On one level, Douthat is amazingly candid here. He all but admits that the Obama administration is able to get the media to do its bidding and that it should let the media play the Mormon card in a strategic way.
Via New York Times:
If it seems like prominent Democrats are playing the religion card, then the Romney camp will have a chance to re-run the Jeffress controversy and paint its opponents as bigots. There’s also the awkward matter of President Obama’s own religious background: The White House probably would rather not do anything that might revive the 2008 debate over the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.After his sweeping primary victories on April 24th, Romney's speeches included references to the Obama administration's attempts to distract voters from the economy with irrelevant issues. Relevant or not, the media will most assuredly follow Douthat's roadmap.
This explains why the White House was so quick to distance itself from Brian Schweitzer, the governor of Montana, when he raised the fact that Romney’s great-grandfather practiced polygamy. And it explains why the dog whistles that some conservatives have detected coming from the White House – an Obama spokesman contrasting Romney’s “faith” with the president’s “Christianity,” the repeated references to Romney’s “weirdness” from unnamed administration officials – have been pitched too faintly to be heard by most voters.
For Romney’s religion to become a significant issue in the general election, the White House probably needs the media to play the Mormon card for them. Not through overt attacks on Mormon theology and practice, which would be out of bounds for most mainstream outlets. Rather, the Obama campaign’s best-case scenario involves a wave of theoretically evenhanded coverage come August and September – newsmagazine cover stories on Mormon theology, 60 Minutes specials on L.D.S. history, pieces about Romney’s own family tree – that end up reminding undecided voters of the things that they find strange and alien about the Republican nominee’s faith.
The media would have good reason to pursue at least some coverage along these lines. If there’s ever a year when the Mormon story is worth telling, it’s a year when a Mormon is on the presidential ballot. And there’s no way to tell the Mormon story comprehensively without bringing up issues (polygamy, race, the Book of Mormon’s alternative pre-history of the Americas) that highlight the distance between the Latter Day Saints and other forms of American Christianity.
Read it all.