Chris, it’s not accurate to say that “half of American voters probably would not vote for a Mormon.” Your evidence for this statement, as you wrote in your piece, is that “a recent WSJ poll found that half of American voters voiced ‘some reservations’ (29 percent) or were ‘very uncomfortable’ (21 percent) with even the thought of having a Mormon in the White House.” That’s not the same thing as people not voting for somebody. When the Gallup poll actually asked that question in December, it found that just 18 percent of Republicans would not vote for a Mormon. Earlier last year, Gallup also found that 40 percent of Americans would not vote for somebody 72 years old, which would be John McCain’s age on election day.
And whether you think it’s a good or bad thing, I don’t see how you can deny that it’s important for a candidate to emotionally connect with voters. I don’t think bringing Lincoln into this has any relevance because he did not run in the modern television era. But the other examples you use demonstrate this. JFK beat LBJ for the nomination and Nixon in the general election, not because he was more experienced, but because he was charismatic and people emotionally connected with him. Bill Clinton beat Bush I because Bush I was seen as out of touch and Clinton felt people’s pain. Ronald Reagan didn’t just make cerebral arguments for conservatism, but he was able to put conservative principles in human terms. Look at how far Barack Obama has come this election. If you were to do a poll asking voters abstractly whether they have “some reservations” or were “very uncomfortable” with electing a president who only has three years of national political experience, I’m sure you come up with a high number. But because Obama has the ability to inspire through his rhetoric, he’s built a movement that may very well carry him into the White House.
You asked, “What else besides Romney’s faith can explain the ex-governor’s poor showing?” Let us count the ways. Is it inconceivable that primary voters would find his conversions to conservatism inauthentic? Is it inconceivable that they have a hard time believing that a man who described himself as pro-choice since 1970 would suddenly become pro-life in 2005? That somebody who once found McCain reasonable on immigration, would suddenly attack McCain’s position as tantamount to amnesty? That somebody who once promised to be more pro-gay rights than Ted Kennedy would end up portraying himself as a social conservative crusader? That somebody who signed an assault weapons ban in Massachusetts would say he’s a big defender of the Second Amendment, who would veto any such legislation as president? Are conservatives bigots if they don’t support government mandated health care? Or $20 billion bailouts for the auto industry? Are they anti-Mormon if they decide that in a time of war, somebody with national security credentials is preferable to a one term governor?
Like I’ve said, there’s no doubt in my mind that there were voters who view Mormonism as a cult and would not vote for Romney under any circumstances. I’ve spoken to some of these voters. But had Romney been a credible conservative and demonstrated to voters that he has a pulse, he could have won the nomination.