Aug. 5, 2007 — -- In remarks he didn't know were being recorded by a DV camera, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney heatedly defended his religion during commercial breaks of an interview with conservative talk radio host Jan Mickelson at WHO 1040 in Iowa.
The video was posted on YouTube and can be watched HERE.
During the broadcast, Mickelson quizzed Romney about how his Mormon faith squares with his political beliefs. Romney is attempting to become the first Mormon to be elected president, and in competing for the Republican presidential nomination is trying to appeal to conservative evangelical Christians, some of whom see the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as a cult.
Mickelson, a conservative talk radio host, wasn't impugning Mormonism, however. He was trying to say that if Romney sold himself as more closely aligned with the Church of Latter Day Saints he might assuage any suspicions conservative Iowa voters have about his candidacy, since Romney has held more liberal positions on social issues such as abortion and gay rights in the past. The on-air debate got heated, and off-air it was even more so.
Mickelson posted the video of his exchange Friday, drawing protests from the Romney campaign.
"We first expressed concern because we thought it was off-mike and off the record," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told ABC News. "But once we reviewed his entire tape we decided to put it on our own site."
Madden said the interview showed "Mitt Romney at his finest. It was Gov. Romney unplugged. It showed him to be very confident, very engaging and very passionate when faced with a very tough inquiry."
During the official interview, Mickelson brought up Romney's faith almost immediately. "If you encourage an abortion in any way, you may be subject to church discipline," Mickelson said on-air, alluding to the Church of Latter Day Saints' rules and trying to understand how Romney could have functionally governed as an abortion rights supporter.
"The great thing about this country is that individuals who run for secular office are not implementing the policies of their church," Romney said. "I'm not going to have a conversation about what my church views are, because that's --"
"Why not?" interrupted Mickelson.
"Because that's not the nature of the office I'm running for," Romney said.
But Mickelson kept pushing.
"There are people in my church who are pro-choice. That is not against my church's view to allow people to have their own position on political positions," Romney said.
"That's not what [Mormon church doctrine] says," Mickelson replied.
"You happen to be incorrect on that," Romney shot back.
Mickelson then took a commercial break -- with the DV camera running, unbeknown to Romney, according to his campaign.
"This is only my opinion, off the air," Mickelson started. "I think you are making a biiiiig mistake by distancing yourself from your faith."
"I'm not distancing myself from my faith," Romney said. "There are Mormons in the leadership of my church who are pro-choice."
Romney then went on to explain different practices banned by the Mormon church that he would never act on legislatively.
"My church says I can't drink alcohol, right? OK, should I say, as governor of Massachusetts, we are stopping alcohol sales? No. My religion is for me and how I live my life. So don't confuse what I do, as a member of my faith, with what I think ought to be done by government."
With commercials playing in the background, the two kept going at it.
"I accept all my faith, but I don't impose my faith's beliefs on you," Romney explained.
Mickelson tried to explain his line of questioning: "What I was trying to get to was: People who will reject your Mormonism on a theological basis can, would put up with that and might vote for you if they thought you were a consistent, morally consistent Mormon."
"Well, I am," said Romney. "I am. I am!"
"If they don't think you're a morally consistent Mormon they're not likely to hold their nose," said Mickelson.
"I made it very clear I do not, I do not try to distance myself from my faith in any way shape or form," Romney said.
Mickelson said Romney was trying to "hermetically seal" his religious views away from his political ones, thus alienating potential evangelical and Catholic supporters.
"And what should I do? And so tell me what I should do," Romney asked, sarcastically. "I should not have been pro-choice? And therefore I'm just finished, right there."
Mickelson said Romney should say that he "made a mistake" by not governing as an anti-abortion governor, since it wasn't in accordance with LDS theology.
"Every Mormon should be pro-life?" Romney said.
"If that's what your church says," Mickelson answered.
"That's not what my church says!" Romney said. "You're wrong! That's your problem."
After a brief on-air farewell, the intense discussion resumed.
"Let me help you understand. You don't understand my faith like I do," Romney said. "My church has very strong beliefs that Mormons should not participate in, encourage, in any way support abortion."
Mickelson interrupted again, but Romney continued. "Let me once again say I understand my faith better than you do. You don't believe that do you?"
"I'm not sure." Mickelson said.
"Then it's hardly worth having a discussion," Romney said.
Mickelson explained that the reason he had doubts was that on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," Romney said that Christ would return to earth in Jerusalem, whereas "your church says it's going to happen in Missouri."
Romney explained that the Latter Day Saints Church "says that Christ appears on the Mount of Olives and splits the Mount of Olives and appears in Jerusalem, that's what the church says. And then over the 1,000 years of the millennium, that the world is reigned in two places, Jerusalem and Missouri. The second coming, the arrival of Jesus Christ, our church says is in Jerusalem."
"I want you to understand one thing. I take this stuff real seriously," Mickelson said.
"Oh, I don't, though," Romney snarled. "For me it's all frivolous. Come on. I'm running for president!"
Romney argued that the church does not teach that Mormons cannot allow choice in society "and therefore there are Mormon Democrats. There is a Democratic party in Utah filled with Mormons, and the church doesn't say, 'They're wrong. They're being excommunicated,'" Romney continued.
The position of the LDS Church is, 'We are vehemently opposed to abortion, ourselves and for ourselves, but we allow other people to make their own choice,'" he said.
Mickelson expressed interest in having Romney return to spend more "quality time" on the air.
"No, I don't like coming on the air and having you go after my church and me," Romney answered. "I'm not running as a Mormon, and I get a little tired of coming on a show like yours and having it all about Mormon."
"See, I don't mind it being about that," said Mickelson.
"Yeah, I do, I do," Romney replied. "You're trying to tell me that I'm not a faithful Mormon. … I'm not running to talk about Mormonism."