David Frum writes that anti-Mormon sentiment in the American electorate “presents a special problem for Republicans. Two of our most plausible candidates for president in 2012 are leading Mormons: Mitt Romney and Utah governor Jon Huntsman.” The groups who take the dimmest view of Mormonism are secular liberals, who aren’t likely to vote in large numbers for a Republican candidate anyway, and evangelical Protestants, an important GOP voting bloc. It’s taken for granted that Romney lost the Iowa caucuses because he is a Mormon and Mike Huckabee is an evangelical.
Except in Romney’s case, it is very difficult to isoloate the Mormon problem from his Massachusetts problem. To be elected in a liberal Democratic state, he had to take positions on abortion and some other social issues that did not endear him to evangelicals. Though he flipped on abortion and was vocal in his opposition to both same-sex marriage and cloning even in Massachusetts, his past positions — difficult to escape in the age of YouTube — caused social conservatives of many religious stripes to distrust him. To what extent was Romney’s Iowa meltdown due to this distrust and to what extent was it due to Mormonism?
It’s hard to say. That’s why Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who has always been pro-life, might be a better test of evangelical willingness to support a Mormon presidential candidate than a formerly pro-choice, pro-gay rights governor of Massachusetts. On the other hand, Huntsman might have even bigger problems among secularists. Romney’s Massachusetts residence and Bain background gave him some distance from anti-Mormon stereotypes that will be difficult for a Utah governor to achieve.