President Mitt Romney?

OpinionJournal editor James Taranto is excited about the prospects of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s presumed bid for president.

Mr. Romney could be an attractive presidential candidate. His sunny disposition puts one in mind of Ronald Reagan–he laughs easily and smiles almost continuously. He is a governor, as four of the past five presidents were; but he can claim more international experience than most state executives. In addition to his work on the Olympics, he has served on the federal Homeland Security Advisory Council, chairing its working group on intelligence and information sharing.

Massachusetts, the only state George McGovern carried in 1972, is an unlikely place to find a Republican presidential candidate. The last Bay State Republican to seek the presidential nomination was Henry Cabot Lodge in 1964; the last to win it was Calvin Coolidge 40 years earlier. All 12 members of the state’s congressional delegation are Democrats, and Republicans who win office here tend to be liberals like former senator Edward Brooke and former governor Bill Weld.

Not Mr. Romney, whose views put him well within the mainstream of GOP conservatism. A self-described “fiscal hawk,” he takes credit for staving off tax increases, no mean feat given that the Democrats have a veto-proof legislative majority. When he took office, the state had a $3 billion budget deficit. “We held the line on taxes, we did not borrow more money, and instead we cut back on state programs,” closing the gap. He hopes next year to persuade the Legislature to cut the top income tax rate to 5% from 5.3%.

[…]

Mr. Romney’s background as a businessman leads him to think of government in pragmatic terms. “I tend to be more analytical than I think the average politician [is]. I tend to look for a lot of data, and don’t reach conclusions based on . . . political doctrine, but instead based on analysis. . . . I look at each issue and try and evaluate what I think the right answer is.”

Taranto thinks Romney’s biggest liability is his faith.

A crucial question will be whether Mr. Romney’s religion is a handicap. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is indigenous to America, but many Americans view it with suspicion. In a 1999 Gallup poll, 17% of those surveyed said they would not vote for a Mormon for president, far more than said the same of a Jew (6%) or a Catholic (4%).

In 1994 Sen. Kennedy made an issue of the LDS Church’s tardy embrace of racial equality (it did not allow the ordination of blacks until 1978). “I don’t think that’s the reason I lost to Ted Kennedy,” says Mr. Romney, and he’s surely right. In any case, Mr. Kennedy doesn’t seem to have any problem today answering to a Mormon Senate leader, Harry Reid.

Mr. Romney also says religion wasn’t a problem for his father: “When he was running for president . . . he was the front-runner. His faith just didn’t factor in. . . . His statement on Vietnam–that put him under, but certainly not his faith.”

The trouble is that much of today’s anti-Mormon sentiment is found on the religious right, a constituency that looms much larger in the GOP now than it did in 1968, or than it ever has in Massachusetts. Ask a conservative Christian what he thinks of Mormonism, and there’s a good chance he’ll call it a “cult” or say Mormons “aren’t Christian.”

Taranto is not alone in his concern. A not-insignificant number of Evangelicals view Mormonism as a cult. (A quick Google search reveals THE MORMON CULT, Cult Conspiracy by the Mormon Church, Mormonism – Christian or Cult?, MormonsSuck.com: The truth about the Mormon cult!, Mormons Claim They Are Not a Cult, and The Plain Truth about the Mormons.)

As Washington Monthly editor Amy Sullivan explained in “Mitt Romney’s Evangelical Problem, ” this is not just the view of some isolated kooks.

Evangelicals don’t have the same vague anti-LDS prejudice that some Americans do. For them it’s a doctrinal thing, based on very specific theological disputes that can’t be overcome by personality or charm or even shared positions on social issues. Romney’s journalistic boosters either don’t understand these doctrinal issues or try to sidestep them. But ignoring them won’t make them go away. To evangelicals, Mormonism isn’t just another religion. It’s a cult.

The first time I ever heard about Mormons was in fifth grade, sitting in a basement classroom of my Baptist church, watching a filmstrip about cults. Our Sunday school class was covering a special month-long unit on false religions; in the mail-order curriculum, Mormonism came somewhere between devil worshippers and Jim Jones.

[…]

Evangelical opinions about the LDS Church haven’t changed so much since I watched that filmstrip more than 20 years ago. In 2004, Mormons were specifically excluded from participation in the National Day of Prayer organized by Shirley Dobson (wife of James Dobson, leader of the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family) because their theology was found to be incompatible with Christian beliefs.

Mormons believe that they are the fully realized strain of Christianity—hence the “latter-day saints.” They acknowledge extra-biblical works of scripture (such as the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants), follow a series of prophets who claim to have received divine revelations, and teach that God inhabits an actual physical body. This is all blasphemy to evangelicals; they argue that “the Bible explicitly warns against adding to or detracting from its teaching” and refer to the revelations as “realistic deception[s] by the Devil himself.”

[…]

Southern Baptists have been particularly vocal about labeling the LDS Church a “cult.” In 1997, the denomination published a handbook and video, both with the title The Mormon Puzzle: Understanding and Witnessing to Latter-day Saints. More than 45,000 of these kits were distributed in the first year; the following year—in a throwing down of the proselytizing gauntlet—the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Salt Lake City. Around the same time, a speaker at the denomination’s summit on Mormonism declared that Utah was “a stronghold of Satan.” When Richard Mouw, president of the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary, tried to repair relations with the LDS community by apologizing on behalf of evangelicals during a speech in the Mormon Tabernacle last year, his conservative brethren lashed out. Mouw had no right, they declared in an open letter, to speak for them or apologize for denouncing Mormon “false prophecies and false teachings.”

In the wake of Romney-mania, one prominent evangelical has sung a slightly different public tune. Charles Colson told the Weekly Standard in June that he “could in very good conscience support Romney” as a fellow “social conservative on most of the issues we care about.” As recently as late February, however, Colson reminded his radio listeners that “while Mormons share some beliefs with Christians, they are not Christians.” “I respect Mormons and work with them,” he said, “but we can’t gloss over our fundamental differences.” Asked about Colson’s apparent change of heart, Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) told me, “I think Chuck was probably saying the politically correct thing.”

Sullivan concludes,

The tragedy—or, depending on your point of view, the irony—is that Mitt Romney may just be the most appealing candidate Republicans can field in 2008, the one most likely to win the White House by shoring up social conservatives and rallying business interests without frightening swing voters. Yet the modern GOP’s reliance on evangelical voters and its elevation of personal religiosity—strategies which have served the party so well in recent years—may doom the chances of this most promising candidate. Or, to put it in evangelical terms, it might be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for Mitt Romney to win the Republican nomination.

While I agree that the “Mormon question” would be a factor, I believe the fact that Romney is a virtual unknown on the national stage is the more serious issue. (For a less serious take on the Mormon angle, see Steve Bainbridge‘s discussion. )

John McCain, George Allen, and others have a more natural fundraising base. While it’s true that he would be a geographic favorite in New Hampshire, McCain has already established a political operation and demonstrated that he can win there. Aside from a handful of pundits, I don’t think there’s much clamor for Romney out there.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Romney’s Contradictory Positions on Gay Rights Mitt Romney and the Politics of Mormonism Mitt Romney Declares Self Conservative Republican Romney Signs Universal Health Care Bill Mitt Romney Parts Ways with Consultant Mike Murphy President Mitt Romney? Mitt Romney Trailing in Massachusetts poll Mitt Romney: Why I Vetoed Contraception Bill Romney’s Gay Marriage Hypocrisy? Elsewhere: South Park Libertarians: Trey Parker and Matt Stone on liberals, conservatives, censorship, and religion

  2. Comments Aren’t Meant to Be Broken

    Since James has broken comments today (please do not access this page directly? WTF, over?), the following is my comment on this post:

    Romney has zero chance of winning. I can’t even see him getting the nomination.

  3. I think Mormonism would be a bigger problem for Mitt than being an unknown. I don’t think he is that much of an unknown to be honest. He was very high profile with the IOC, when I first heard of him, and he’s been high profile in Mass, particularly with the gay rights issue.

    I do think being a mormon would hurt him, but I personally would still vote for him.

  4. James Joyner says:

    test

  5. Jay says:

    Testaroo

  6. Saturday Links

    From around the ‘sphere today: Outside the Beltway looks at a possible Presidential bid by Mitt Romney…and doesn’t see a groundswell for the Mass. Governor. The Political Pit Bull notes that CBS is getting into the biz of predicting the…

  7. Len says:

    Is John McCain still alive? I thought he died years ago.

    I don’t think being a Mormon will hurt Romney in 2008 as much as being a Republican.

  8. I believe that the Mormon issue is going to be a non-issue come primary time. If the Republican Party knows what’s good for them, they will embrace a Romney candidacy and him for President. Romney is the Republican party’s best hope for the future. Look at where we’re going elsewhere. McCain, he’s a senator, who has bucked conventional Republican thinking for some time. If you’re a “Bushy” I don’t see how in the world you could support him. Look at South Carolina during the 2000 primary season. Frist is mired in scandal, and Giuliani he’s way too far left for most Republicans. Romney has something that Republicans haven’t had in a long time and that’s fiscal sense and with the Bush spending of the past five years, we’re going to desperately need some of that. Romney also is squeaky clean. I don’t see how the Republican base (evangelicals and all) can not see that he is conservative in terms of social issues. Plus, Romney has the ability to work with the other side, and get some work done. Bush can’t even get his own stuff passed with a Republcan controlled House and Senate. I see Romney as being more Reagan. He has the ability to speak well, and mesh with people. He’ll appear well on television as well. We’ll see how things go.

  9. John Raynes says:

    Mitt’s Mormon problem is not so much that it would stir a great controversy between candidates. His opponents, Republican and Democrat, would raise the issue at great risk.

    The problem is that, should he get the Republican nomination, probably somewhere between 5-15% of voters who would otherwise reliably vote Republican, will just not be able to pull the lever for Mitt. Many, if not most, wouldn’t vote against him: they just won’t be able to bring them selves to vote for a Mormon. They will simply abstain.

    That fact would definitely tip the scales to the Democrat, in every 2008 scenario that I can imagine. And there’s nothing about Mitt’s charm, qualifications, or what he might say, that can overcome this.

    This probably isn’t fair. Romney has every right to run as hard as he desires, and I wish him well. But I also wish that some of his naive cheerleaders (most notably Kathryn Lopez at NRO) would get a grip on the intensity of the anti-Mormon sentiment that is so pervasive throughout evangelical Christianity in this country. Perhaps it can be overcome: I’m not so sure. There’s certainly no chance of overcoming it unless the Republican contingent that’s backing him doesn’t meet this resistance head on, and get it out in the open, as icky as it might seem. It won’t just go away.

  10. Bithead says:

    Two points leap out at me from that article… and I wrote about this at my own place before I noted you’d done so as well;

    I have to be honest with you. I am a little uneasy about the possibility of Romney’s running.I have been since the outset, based on his father’s record. Frankly, I have very little in the way of assurance it’s that he’s not going pull the same stunt his father did. (As Toranto points out, The Senior Romney caved to the anti-war morons over Vietnam.)

    His praise, however, of our current handling on Iraq would seem to suggest that there is substantial differences between the two generations of Romney.

    Else, at the very least, we have someone with an anti-war past, who understands that Iraq is not Vietnam… a stand which shuld send shivers through the left.

    At this stage of the game, I am not a Romney supporter. However, he does merit watching, I think.

  11. I don’t believe for a second that evangelicals would abstain from voting if Hillary Clinton (or any other leftist liberay for that matter) was the Democratic nominee vs Romney. I might not agree with most of what the evangelical right believes or how they express those beliefs, but they aren’t stupid. They aren’t going to lynch themselves for the sake of Romney’s Mormonism.

  12. That should have read leftist liberal (argh).

  13. TF-MA says:

    Romney’s religion isn’t his greatest liability. His greatest liability is that he’s an elitist, Republican asshole who will soon replaced in the corner office of the Mass State House by the Democratic Attorney General Tom Reilly (which is why he’s not running for reelection . . . bad poll numbers).

    For a character sketch, see http://www.jameswolcott.com/ (WARNING: sensitive rightists (I know huh?) may be upset).

  14. John Raynes says:

    I might not agree with most of what the evangelical right believes or how they express those beliefs, but they aren’t stupid. They aren’t going to lynch themselves for the sake of Romney’s Mormonism.

    I wish I could agree with you, but I can’t. Have you spent much time with fundamentalist, or fundamentalist-leaning evangelicals? You seem to indicate not. I have (although I no longer consider myself to be an evangelical by most definitions), and I’ve also lived in Utah for the past 18 years, so I’ve seen the reaction up close.

    I’m not saying it would be an easy decision for most evangelicals, that’s why I estimate the number that would abstain to be in the range of not much more than 10% at the most. But that’s all it takes to tip an election.

    I’ve been a conservative my entire life, but I’ve abstained many times (or voted Democratic) when I was disgusted with the Republican candidate, for a whole variety of reasons. Analysts regularly remark, when reviewing elections, how certain sectors of the electorate just didn’t come out to vote, as expected or hoped. I still maintain that Romney’s religion is enough of a turn-off to enough religious conservatives, to cause this to happen.

    Maybe I’m off, in that it will only be 1-2% or so. But make no mistake, it will happen.

  15. Jane says:

    If Romney is the candidate in 08, I will stay home. Call me what you wish, I don’t care.
    I could never vote for anyone who believes that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Period. That man was a sexual pervert. Nothing else to say.

  16. crosstalk says:

    I’m a fairly conservative Christian and hang out at times on highly conservative (and even fundamentalist) lists. I don’t believe LDS to be a Christian church.

    OTOH, I also don’t believe that Jews are Christians, nor Hindus nor atheists, nor…. Yet, I would vote for and support someone with conservative (classical liberal) political ideals, since the president of the U.S. is not exactly a religious leader. My personal guestimate is that, among the most conservative and fundamentalist Christians, no more than 15% — and more likely less than 10% — would refuse to vote for a Mormon on that basis alone. (They wouldn’t vote for Clinton: they’d sit it out or vote for a third party. To be honest, a number of them already do so, considering W to be too liberal. )

  17. Herb says:

    Speaking from the midwest, Romney has two major problems. First, he is from the Northeast and second, he is from Mass. Thats enough for most midwesterners to mistrust him. If he were from the midwest, he would be a sho-in.

  18. floyd says:

    as long as democrats promise to take your last dime, institutionalize every form of perversion,disarm average americans, while hating all forms of christianity in public; i think working class conservatives will continue to vote for any republican candidate offered, only to be betrayed by both parties in the end. america is rapidly becoming a third world country without the spine to protect our jobs,our borders or our liberties. i’d probably take a mormon over a democrat who is my sworn enemy, but i won’t call it a choice.

  19. We can’t move past religion

  20. CARL LOEBER says:

    Funny all this predjudice about Mormonism. It seems they are about the only Church that believes Jesus is actually the Son of God as He said He is. The so-called “Christian” dogma of these evangelical Bible believers is that Jesus IS God the Father Himself in some other incarnation, rather than the Son of God. That is a belief of the clergy in the trium God of a philosophic compromise with Helenism. How can you leave such a truth to the Mormons alone? That is really quit amazing, quit astounding. Actually, the other Christians you love to look down upon, the lowly Witnesses, are the only other Church to attest that Christ is the Son of God, but then they don’t believe in the Holy Ghost.

  21. James says:

    It is amazing that in the 21st century, religious prejudice still exists to such an extent as to automatically disqualify a person for public office, in the mind of some voters, because of the church he attends. Instead of performing a thorough investigation of the candidate’s experience and qualifications, he is dismissed without a second thought. Hopefully the large majority of the American electorate is more politically mature than that. And hopefully, in investigating his religion, they will not turn to enemies of his faith for their information. Afterall, if our conception of America was based solely on information obtained from Osama Bin Laden, we would detest this country and its citizens as well.

  22. Stephen says:

    The comments have been interesting. I can’t help feel offended by some of them, that being said, I think highly of Evangelical Christians as a group. They generally are very moral people who live what they believe. It is not easy to live up to such a high standard. There may be some that are hypocritical or intolerant, but they are the minority. Whether they agree with my beliefs or not, they respect me, and I them. I trust that they will identify Mitt as the best candidate. They know that character matters, and that Mitt has character. I have faith in there ability to put doctrinal disputes aside for the better good. It is too scary to think of a country that can not do this.

  23. midwesternerextraordinaire says:

    As a response to the post from “crosstalk”.

    FYI, Mitt Romney is a Midwesterner. He was born and raised in the Detroit area. His father was Governor of Michigan. He still has strong family and political ties in Michigan.

    Not that geographic appeal is going to be the major issue.

  24. Thricky says:

    Once greater scrutiny is placed on Mitt Romney and his religion, most of the Evangelicals who have been told that Mormons aren’t Christians will realize they’ve been misinformed. They will come to understand that Mormons are indeed Christians, not only in that they try to follow Christ’s teachings and example, but also in that they worship Him as the Son of God and the one and only means of salvation.

    Regardless of the election result, the mere fact that Romney is running will clear up many misconceptions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

  25. Philip says:

    Project 413 had an article up the other day talking about Romey’s bigger problem might be his stance on abortion. It wasn’t all that good, but might be worth checking out…

  26. Devin says:

    I have to agree with the previous remarks about who would be the best gop candidate. I’m from Arizona and McCain is traitor to the Republican party in so many ways. He’s like the ACLU: one minute he’s for you and the other minute he’s your enemy ONLY to please the other side of the aisle.

    Frist is in trouble, Guiliani is TOO moderate and that leaves Romney would be a stark opposite to Clinton (despite how conservative she pretends to be) whose a flop like Kerry. For example a year or so ago she’s was outspoken about the war and now she’s expressed more support. Fake!!

    With the choice of Romney, McCain and Guiliani the midwest Bible belt will be much more warm to Romney’s standards and positions than the other two libral Republicans (and yes McCain is a libral Republican. Just because he claims that he’s against abortion doesn’t mean that he’s not libral)