speaks about providing tithes and offerings. I made a commitment to my church a long, long time ago that I would give 10 percent of my income to the church. And I followed through on that commitment.”

But neither of these things has been put out there in a way that suggests they are a major part of his campaign or something that he will proactively point to in efforts to woo Latinos or blue-collar voters.

And that has everything to do with the fact that it reminds people that he’s a Mormon.

 
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