Mormons Feeling Stung By Their ‘Moment’

Suzanne Sataline, the Wall Street Journal’s crack religion reporter, filed a front page piece today in the Journal titled “Mormons Dismayed by Harsh Spotlight.” Although I spoke with Ms. Sataline several times over the writing of her piece (and am lightly quoted near the end), I was still surprised at the depth, breadth, and understanding of Mormonism it managed so gracefully. Mormons licking their wounds this morning as they contemplate the beating their religion took over the last year may find some small consolation in this sympathetic piece. (more…)

Round Up: Was it Religion Killed the Candidate?

Now that Mitt Romney’s candidacy is officially dead, there’s one big burning question left: Whodunnit? If the failure of the Romney run had anything to do with Mormonism, it will be important for the country to know it. I imagine that many will offer their own answer to the question, and I will certainly do so myself when I’ve had a moment to step back and think about it. In the meantime, here is how some others have answered the question: “Did Mormonism kill Romney’s candidacy?” (The Article VI post and the Times and Seasons comments are especially interesting for those wondering how America’s Mormons are feeling about all this as well).

Article VI Blog: Sort of.

I am convinced that my own experience, as the Romney candidacy has unfolded, has been shared by most of my fellow Latter-day Saints. We have been genuinely surprised by the reactions to the Governor’s run. We did not expect Al Mohler to agonize publicly over whether he could, as “a matter of Christian discipleship,” justify voting for a Mormon. We did not see Huckabee’s question, “Don’t Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers?” coming, and we were stunned when it did. (The outrage came later.) The Iowa outcome caught most of us flat-footed too.

This group saw these developments “in sorrow more than anger.”

God-O-Meter: Partially.

An advisor to the Romney campaign says that Mormonism was a big issue, but that Huckabee was a bigger one. “I heard from people that he did not have conservative record and the Mormonism, I never stopped hearing about that,” the advisor said. “But if Huckabee would have dropped out earlier, we’d have a horserace going on. He divided the vote.”

At the same time, Romney’s Mormonism and Huckabee’s rise probably have a lot to do with each other. Would Huckabee have risen as strongly as he did, almost entirely on the strength of evangelical support, if evangelicals were less disinclined to support a Mormon?

Russell Arben Fox of Times and Seasons: No. (Commenters: Yes!).

I would be sad–I would be angry, I would be frustrated and depressed and pissed–if the only message here was “no one will listen to a Mormon, because they hate us.” But at most, I think the message here is “if a Mormon without any deep roots in or even much of a relationship with the Christian rights decides, for some mix of personal conviction and political calculation, to make a play for Christian right voters against a former Southern Baptist preacher, one that will not be above making jokes and comments here and there to demonstrate his bona fides to his core supporters, prepare to not win.” The anti-Mormonism out there–which surely is real, but is just as surely, I think at least, to be mostly implicit and/or subconscious and/or in the eye of the beholder–is just going to the icing on your farewell cake.

T&S commenter Dave:

Hate is kind of a strong word; contempt is the better word. It’s not because he ran against Romney or caused Romney’s candidacy to fail that Huckabee deserves contempt, that’s just part of politics. It’s because he used a sly form of religious bigotry to drum up support for himself (a bad thing on general principles) and because it was directed at my religion (a bad thing for me and my family). Huckabee merits contempt and I’m happy to oblige him. He’s a religious edition of Richard Nixon.

Exit polls: Possibly

Now, if Romney hadn’t given evangelicals second thoughts simply over his religion, would Mike Huckabee have happened? It may be Romney needs another four years to convince evangelicals his religion won’t interfere with their priorities.

Huckabee: Let’s chat about this sometime over lunch at the Naval Observatory.

Ambinder: Romney “accomplished the improbable”

Marc Ambinder has one of the first write ups that seems to actually consider the (possible) revolutionary ramifications of the Speech:

Let’s pause and take a moment to appreciate what Mitt Romney has done today for his campaign. Looking presidential, speaking at a lectern with the presidential seal on it, speaking before the largest press corps ever assembled to hear him speak, speaking just 28 days before the Iowa caucuses, speaking — reading — a text that he wrote, giving a complex and nuanced argument about faith in America — he may accomplished the improbable: giving a speech that actually moves hearts and moves, a speech that actually persuades, a speech that may have succeeded in moving the public’s perception of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from outside the circle of “normal” to a few lengths inside it.

With this speech, Romney may have mainstreamed Mormonism and injected a fresh dollop of energy into his presidential campaign.

Those last points about moving Mormonism into the mainstream may be pushing it, but just the fact that someone is now saying this turns Romney’s speech into something far grander than anyone ever anticipated.  On a similar note:

 For most non-Mormons, the social pressure to tolerate the quirks and vicissitudes of that faith has been absent. Pre-Romney. Post-Romney, that pressure is there. Opponents of the LDS church ought to be forced to respond to Romney’s argument and explain why the LDS church ought to remain outside the circle of tolerance.

Frankly, the “pressure” Ambinder speaks about here has always been one of the founding objectives of this blog.  To see Ambinder pronounce the birth of this pressure is a somewhat triumphant moment for members of the LDS faith.  No one has said that the LDS faith must be given protections different from those of other faiths, only that suddenly, people may begin to realize that Mormons deserve courtesy in the way it is given to Baptists and Catholics, and in a way not yet realized by Scientologists and Kabbalists.  Again, to consider that Romney’s speech might have helped inch Mormonism from the latter group to the former within the “circle of tolerance” is indeed momentous.

Here’s Ambinder’s back-to-business-as-usual sum up:

Back to politics. Universal praise (from Dobson, Colson, Dick Land, bloggers). Excellent television coverage. Excellent visuals. Unadulterated, unfiltered Mitt Romney, direct to camera. Romney aides are ecstatic.

If he’s right about the long term effects of this fascinating moment, Romney’s aides won’t be the only ones.

Making Mitt be a Missionary

The following post was contributed by D. Bell, by special request from RomneyExperience.  Much appreciated, too.

Mark Davis has Mitt Romney’s Mormonism on his mind. Mr. Davis has expressed his belief that Governor Romney must proactively explain and defend the tenets of his faith in order to help voters become comfortable with the idea of voting for a Mormon. In two recent articles, one an account of an interview with Romney, Mr. Davis, in a civil and reasonable manner, makes the case that when Americans discover the eccentricities of Mormonism many of them will be discomfited; when this occurs, Mr. Davis argues, “it’s not lds.org or Wikipedia that needs to smooth it over. It’s Mitt Romney.”

First, we applaud Mr. Davis for stating that, in spite of their theological differences, “Romney’s membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a non-issue to me.” Furthermore, we agree with Mr. Davis that “most Americans have not examined what Mormons believe, and when they do, some of them are going to recoil.” It is this reality that led Mr. Davis to write his original column, urging Romney to “make people comfortable with his Mormon faith.” To his credit, Mr. Davis seems to be writing from the belief that it is in Governor Romney’s interest to explain his faith, rather than it being his obligation to do so (and in this he parts ways with many pundits and reporters who believe Romney is obliged to explain his religion while other candidates are not). (more…)

The Hillary Files on Romney’s Religion

The LA Times’ story this week on Hillary Clinton’s White House Papers revealed the following interesting nugget of information regarding Mitt Romney:

One 1994 memo offers a historical curiosity: it draws Clinton’s attention to a rising politician, Mitt Romney, who is now a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

In the memo, Clinton’s aides discussed a trip to Boston, where the then-first lady was to appear at a fundraising event for Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Kennedy was then running for reelection against Romney.

“Romney, a millionaire business consultant with no political experience, is a Mormon,” the memo reads. “His religion is a delicate issue, which Kennedy has not raised, but other Democrats have.”

(HT: The Virginian Federalist) . Personally, I don’t think there’s a lot that can be made of this regarding Hillary Clinton’s strategy. (more…)

Romney Religion Roundup

In the wake of Mitt Romney’s on-and-off the air debate with an Iowa radio host last week, there has been a huge uptick in coverage of Romney’s religion issues. I’ve read probably twenty such stories in the past two days, but that’s the punishment I’m willing to take to filter it all and bring you just the good stuff. Unfortunately, that’s left me with little time to come up with anything original to say about the new wave of coverage, but that’s okay, because few of these stories say anything original either.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t point you to the good ones. First of all, there’s a long (for a blog) piece at GetReligion that argues against the continuing coverage of Romney’s religion because it does the disservice of obscuring the man behind the believer. (more…)

Actual Thinking About How Faith Might Inform a Romney Presidency

I wanted to post a link to this insightful letter written in response to an article in the American Spectator about a new addition to Romney’s Faith and Values Steering Committee.

I highlight this letter not because I agree with its analysis- indeed, I think some of its political conclusions are rather strident.  Rather, this is one example of how commentators might actually think about the real ways in which Mormonism could influence a President Mitt Romney.  Of course, it’s admittedly unreliable to infer knowledge about how Romney would govern from the respect Mormons generally feel for the Constitution and the founding.  But at least this writer attempts to get past the polls and the cliches about the Mormon impediment in the horserace, to analyze the heart of important issues.

I will do my best to post links to good analysis of how Mormonism influences Mormon politicians as I see them.

The “Mormon Speech”

After an interesting discussion at EFM regarding the pros and cons of the speech on Mormonism now being contemplated by Romney, I sent an email inserting my two cents, which is now posted at EFM. In my email, I didn’t take a position on the speech one way or the other, but just wanted to lend support to one of the arguments raised by EFM’er Steve Muscatello- that coverage of Romney’s Mormonism in the media has seen a significant downturn in recent weeks. As I stated in my email, I think that’s true based on my close watching of the topic in the past months, but I don’t think it really answers the question at hand, which is whether Mitt Romney ought to proceed with his plans to give his speech.

Responding to my email, blogger Charles Mitchell argues that my conclusion on declining coverage on the Mormon issue do not go to the relevant issue. I agree with him. I don’t think my conclusion means that much in this debate. That’s because I think there are a number of spikes in coverage of Mormonism on the way in the coming months. If Mitt Romney continues to lead in the polls in early primary states, especially if he becomes a real threat in places like South Carolina and Florida, where opponents might think he’s vulnerable on the religion issue, I think it’s almost certain that we’ll see increased coverage of the question, driven by a few high-profile attacks by religious bigots and a few whisper campaigns from the candidates themselves. Thus, the mere fact that July was relatively peaceful on the faith-and-politics front means little when viewed in light of the future reporting we’re likely to see.

The likelihood of heightened scrutiny of Mormonism in coming months, combined with the inevitable huge wave of free advertising that would accompany a “Mormon Speech” (which I first pointed out here, but is more persuasively argued here) must make this speech a very hard thing for Romney to pass up. It’s funny that even though I started in this conversation by pointing out how the coverage of Romney’s Mormonism has declined sharply, I now see a huge spike in stories on the topic, driven solely by Romney’s statement that he might be considering the speech. That fact alone is proof of how much attention this speech would draw.

However, the downsides remain significant. Largest among them is the problem of making faith an issue, something that past experience indicates will convince all kinds of people that suddenly all aspects of Mormonism-doctrine, history, culture, are on the table for discussion, debate, and ridicule in evaluating Romney’s candidacy.

Romney is clearly aware of that risk as he considers giving this speech. But I think he’s likely to go forward regardless, probably locating a middle ground that protects him from those who hope he’ll open the door to discussion of all things Mormon for the rest of the campaign. The best course would be to bill the speech as his landmark address explaining his Mormonism to the country. This gives him the guarantee of huge coverage, and will make millions of ears perk up nationwide. Then he should give a speech that actually details very little about Mormonism itself, but rather explains his own values, tells a few folksy stories about how those values were influenced by his faith, and then discusses his political distance from the Church and focuses once again on his core values. Because the nation hopes he’ll delve into the history of polygamy or Mormon theology, this speech might be a bit of a disappointment to many. But sticking to a message regarding core values (as informed by faith) would be a powerful reminder that while Romney takes his faith seriously, he remains unwilling to answer for specific tenets of his faith in the public arena.

If Romney can walk this line, I think the speech could be quite helpful for him, by attracting enormous media attention and by convincing many on the religious right that he shares their values. In other words, it’s not the speech itself that raises real risks of inserting the religion issue into every other aspect of the campaign- it’s what the speech actually says. If Romney (one of the best communicators in the race) can walk the tightrope with his speech, it could easily give him a big boost.

Finding Truth in the “Would Not Vote for a Mormon” Polls

Democratic political consultant Mark Mellman has a very good piece up today at The Hill on the baffling and illegitimate opposition among voters to Mitt Romney due to his religion. I liked his closing paragraphs:

In July of 1958, 24 percent of respondents told Gallup they would not vote for a Catholic for president, almost identical to Gallup’s reading on Mormons today. Two years later, John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic to assume the oath of office. Within eight months, the number refusing to vote for a Catholic was cut almost in half.

Sometimes, by confronting prejudice, we can overcome it. (more…)

Explain Your Faith! (But) Don’t Run on Your Faith!

In an interesting column at U.S. News’ religion blog, Jay Tolson makes the following assertion:

Would Romney do more for himself and his church by being more forthright about what he thinks makes Mormonism different and even, presumably, special? It is hard to say. But such candor might be a better strategy than vague generalities, which arguably have had the effect of heightening suspicions about both Romney and his church.

Tolson believes, perhaps correctly, that Romney’s reticence regarding the specifics of his Mormon beliefs could be hurting him with voters. Perhaps the only thing wrong with Romney’s Mormonism is that no one understands it, so if he would explain it, the whole problem would go away. (more…)