It seems obvious that the Romney's decision to give it is precipitated by Huckabee's meteoric rise in the polls, especially in Iowa. The implication, of course, is that evangelicals are not supporting Romney because of his Mormon faith. As Yuval Levin writes,
Among other things, the decision to do this suggests the Romney team is finding what a couple of other Republican campaigns have hinted at about the fine details of their Iowa polling: that Romney's slip in Iowa, and Huckabee's rise, has to do with an implicit but very real unease about his Mormonism among evangelical protestants who might otherwise be inclined to support him.
To be perfectly clear, I have maintained in private conversations that Romney's faith would not be an issue for most evangelicals, and I still think it isn't. The evangelicals I met and talked to at the now infamous Washington Briefing, where Mike Huckabee began his surge, wanted to vote for Mitt Romney but were underwhelmed by his flat performance, which was more corporate briefing than presidential speech. No one that I talked to mentioned his Mormonism--everyone I talked to was concerned that he is a 'flip-flopper' of the John Kerry variety.
As for my own political reasoning, my lack of support for Mitt Romney has nothing to do with his religion. Those who support Mitt Romney clearly think otherwise, but I tend to think (with Patrick Ruffini) he has had a difficult time communicating his strengths in this campaign. I have little confidence that he would be able to win the general election, but am convinced that if Huckabee gets through the primaries, he will win the nomination handily. Ideologically, I am pretty undecided on some key issues (immigration), so I have turned to these other factors to inform my decision.
For this evangelical, then, there's no reason for Romney to give 'the speech.' And my hunch--and hope--is that the same is true for other evangelicals.
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.