According to this Boston Globe story, a County Campaign Chairman for McCain in Iowa recently made a speech at a meeting in the county courthouse about Mitt Romney’s religion. And it wasn’t about tolerance. According to several witnesses, Chad Workman discussed allegations that the LDS Church helps fund Hamas*, and is similar to the Taliban in the way it treats women. According to Workman, the major flaw in Romney’s candidacy is that he is
unqualified, incompetent, moderate, irreligious, lacking in virtue, wrong on the issues a Mormon. Ah yes, that most damning of political liabilities.
In case you’re not keeping score, that makes three direct assaults on Mormonism by three mainstream campaigns in the last month alone. The Globe story adequately summarizes the first two- in which staffers for the Giuliani and Brownback campaigns forwarded emails meant to cast Mormonism in an unflattering light.
It is a happy (though unsurprising) fact that the principal of each of the above campaigns has promptly apologized for these attacks, and promised course corrections. And yet, one wonders if the message is getting through. Does every single campaign feel it has one freebie before it has to get tough on religious bigotry? If McCain truly cared about keeping his campaign free of faith-based mud-slinging, couldn’t he have sent the message to his troops after he saw not one but two other campaigns getting dirty? The only positive to come from this is that from this point on, any campaign that crosses this line should be very much held accountable for the bigotry, because each has now had ample opportunity to communicate its standards to its operatives. And if the candidates are to be taken at their word about such behavior, any other staffers pulling this kind of attack should be fired.
Coming into this primary cycle, a few things were predictable. It has always been likely that some Christian groups would publicize unfavorable information to discredit the Mormon faith. It was also a good bet that a campaign or two might engage in some below the belt whisper campaigns, but mostly through surrogates or behind a veil of anonymity. What is truly surprising is that here in June, three high profile campaigns have already taken off the gloves on Romney’s religion, and done it completely out in the open.
The only thing that can stop the snowball now is a genuine commitment from the candidates to stop the attacks now, or a clear message from voters or the press that they are unacceptable. At this stage, I am not confident that either will come to pass.
*I have never heard this particular accusation before. If you have any information on the accusation that the LDS Church helps to fund Hamas, please forward it to me. And by the way, I can tell you already, it’s complete nonsense.