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"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

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About That Uptick…

Posted by: John Schroeder at 03:00 am, January 13th 2012     —    2 Comments »

BREAKING! Three hours after original publication – This arrived in my email at 4AM this morning from Newt Gingrich:

There’s no more time for talking about stopping Mitt Romney. We’re going to do it next week in South Carolina or he’s almost certain to be the Republican nominee, whether conservatives like us want it or not. It’s up to you, right now.

Combine that with:

A near-panic has taken hold among some core conservative activists, who are now scrambling to devise a strategy to deny Mitt Romney the Republican presidential nomination.

Newt Gingrich, and “core conservative activists” are no longer running for POTUS, they are running simply to STOP ROMNEY!  Why?  You can talk RINO and flip-flop all you want, but come on.  The Mitt train has a pretty big head of steam – politically the smart move might be to get on board and try to affect its course.  Trying to stop it will just damage you and the train.

Unless, of course, your motivation is about something other than your issue agenda.  In which case you are playing directly into the left’s hands – see below.

Back to the original post…

What “uptick?” you ask.  Why the uptick in Mormon coverage, of course.  Let’s start with Chris Cillizza:

But, as the campaign shifts to South Carolina, Romney faces by far his toughest electoral test. That much has become cemented — or maybe congealed — as conventional wisdom.

There’s been much less exploration of why South Carolina is so tough for Romney, however. That’s where we come in. There are two data points that make the case pretty convincingly.

First, South Carolina’s electorate is simply less friendly for Romney than either Iowa or New Hampshire.

Exit polling from the votes earlier this year showed that 57 percent of Iowa Republican caucus-goers considered themselves “born again/evangelicals”; just 22 percent of New Hampshire GOP primary participants said they were “born again/evangelical”.

In exit polling from the 2008 South Carolina primary, 60 percent of primary voters said they were evangelicals and Romney won just 11 percent of their votes — below the 15 percent he got statewide. (Among non-born agains, Romney took 20 percent — overperforming his statewide number.)

Evangelical voters have long been Romney’s most difficult voting bloc within the Republican electorate due, almost certainly, to born agains skeptical (at best) view of Mormonism.

The electorate in South Carolina is not only more stocked with evangelical voters than Iowa or New Hampshire but it’s also at least as conservative.

In 2008, 69 percent of Republican primary voters said they were either very or somewhat conservative. In New Hampshire in 2012, just 53 percent of primary voters described themselves that way; in Iowa the number was 83 percent but remember that the definition of conservative in Iowa is likely different (and less conservative) than it is in South Carolina.

That’s “press speak” for “Evangelicals are pretty bigoted about this stuff, but they are too slippery to just say so.”  South Carolina is the land of the political dirty trick, especially when it comes to religion.  Remember last time:

In South Carolina, many Republicans received bogus Christmas cards, purporting to be from the Romney family, that cited controversial passages from the Book of Mormon. Others received an eight-page anonymous document that described Mormonism as a religion built on hoaxes and compared founder Joseph Smith to the Prophet Mohammed. An e-mail circulated among Republicans, urging them to “trust your instincts” about Mormonism: “Those dark suspicions you hide deep inside yourself about Mormonism are trying to tell you something.”

I find it fascinating that the reports of these dirty tricks from last cycle have finally surfaced in this cycle for the first time.  The press in fact seems to encourage it.  We are hearing nothing of such this cycle, but we being treated to all sorts of Mormon stuff.  There are symposia.  There are guest writers at major outlets.  There is reporting on really, really ugly opportunists.  There are those that claim it is not about religion, but then why would something like this get coverage?  There are discussions of Mormon theology.  There are surveys and analysis of surveys.

So, what’s going on here?  We have often opined that the Mormon issue is a win-win for a left leaning MSM.  On the one hand the issue weakens an otherwise strong opposition candidate.  On the other, in so doing, it strengthens the left’s hand in the fight against religion generally.  You see, if conservatives really are so sectarian as to exclude someone that is of the same political stripe, but differs only in theology, then they have added fuel to religious/social conservatives as small-minded.  Heck, in this day of opposition to same-sex marriage being portrayed as “bigotry,” to have real bigotry rear its ugly head puts the word on the table legitimately for them to bat about.  This is why it is worrisome when traditional Christian candidate play into it.

So, we get all these stories touching on the topic so there is a field on which the dirty tricks can play.  Not to mention that fact that coverage of the dirty tricks directly serves only to point out their illegitimacy when they want them in play.   They are being aided greatly by the embrace Roman Catholic Rick Santorum is enjoying from Evangelicals.  Given the constant comparisons of Romney to JFK that we have been fed for the last 6 years, if Evangelicals can embrace a Catholic but not a Mormon, they must be bigots.  This view is further bolstered by the fact that American Christians generally seem to be moving away from the more intellectual traditions and towards the more emotional.

If the goal is to keep a liberal Democrat in the White House while simultaneously delegitmizing the potent religious voice in our political process, then the uptick in coverage of all things Mormon seems only natural, particularly since the next primary pending is South Carolina.

Things are going to get really interesting between now and a week from Saturday.  Watch this space.

Lowell adds . . .

It’s Friday so I hope I’ll be forgiven for some light-heartedness. I saw this, and figured it had some real potential as a Gingrich campaign graphic:

If I had any Photoshop skills I’d insert Newt’s face.

But seriously, here are the latest Rasmussen numbers for South Carolina:

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters in South Carolina findsRomney ahead with 28% support, but now former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is in second place with 21% of the vote.  Support for former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum who was in second a week ago has fallen back to 16%, putting him dead even with Texas Congressman Ron Paul who also earns 16%.

Viewed together with John’s analysis above, these are fascinating numbers. In the brief interview excerpt shown at Rasmussen’s site, the pollster says his data show that the most powerful factor for conservative voters in South Carolina is the candidate’s ability to beat President Obama in the general election. Elsewhere, Scott Rasmussen himself does a little deeper dive into the data:

The conventional wisdom suggests that tea party supporters have a “my way or the highway” attitude and Establishment Republicans just want a winner, but the data shows that the opposite is true.

Looking ahead to the Florida primary, 94 percent of tea party Republicans say they will vote for whomever wins the GOP nomination. Only 77 percent of non-tea party Republicans are willing to make the same pledge. This commitment to party loyalty comes even though tea party activists are less convinced than others that Romney is the strongest general election candidate. Similar results have been found in survey after survey in the 2012 primary season.

If he’s right, and the desire to beat Obama overpowers voters’ jitters over Romeny’s Mormonism, that’s a positive sign.

And finally: Gallup says “Mitt Romney has widest lead to date in GOP race.”

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