Monday, February 27, 2006

Republican Primary Mutterings

Redstate.com, as most probably know, is a partisan Republican blog. Unlike the National Review Online (in its better moments), Redstate enforces a conservative ideology that doesn't wander far from Bush's expressed beliefs: pro-life, anti-affirmative action, pro-trade, for the expansion of American (and the Executive Branch's) power--and Evangelical Christian.

I've long been curious how this branch of the Republican party will react to the Mormon Mitt Romney, Governor of Massachusetts. A number of the Redstate insiders, some of whom work on campaigns or lobby in DC, debated Romney's Mormonism yesterday, and it's pretty illuminating. Start here, and scroll up for the latest.

This post by Erick Erickson, who I believe is a professional activist, confirms my own predictions:
... I don't think Romney will be able to effectively make it through South Carolina or the rest of the South unless he takes significant steps to distance himself from being a Mormon. Why? Because most Southerners I know -- whether they be Democrat, Republican, Independent, Catholic, Prostestant, or Agnostic -- see Mormonism as a cult and not a religion. It is part of Southern culture.

Romney may very well be able to position himself in such a way that he can overcome that, but I doubt it.

Augustine and I had lunch with Jonathan Chait a while back and were talking about this. I told him about my grandmother. One day I went into her house, opened the closet to get out a blanket, and a pile of Books of Mormon fell out.

Shocked that my grandmother might be converting I asked her what all those books were in there for. She looked at me and said, "As long as they're giving them to me, they aren't giving them to anyone else."

While my grandmother died a few years ago, that attitude is still very, very prevalent among what political types would call "the base" in the South.
There's also a funny exchange about whether Romney actually practices his faith, or whether he's a "secular Mormon" or a "jack Mormon." (Let me answer the last one: if he's running around proclaiming his faith and campaigning as a Mormon, then he's not a jack Mormon. It's very possible that he's a cynical Mormon, however.)

Here's a refreshingly reasonable comment from Allison Hayward, whom I don't know, despite my general familiarity with the site:
If we're voting: I like Mormons (some of my closest relatives are LDS). As Mormonism matures, I think there will be a broader swath of philosophy within that faith, and it will be harder to generalize about what "Mormons" think or what they're "like." (It seems to me that a substantial portion of that road has been travelled, actually.) So being LDS will be politically meaningless. If you learn someone is Episcopalian or Lutheran, what does that tell you?
I suspect that this sort of reasonableness might not survive a divisive primary. As the pro-life diehard Leon H Wolf writes, people who have some contact with Mormons will be more likely to tolerate or even admire individual adherents. Still, the South matters more than the Sunbelt in primary campaigns, and the South remains deeply suspicious of LDS history and beliefs.

I can't wait to see how this plays out.

[Update. Redstate readers respond to the editors' above discussion with two diaries, both of which argue, roughly, that by running on "values" more generally, Romney could diffuse sectarian concerns.]

9 Comments:

Blogger mmf!:

romney is mormon?! I had no idea. This isn't something we talk about a lot in Massachusetts.

I have to say, I think being Mormon will be a liability for him throughout the country, not just the South, and I don't think that's a bad thing. Because being Mormon suggests two questions to me:

*do you believe the Book of Mormon is a sacred text from God (given to Joseph Smith with the help of the Angel Moroni and a very short term loan of some freaky golden spectacles, etc etc)? If so, that alone warrants some questions about personal judgment to me, and I am sure I'm not alone.

*do you not believe the Book of Mormon is a sacred text from God? If not, why are you a Mormon - don't you take your own religion seriously? Are you a Mormon in bad faith? Also a pretty negative strike against the candidate.

I think you are implicitly suggesting that being Mormon is an ethnic identity, like being Jewish - which is interesting. However, I'm not sure it's convincing given Mormonism's recent vintage (and its aggressive proselytizing).

I do hope I haven't offended you. If there's something I haven't understood about Mormonism, please tell me. But in my experience it's absolutely mainstream -- not Southern -- to think Mormonism is a cult -- a long-lasting cult with a big following, complete with its own "false prophet" (as the Bible says, beware, there will be many).

This is a great blog.

2/27/2006 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger mmf!:

^"being ACTIVELY Mormon suggests two things...," that is.

2/27/2006 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

Don't worry: I'm pretty unoffendable.

Would a candidate really get asked those questions point blank? They seem awfully rude to me--but then obviously if American political discourse were shaped more by my own standards of courtesy and truthfulness, everything would be different.

What I'm guessing, though, is that Romney would get asked that sort of question a few times, in a very controlled interview, and he'd have a very carefully packaged answer about the Book of Mormon's being "another testament of Jesus's power to save people, etc."--ie as theologically non-specific an answer as possible without being full of it. I'm not sure it'll work, of course: I rather agree with you that there's enough latent anti-Mormon sentiment out there to destroy him in the primary.

Mormon as an ethnic identity. That's rather interesting, and to a certain extent, I would say that it describes my relationship with it, which is why I haven't told the Church to unroll me from their membership records. My mother's family goes back to the origins of the Church--not so long as Judaism, of course, but not so recent as to be easily shucked off as a surface adherence.

All that said, the FIRST question related to Romney's faith, should probing personal quesitons seem necessary, is: Do you hold a Temple recommend?

2/27/2006 05:42:00 PM  
Anonymous bryan:

where does D-speaker Harry Reid's Mormonism fit into this? Do democrats care whether someone's Mormon, as long as they're democrat?

2/27/2006 08:50:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

I suspect that Presidential candidates get held to a different standard of scrutiny than Senators do. If Reid were to announce a bid for the top seat, I imagine we'd see similar sectarian calculations from Democrats.

Similar, but not identical. Let's face it: Southern Baptists and Evangelicals tend to vote Republican. If we were to draw up a Venn diagram of 1) the Democratic base, 2) the Republican base, and 3) people who sincerely belive Mormonism is a cult, I'll bet that 3 would overlap more with 2 than with 1.

And, as I recall, when Reid was elevated to the Senate Minority Leader position, he had to reassure Democratic activists about a number of questions (principally abortion), and they weren't entirely convinced about his fitness for a number of months. (If I recall correctly, it was his forcing the Senate into a closed-door session that fired up support for him in the netroots.)

2/28/2006 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger mmf!:

hm... the point-blank question, "do you or do you not believe the Book of Mormon is a sacred text from God?" seems pretty factual, not rude, to me.

2/28/2006 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

It seems kind of analogous to me to asking a Catholic candidate whether he believed that the wafer literally turned into the body of Christ in his stomach.

I tried and failed to find out whether Kennedy and Kerry had to answer questions like that about their faith. They both had to address the question of Church authority, and Kerry had to talk about abortion (and there was that very ugly episode where a few Catholic bishops tried to whip up a movement to refuse him sacraments), but I don't think either had to go through the specific tenets of their faith.

Maybe my notions about what a candidate can and should be asked have been warped by the closely managed theatricality of the last few I've followed closely.

2/28/2006 09:34:00 PM  
Anonymous bryan:

Al Gore was asked repeatedly whether he was "born again." He answered (I remember this from a New Yorker profile -- what, leading up to 2000?) that he was, but then went into a version of his personal cosmology that could have been straight out of the 18th century: God as a watchmaker, etc. Turns out he's a hard-core born again Jeffersonian Deist.

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