A note on Mitt Romney's Mormonism
Dec 8, 2011

A note on Mitt Romney's Mormonism

In the GOP presidential nomination contest, the long standing front-runner, Mitt Romney, has never managed to really break out of the low to mid twenties in national polls, and now faces considerable competition for the nomination from a surging Newt Gingrich. One problem for him is that he is a Mormon (of the normal LDS variety), and the question that gets asked is to what extent is this having an affect on his candidacy? 

Polls show 22% of Americans would not vote for a generic Mormon president. So it has significance, even though I think it is overstated in the sense that if it is a Romney vs Obama race and not the generic question the Republican base will largely vote for him regardless because they dislike Obama more than they dislike Romney's Mormonism. 

On the campaign trail, that Romney is a Mormon is pretty subdued. Most people are aware of it, so this fact is baked into his poll numbers, but it isn't particularly prominent either and isn't usually mentioned as an attack by other candidates in debates or other major appearances.  Largely this is because of difficulties in overtly attacking his Mormonism (or other minorities) without appearing bigoted by the other candidates. 

It is often assumed that the principle way this is problematic for Romney is because some people dislike Mormons, therefore they don't like Romney and won't vote for him. But another important way it is problematic is that it takes away from Romney an important tool to be able to attract votes. Namely, he can't play the religion card to acquire support the way the others can. He can't say the word "God" or appeal to "Christian values" with the same frequency and prominence that the other candidates do because it has the possibility to backlash and he wants to subdue discussions of his religion. 

The main mechanism by which his Mormonism is a problem for Romney is thus not of the more overtly bigoted variety, but in the way that it removes an appealing avenue he might otherwise have appealed to but can't easily do. In contrast, the most overtly religious candidates in the race are Perry and Santorum, both of which frequently make loud appeals to religion (enjoy this laughable ad released by Perry). Such appeals are typically no-lose situations and so by not being able to make the as strongly, Romney loses one of the most treasured aspects of Republican identity. And this remains true for much of the 78% that say they would vote for a Mormon president. It is worth noting that since Romney is so hyper-political, willing to change his position to whatever he thinks best gets him elected, if it was available to him I am sure he would have no compunction against playing the God card very hard.  

The other factor in this is that the religious organizations are very powerful at organizing in the caucus states. In the primary states, Romney can spend his enormous war chest of money (which he acquires from a wide range of vested interests) and thus get voters to his side in a primary. Donors such as interest groups are usually pretty effective at spending money and Romney has acquired far more money than anybody else. But they are less good at building the kind of organizational structures needed to drive the dedicated to the caucuses. This is where having the networks of evangelicals on your side is most effect at driving caucus voters and sometimes money simply cannot buy this. 

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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8 comments:

Joe said...

I agree that there is too much bigotry against Mormons, who are Christians. I also agree that specific religion should be left out of politics. I don't think Mitt goes with whatever he thinks will get him elected. If he did that, he would not be LDS. He was elected in Mass. to represent people who are more liberal than he is.

bazie said...

He experiences certain bounds on the positions that he can take, and being a Mormon is one of those. Everyone knows he is a Mormon, so he can't just overnight declare himself to be a Catholic. But on other issues of a more political nature than a group identity nature, he has made enormous amounts of stark reversals as the politics of the day change. The guy has basically been campaigning for president none stop since the day Bush won reelection and with that is almost inheriently political in his willingness to adopt the rhetoric and policies that make him most likely to win. For example in Mass, which was liberal as you say, he represented himself as far more liberal than he ever does today campaigning for GOP leader in a heavily conservative rhetorical period.

Joe said...

Everyone knows that the anti-Mormon element in our Country would rather elect anyone than a Mormon, regardless of alleged flip-flops, alleged dishonesty, etc. Most turn a blind eye at the other two options: Obama and Newt. Obama flip-flops on little things like the legality of him declaring war, etc (see U-Turn President, there's a big list) yet his supporters still call Mitt the flipper. Newt flips on small things like being a liberal (not just representing them), marriage etc, and he dishonestly received over a million of our dollars from fannie/freddie (for services rendered as an "historian").

So, what it comes down to is, would people be willing to overlook bigotry and vote for the Country, or vote to support their prejudices?

I've been undecided until recently. Mitt's Church teaches that the Constitution is inspired, and that leaders are not to dictate rules and laws against the will of the People. As Gov of Massachusetts he was elected to represent the people there and he did a good job of that. If he simply went with what his Church teaches on abortion etc he would be suspect. What he has done though, is represent. America is not a monarchy or a dictatorship; it is government by the people. I think he has shown backbone in representing people that disagreed with him on certain topics.

bazie said...

Incidentally, I also put Obama along with Romney into the category of being hyper-political whose positions are more a function of the times and what he needs to say to get elected than they are any legitimate ideological underlying conviction. Likewise to a lesser degree for Newt but one of his problems is that he has remained somewhat closer to his 80s and 90s era self but the GOP has tacked really far to the right so his old positions on things like healthcare or immigration which were once republic acceptable components of republican rhetoric are now not considered far right enough.

I am hestitant to buy into the framing of your question as posed. I think people vote for a large range or reasons - many of them not well thought out - someone of them will see it as a contest between Mormonism vs other things, other people will not worry about this much at all. Part of the aim of my post on this was to show that his Mormonism comes into play in ways that are NOT simply the stark back and white Mormon vs not type question.

Personally, if I was forced to accept the left-right spectrum (which I largely don't) then I am somewhere quite off to the left of Obama, so I really don't have a horse of my own in the GOP race as you seem to have. But one thing I can say is that I would choose largely based on policy differences, and not on trying to come up with personality traits I liked or didn't.

Joe said...

I see, well, then you have a problem, either don't vote at all, or vote for someone you don't like? I would prefer someone different, but think it's insane for people to let bigotry determine the fate of our Country. There was an interesting article The National Memo a few days ago "Is Anti-Mormon Prejudice behind the Gingrich Surge?"
I think it is...sadly. Hope all goes well and I appreciate your thoughtfulness, and thought provoking words..

tiffany and co said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Andrew said...

You say that Mitt is a Christian, which by every accepted understanding of historical Christianity - he is not. I wouldn't vote against Mitt because he is a Mormon, or against a canidate who is Jewish, Muslim or Hindu because of their religion, but if someone is not willing to be honest about their beliefs, they demonstrably lack the courage and integrity to hold high office.

Who am I to say he is not a Christian? The Roman Catholic, Protestant (mainline), Evangelical and Orthodox churches say so (it contravenes the Biblial witness) - and the Mormon organizations and founder have maintained thusly as well. The reason Joseph Smith did not allign himselfs with Christian churches- and started the Mormon church, (and created additional scripture), was because he claimed he had revelation declaring that the churches were apostate and were illegitimate. If there was no difference between what Joseph Smith believed and that of Christian churches, there would have been no reason to start another religion.

This is not bigotry - this is plain logic and fact. It does not mean a Mormon can't be as good a President as someone who is a a Christian or of a different religion, that is not the issue. We have many issues and problems to face, and if a leading candidate for the nomination of major party is not trustworthy or transpartent on matters of faith, I feel they will not be trustworthy on matters of state either.

Mitt Romney lacks the transparency and courage to be President.

bazie said...

The question of what is the definition of a Christian is just that, a definition. It isn't absolute, it is just a word and different groups mean different things by it. Many Mormons DO consider themselves to be Christians; they believe in Christ as their saviour and maintain the doctrinal validity of the Holy Bible.

Personally, I care not for differences between sects and denominations within broader religious movements (of which Mormonism and mainstream Christianity clearly share large amounts of commonality). Standard etiquette when addressing such purely semantic issues is to simply refer to others as they refer to themselves as. As in, if Romney calls himself a Christian, I won't cherry pick some definition, I will accept is.

However, I certainly reject that any silly semantic issue of whether you want to call Mormonism a branch of Christianity or too distinct to share a name could hardly be an issue relevant to a presidential candidate.

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