Romney, the veepstakes, Evangelicals and Mormons: The salvation of McCain’s campaign or the death of it?
Give me that old-time religion . . .
Depending on which pundit’s views you accept, choosing Romney as a running mate will either save McCain’s candidacy or sink it. Here, of course, we focus on The Question and how that plays into the veepstakes. Does it matter that Romney’s a Mormon? Should McCain care? Do Evangelical voters really care? What’s the reality out there?
Charles Lewis, writing in the National Post’s blog, doesn’t take a position on those questions and doesn’t add anything new; but he frames a now very old issue well:
Mitt Romney’s failure to capture the Republican nomination for president was blamed partly on concerns about his Mormon faith. Now that John McCain is reportedly considering the former Massachusetts governor as his running mate there are renewed warnings that American evangelicals will never support a Mormon.
Lewis notes what we (along with Hugh Hewitt) have been saying for months now:
Mormons and evangelicals should make natural allies: they tend to be anti-abortion, pro-family, anti same-sex marriage and generally conservative on a raft of issues. Mormons are generally credited with being industrious and patriotic, and they literally built a shining city on the hill in Utah, in what had been barren desert.
So what’s the problem? Lewis thinks it’s Mormonism’s fundamental newness:
Religions that are new make people nervous. A lot of people felt the same way about Christianity 1,900 years ago and even today there are debates about some of the fundamental elements of the faith.
A thousand years from now, if it survives, Mormonism may be seen like any other religion. In the meantime, it will be subject to the same suspicions that older religions suffered when they were young.
Do we really have to wait a thousand years? After all, Luther founded his church just under 500 years ago. Then again, we’ve never had a Lutheran president, as far as I know. Nixon was a Quaker, and that faith is only 100 years older than Mormonism.
Just kidding. Inexplicably, after all that Lewis decries the situation he seemingly tried to justify:
As for Mitt Romney’s chances of becoming Mr. McCain’s running mate, the Arizona senator may have a better candidate in mind. But it should not be because he is pandering to irrational religious fears.
John comments: The “newness” argument pushes my buttons a little because we first heard it from Jacob Weisberg in his now-infamous “founding whoppers of Mormonism” piece. Its invocation strikes me as code. There is no rationalization for the kind of religious exclusion that we have witnessed from some.
Time and again we have seen people who have gut-level distaste for Romney twist themselves into rhetorical circles trying to say “it’s not his faith.” Yet the very protest belies the reality.
As to veep choices, Romney is the only one that would bring the necessary energy among the party’s conservative base to the table to enable McCain to win in November. Any other choice will leave the base at home. Yes, he will cost a few votes from the hardcore religious types, but not nearly so many as he will bring.
Or maybe religion is only an issue for the head of the ticket . . .
Unlike Lewis, Mark Joseph doesn’t see a religion problem when the candidate in question is only the vice presidential selection:
Mitt might be a pain to have to deal with, but he does bring Michigan and maybe Massachusetts, as well as a boatload of Mormon money, and though Evangelicals don’t want him for president, they might be OK with Veep, figuring they can refuse to let him pass Go in eight years.
What is striking about both Lewis’ and Joseph’s analysis is their simple acceptance of religious bigotry as a fact of life. I cannot deny the realism of that approach, but it grates just the same.
What is missing from both the Joseph and Lewis analyses is any new information. Lewis refers only to very old polling data, and Joseph simply speculates. I don’t know how Evangelical voters will respond to McCain choosing Romney, but if people actually stay home in large numbers on election day simply because of the veep candidate’s Mormon religion, then I will weep for my country.
John comments further: As I began to develop above, some will stay home because of Romney’s faith, but not nearly so many as will stay home if McCain chooses some candidate of lesser conservative credentials
As to now new information – PLEASE – we haven’t seen any of that since October or November of last year. We must always remember: reporters are lazy by nature. Why find a controversy when they can try to gin one up? It would be very interesting when this is all over and said and done to do the polling and see how many people cared about Romney’s religion in the primary because they were force fed it on an almost daily basis.