The answer is, of course, yet to be seen, but one would hope not. It is, however, a distinct possibility and one the press is longing for. Some say it is the old “moderate east v conservative west” battle that has gripped the party for decades. (I guess we know where Palwenty is on that spectrum.) But note this towards the end of that piece:
The reduction of the race to this revival of the old conflict proves difficult for Romney because the GOP in this Tea Party era is more conservative, more Southern and more Jacksonian than ever before. [emphasis added]
The south is often described in the press as more religious than the rest of the nation. Numbers are emerging that show an anti-Mormon bias still exists, though it may not be as problematic as people are inclined to believe. But it is a very simplistic analysis as far as the primary is concerned. For one, suspicion, which falls short of bias, can be leveraged into votes for an opposing candidate for “different” reasons. Strategy matters immensely too. As we saw last cycle anti-Mormon bias was used in Iowa to shift the caucuses’ outcome, and that affected the rest of the primaries.
Perry appears to be trying to steer very clear of the issue – too clear in my book. But then Mike Huckabee was all full of denials and completely changed his tune after his NYTimes interview last cycle. Perry sent his signals before he began his campaign – remember that prayer meeting just a couple of days before? There certainly are a lot of people that want to label him religiously – there is this lady, and there is all sorts of discussion about Perry’s “personal testimony.“ Some evangelical sources seem to want to pick the fight. Regardless, I do not look for Perry to “go there.” If it happens it will be accomplished through surrogates and supporters.
The usual suspects want to foment the fight. The Los Angeles Times has been beating this drum for quite a while, this is only the latest installment. The Los Angeles Times is, however, almost beneath consideration anymore. If their circulation drops much more, they may have to start hiring high school journalists. Politico just had to throw in this aside. When a religion’s adherents include politicians as widely divergent as Romney and Reid, when will they figure out that those of the faith are just not going to line up on one side or the other? Radio Stations need something to talk about. Some are trying to use the most extreme of traditional Christianity to characterize us all. Some continue to use Jon Huntsman to bring it up and he is such a non-factor at this point that it is ridiculous. (Huntsman may get more press for less polling results than any Republican candidate in history. He fascinates a left-leaning press because they perceive him as one of their own.) I have no idea who this is, but it’s ugly.
Some Mormon sources are not helping either. And that is just silly. Bachmann is truly over. She even has problems in the tradtional religious base other than Perry. It is important on the Mormon side of things to be wary, but not over-reactive. A lot of the anti-Mormon bias out there will not matter. As we said earlier, it has to be properly leveraged, and Bachmann is no longer in a position to do that – let it go.
It does seem clear that religious “tension” will rise as the campaign proceeds. The question is how will it play out? Some see Perry’s ‘cowboy attitude” as a boon for Romney. Some think they will end up running mates. How religion plays will be important to which one of those people is right.
What is eminently clear, the primary notwithstanding, is that religion generally has a huge battle on its hands. As Bill Keller’s and Dana Milbanks’s attacks continue to reverberate the likes of Chuck Colson are beginning to push back.
Everybody seems to take it personally. It’s an “Anti-Catholic Moment.” Evangelicals need to, once again, clarify who they are. Let me ask you something as the anniversary of 9-11 surrounds us – were those airplanes aimed specifically at a person in the Pentagon or the Towers? Of course not, I seriously doubt Mohammed Atta and friends knew the name of anyone in the buildings other than perhaps Donald Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs in the Pentagon – they did not care. They were attacking America – ALL OF US. And so it is with the attacks on religion we are seeing.
In any presidential primary there’s a tension between the voters’ desire for a candidate who can win the general election and their desire for a candidate who shares their views — between, in other words, ideology and electability. The more beatable Obama looks, the more the balance for Republican voters will tilt toward ideology and away from electability.
Already the Republican primaries have seen candidates take positions that will be hard sells in the fall of next year. Both Bachmann and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, want to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. Polls suggest that while the public doesn’t consider environmental protection its top priority right now, it favors regulation and trusts Democrats over Republicans on the issue. Texas Governor Rick Perry has suggested that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional and that they should be replaced by state-run programs. There’s a reason no Republican candidate since 1964 has run on a platform anything like this one on entitlements: Both programs are extremely popular.
The same trends exist in defensiveness as well as perceived weakness in the opponent. As we take the attacks personally we will assume that only someone “just like us” will offer sufficient defense, and so we vote more on ideology than electability. But the fact of the matter is protecting religion is protecting religion and the attacks are not at ME, they are at religion.
There’s a cliche, “A rising tide raises all ships.” That applies deeply here. Religion is under attack, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Mormon, Orthodox, Jewish…. We cannot afford to let our internecine bickering affect our politics or the attackers will prevail.