Civil War-era humorist Artemus Ward joked that in Utah everyone marries Young. Today in Utah everyone votes Romney, but elsewhere in the republic they have their suspicions.
It now seems undeniable that religion played the key role in Mitt Romney’s failure to win the Republican nomination or, for that matter, to finish a close second. Curiously religion was a greater factor in Mitt’s candidacy than it was in his father’s run for the White House in 1967.
Romney the Elder came a cropper when he made a career-ending comment about being “brainwashed” into supporting the Vietnam War. As for his faith, the New York Times recently noted that “Attention to George Romney’s membership in the Mormon Church concentrated on its policy at the time of excluding blacks from full participation. Today, the conservative Christian movement is focusing scrutiny on Mormon theology itself.”
Byron York, writing in National Review, isn’t buying it. York downplays the role of religion in the campaign, insisting that Romney lost largely because he was a politician from “Taxachusetts,” and no right-thinking conservative would trust a politico from Ted Kennedyland. What is more, Romeny would adopt just about any position to get the GOP nomination, principles be damned.
Still it is hard to know for sure. There were no polls asking whether voters would consider supporting a Massachusetts Republican; there were, however, polls asking whether voters would consider a Mormon president.
By the response, it seems the old suspicion and prejudice of Mormonism that drove a pack of Illinoisans to butcher U.S. presidential candidate Joseph Smith remains alive and well. Many Americans consider Mormonism a cult, and in no way a Christian denomination. Privately they will say that Mormons have some very strange practices. Maybe even horns.
Those not suspicious or creeped out joke about Mormon underwear, multiple mothers-in-law, and how the Garden of Eden is supposed to be located somewhere in Missouri. (This is no laughing matter. I work in Missouri, and in fact I’m looking out my window at Eden right now.)
MIKE HUCKABEE STOKED the fires of paranoia in a New York Times Magazine story when he asked, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” One-time presidential candidate the Reverend Al Sharpton spoke for many true believers when he said, “As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyway.”
Bill Keller, host of the Florida-based Live Prayer TV warned his reported 2.4 million e-mail subscribers that a vote for Romney would mean a vote for — you guess it — Beelzebub. “The presidency is the most powerful position in the world,” Keller told American Spectator contributor Carrie Sheffield. “If Romney was elected president, it would give mainstream credibility and acceptance to the Mormon cult and lead millions of people into that cult.”
Finally, there was the alleged push polling by the Utah-based company Western Wats that asked Iowa and New Hampshire residents whether they knew that Romney was a Mormon, that he received military deferments when he served as a Mormon missionary, that his faith did not accept African-Americans as bishops into the 1970s, and that Mormons believe the Book of Mormon is superior to the Bible.
While most of these remarks were condemned, they nonetheless said volumes about how Mormonism is regarded by many Americans.
“I don’t think any of us had any idea how much anti-Mormon stuff was out there,” LDS Spokesman Armand Mauss told the Wall Street Journal. 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.
Last month Beliefnet asked evangelicals whether a candidate’s religious beliefs would make them more or less likely to vote for a particular candidate: 35.6 percent of conservative evangelicals said Romney’s religious beliefs would make them less likely to support him.
It wasn’t just evangelical Republicans. The survey showed that nearly as many Democrats would vote against Romney because of his religion.
INTELLECTUALS JOINED IN on what was beginning to look like an old fashioned witch hunt. Slate magazine contributor Christopher Hitchens demanded that Romney answer for the racist past of his faith. “His church was officially racist until 1965, believing that black people were an inferior species,” Hitchens fumed, while Slate editor Jacob Weisberg said that the religion’s founder Joseph Smith was an obvious con man, and that “Romney has every right to believe in con men, but I want to know if he does, and if so, I don’t want him running the country.”
What else besides Romney’s faith can explain the ex-governor’s poor showing? Romney had the solid backing not only of conservative pundits and politicians, but he had the overwhelming endorsement of Big Talk Radio, including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. These hosts were, and are, rabidly anti-McCain and Huckabee.
Now with Mitt Romney’s departure Republicans have two liberal Baptists to choose from, neither one with a small government bone in his body. Is it possible that evangelical Republicans were so anti-Mormon that they cut a deal with the devil?
That’s a turn of phrase, unless one seriously suspects that Huckabee or McCain is the devil. Apparently some true believers believed Romney was.