Mormon With An Opinion posted here about Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr.’s interview with Neil Cavuto. The portion of the interview he cites revolves around Mitt Romney’s chances for becoming President, given the fact that he is Mormon. It’s an interesting exchange about Romney, which Huntsman concludes by saying, “I'm working hard for him.” It’s probably not a big surprise that Hunstman is campaigning for Romney.
Many bloggers have commented about Romney’s chances for becoming President. While some question whether he’s Republican or conservative enough, most are worried that his Mormonism might offend the GOP’s evangelical base. Many MSM commentators have discussed the topic as well (see Terry Eastland here, James Taranto here, Amy Sullivan here, among many others). (I posted about Romney’s semi-socialized Massachusetts health care plan here and here.)
Mormon With An Opinion expressed his wish here that Romney not run, saying, “The problem isn't that he's Mormon, it's that the evangelicals slander Mormonism in the worst way. If the evangelical reaction to Romney's religion as predicted in Sullivan's article comes true, I would rather he didn't run.” He’s worried that the LDS religion will be “demonized and treated like a piñata.”
I think MWAO has a valid concern. On the other hand, I think we Mormons sometimes suffer from a persecution complex. We have a deep history of being persecuted, and all you have to do to see it in action today is visit Temple Square in Salt Lake City during the LDS Church general conference. But noisy anti-Mormons don’t necessarily represent the broader evangelical community. I think we fall into the trap of making overly broad generalizations when we make sweeping statements about evangelical attitudes.
The MSM folks all cite the same 1999 poll where 17% of Americans said they could never vote for a Mormon, as opposed to 6% saying the same about a Jew and 4% about a Catholic. I couldn’t find polling numbers specifically for evangelicals in this regard. But most of the commentary I have read actually says a lot more about what people think about evangelicals than what people think about Mormons. The assumption seems to be that Mitt will suffer for his religion because a lot of evangelicals are religious bigots.
Once again, I’m not sure the equation presented achieves that answer. The suggestion is that evangelical theological differences with Mormonism + 300% to 450% more people that would refuse to vote for a Mormon than would refuse to vote for a Jew or a Catholic = enough bigoted evangelicals to cause a Mormon to lose the election. While it’s possible that this equation is true, it’s also possible that it’s false. It has not been tested in a national race.
I agree with Taranto when he says that the Romney ticket will actually “test the proposition that the religious right is an issues-based movement as opposed to a sectarian one.” He notes that Romney’s “views put him well within the mainstream of GOP conservatism,” and are “largely in tune with the Christian right.” If the religious right refuses to support Romney (who aligns with them politically, but not religiously), it would expose the movement as being riddled with sectarian bigotry. I believe that would cause long-term damage to the movement’s credibility, which has been carefully built for two to three decades. The political community simply wouldn’t take them seriously any longer. The media would have a heyday, lumping them into the same boat as the extremist Muslims shouting, “Death to the infidels!” in the current cartoon flap.
Unlike MWAO, I welcome a Romney candidacy. Will my religion get beat up? Probably. Will my religion come out better in the long run, even if Mitt loses? I believe the answer to this is yes, as long as Mitt turns out to behave respectably and admirably. He will be held to a much higher standard than other candidates. I hope he is up to it. I believe that as the campaign progresses, more and more people will moderate their stance on religion in politics, which would be good for the country.
Would I support Mitt? Maybe. Just as I would hope that evangelicals and other voters would not refuse to support a candidate based on the candidate’s religion, I would hope that voters (including Mormons) would not automatically support a candidate based on the candidate’s religion. We should ask whether the candidate is an honorable person (see here), is well suited to the job, and would promote policies with which we agree. If it turns out that Mitt meets these criteria, I will have no problem supporting him. But whether I end up supporting him or not, I believe that his candidacy will be good for the Mormons, the evangelicals, and the country in general.