We have been here before. In 1908, the Unitarian William Howard Taft ran against the evangelical William Jennings Bryan. Bryan supporters attacked Taft’s faith; that year a Pentecostal newspaper wrote: “Think of the United States with a President who does not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, but looks upon our immaculate Savior as a … low, cunning imposter!”
Rick Santorum seemed to be working in the Bryan tradition on Feb. 18 when the GOP presidential candidate said that President Obama adheres to “some phony theology. Not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.”
Asked about the comments on CBS’s Face the Nation, Santorum dissented from the more extreme interpretation of his remarks — only to go on to raise more questions than he answered. In doing so, Santorum may please parts of the deeply conservative base of his party but at a high price: that of politicizing religion in a decidedly un-American way. By raising Obama’s “theology,” Santorum risks reviving implicit religious tests for office.