With 36 hours to go until the election, we now know what it takes to get Mitt Romney to show some emotion: challenging his knowledge of Mormonism. Earlier this week, a YouTube user uploaded a 2007 video of an off-air conversation Romney had with Des Moines radio host Jan Mickelson, whose questions about Mormonism elicited a barrage of hand-waving and indignation from the Republican candidate. The heated exchange begins with Mickelson asking Romney whether his former support for abortion constituted a violation of his faith. “You don’t understand my faith like I do,” Romney responds while pointing to his chest in a way that shows he means business.
Mickelson interrupts Romney’s attempt to explain his church’s stance on abortion by bringing up past statements he made about the conditions of the Second Coming, which some Mormons believe will take place in Missouri. Romney didn’t take well to that one, either. Waving his arms, Romney declares that Jerusalem is “where the coming and glory of Christ occurs” before adding that “we also believe that over the thousand years that follows, the millennium, he will reign from two places, that the law will come forward from one place, from Missouri and the other will be in Jerusalem.” At one point, Romney exasperatedly pushes the microphone away from his face. At another, he complains, “I don’t like coming on the air and having you go after my church and me. I’m not running as a Mormon, and I get a little tired of coming on shows like yours and having it all about Mormon.” The interview ends when — after accusing Mickelson of “trying to tell me that I’m not a faithful Mormon” — Romney abruptly gets out of his seat and walks out the door.
Romney’s campaign has declined to comment on the video’s release, though the candidate has referred to it at least once before, in response to a question from Katie Couric about whether he’d ever lost his temper. He described Mickelson as having “drilled” him about his faith, and admitted that he “because intense in confronting what he had said.” Romney added, “Unbeknownst to me, he had a hidden camera on the console, so this then popped up on the Internet.” (Always with the hidden cameras!) Because the video has apparently been floating around for a while, it’s easy to see the re-uploading and subsequent surge of attention (it had been viewed 1.2 million times as of this morning) as someone’s cynical effort to, as Mormon scholar Patrick Mason put it to the Washington Post, “bring out the Mormon card, to bring out the weirdness.” We maintain that Romney’s defense of his religion isn’t what’s weird about the video — it’s the sight of his person brain briefly triumphing over his robot one.