Friday, February 09, 2007

Will Mitt Romney Fly With Evangelicals?

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will be running for the Republican nomination for President in 2008. Will his Mormon faith be a problem for him, particularly among Southern evangelicals, who wield a great amount of power in the G.O.P. today? Some commentators seem to think so. Many evangelicals consider Mormonism to be a cult. Romney appears to be taking steps to try to get out in front of this as early as he can.

Maybe he’s trying to take a page out of the playbook of John F. Kennedy, who made a speech before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association during his 1960 presidential run, and endured a grilling in a lengthy Q & A session from the assembled ministers afterwards, re-assuring them that they they didn’t need to worry about him taking marching orders from the Pope. He wasn’t exactly grovelling either though...
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim--but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

He seemed to assuage their concerns for the most part. Even so, the electoral map of the 1960 results shows that Kennedy did not do quite as well in the South as Democrats traditionally did back in those days.

Romneys’ case is going to be different from Kennedy’s case with Catholicism, because the Catholic question was loaded with all kinds of questions regarding the separation of Church and State that don’t quite apply the same way here. Still, Romney might face a bigger challenge, because Kennedy could count on strong Catholic support in the Northeast and Midwest in 1960, whereas Romney’s religious base is going to be narrower than Kennedy’s was.

I’m from Massachusetts, so I’m familiar with Romney and the Republican governors before him… 16 years of Republican governors getting bored and losing interest in the job before they were done.... I’ll tell you straight out that I don’t care for him much, and it doesn’t have anything to do with Mormonism. Like many others, I consider him a carpetbagger, an opportunist, a flip-flopper, and a corporate downsizing schill. He didn’t look at this state as much more than a stepping stone in his larger ambitions, and is now making hay out of ridiculing it.

Years ago, shortly after Romney was defeated in his senatorial bid vs. Ted Kennedy, I was in my auto mechanic’s shop when I ran into an old schoolmate of mine, Bob Marsh. At the time, Bob was a young Republican political operative who had run Romney’s election campaign against Kennedy. We talked a bit about the race, and I expressed my surprise that as a Mormon, Romney had run for the Senate with a Pro-Choice position. He was trying to unseat Ted Kennedy using the Bill Weld, libertarian, socially-liberal-fiscally-conservative type of gambit. Bob told me bluntly, “No candidate with a Pro-Life stance could ever possibly win a Senate race in Massachusetts.” I remember thinking to myself, “That’s probably true, but on the other hand, if you run a Democrat against a Democrat, the Democrat is going to win every time.”

Mitt has since shed his Pro-Choice position, flipping now to say that he is Pro-Life, and he is weighing in on the whole gay-marriage thing too, in order to prove his socially conservative bona fides to Southerners. Will it work? I don’t know. I remember when Pat Buchanan came flying out of New Hampshire with a primary win in 1996 only to land with a thud in Bob Jones’ South Carolina. Buchanan, a Catholic, was everything the Christian Coalition could ever ask for in terms of a socially conservative candidate, but it didn’t matter. They broke for Bob Dole, of all people. Hey, who knows? As far as voters are concerned in presidential runs, maybe Mormons are one thing and Catholics are still something else altogether.


Liam said...

Normally, a candidate having problems because of his religion would be sympathetic to me, but since Romney is opportunistically trying to appeal to fundamentalist theocrats as a "social conservative," I will experience a great deal of schadenfreude (sp?) when he is rejected by them. The funny thing is that the real candidate for the Christian right may turn out to be Sam Brownback, who is an ex-evangelical Catholic (though apparently of the albino monk variety).

cowboyangel said...

I'm not sure how much trouble Romney's going to have with Evangelicals because of his Mormonism. Some of them will definitely reject him because of that, but I think his being too moderate and being from New England will alienate him from a lot of Evangelicals more than his Mormonism. And I'm not sure that the ones who would reject Romney because of his Mormonism wouldn't equally reject Brownback because of his Catholicism. Both Mormons and Catholics are going to hell in a hand-basket for some types of Evengelicals.

I think Romney's going to have trouble in the primaries in the long run, because he simply won't be able to reach enough of the right-wing - whether they're Christians or not. Like Pataki, he gets a lot of coverage in the Northeast, but not nearly as much across the rest of the country. Giuliani has more national recognition, but I think he'll also run into trouble for his being too moderate. I think the right-wing Christians will go for Gingrich in the end. And a few non-Catholic-haters may go for Brownback. Ultimately, it's going to be an interesting battle among the Republicans. I don't have a good sense of who will get the nomination. McCain certainly has to be considered the front-runner, but I don't think it's a given he'll win the ticket.

cowboyangel said...

Oh, and great excerpt from Kennedy's speech. I had never read that before.

Jeff said...

Hi Liam and William,

This Republican race is going to be interesting. I expect a few hats are still waiting to be thrown into the ring. I think Liam may be right... Brownback may be the guy to watch. If I'm not mistaken, he's the only one in that field who's come out opposed to the escalation of the war (with the troop surge), and he's reached out across the aisle to liberals on issues like sex-trafficking. I don't know a lot about him yet. We'll see how the Catholic angle plays out for him.

I think John McCain's window of opportunity was over years ago. His lonely and extreme position on the war gives him no chance that I can see, and he's shown in the past that he has a bad temper too. Too much of a hot-head. Not the right kind of temperament to be president.

I think Giuliani could do very well in a nationwide race, but I think the Republican primaries are going to be very difficult for him.

Newt Gingrich? I'm surprised he's had the temerity to show his face. I don't know if the religious right could ever really warm up to him, the guy who served divorce papers to his wife on her hospital bed when she was dying from cancer. He's got quite a few infidelity skeletons in his closet, plus he has the cloud hanging over his head of being identified with that congressional class of 1994, and the debacle of the government shutdown that followed, where Clinton really made him look bad. I hope he has no chance, at least. When I listen to him on the talk shows, I hear him saying between the lines that he'd like to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes on Iran and North Korea.

By the way, if you have high speed connections, please do watch that video of JFK taking questions from those pastors down in Houston. He was very impressive. I think people today, who are used to hearing Ted Kennedy and Joe Kennedy struggling with their tortured syntax, think that the Kennedys aren't too bright and can't function without a canned speech, but I think it is clear that JFK was a highly intelligent man. I thought he handled that situation down there in Houston with great grace and eloquence.

I have to chuckle a bit though, because as those pastors were well aware, if Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani (the head of the Holy Office at the time) had been up on the stage with Kennedy and heard him saying the things he was saying, he would have had an aneurysm.

cowboyangel said...

I know what you mean about Gingrich, but I was recently talking to some Evangelicals about the race and they were pretty excited about Gingrich. They hated McCain and didn't know much about Romeny, Pataki or Brownback. They thought Giuliani was kind of a joke. Also, if you spend time reading some of the conservatives, they do like him. I read a trascript recently, for example, where Bill O'Reilly was talking to Ann Coulter about the race and they both liked Newt. And I've tracking the number of articles on the various candidates from each party, as well as how many times they show up on Fox News and CNN, and Newt's appearing a lot on Fox, so I wouldn't count him out. To be honest, I would love to see him as the candidate, because I think the Democrats could actually beat him pretty easily.

Personally, I'm curious about Hagel, as he's the only Republican candidate I respect. Though I'm not sure he's an official candidate yet. But I doubt that he could get past the primaries.

Liam said...

Gingrich? Fascinating. It would be sweet if he got the nominations. The democrats wouldn't even have to campaign.

The Brownback thing is interesting. Over the last few years conservative Catholics have been forming an alliance with fundamentalist Protestants, even though I'm sure they are mutually convinced that the other is going to burn in hell. I think, though I don't know, that a Mormom candidate would be more of a problem for them than a Catholic one. They consider it more of a cult and are afraid of its rapid growth.

cowboyangel said...

The National Review (Dec 8, 2006) has an article called Evangelicals for Romney? that's worth reading in light of our discussion.

I re-read Bill O'Reilly's interview on Fox with Ann Coulter and I misspoke earlier. She does really like Gingrich, but she said she thinks his time has already passed. Her favorite Republican candidate right now is . . . (wait for it) . . . Mitt Romney.

Also, the reason Gingrich is getting a lot of air-time on Fox is because he's a "FOX News analyst." Which is certainly a nice job for someone in the GOP who might want to run for president.

Last Zogby poll (01/18/07) for New Hampshire-Republicans had McCain: 26%, Rudy 20%, Romney 13% and Gingrich 6%.

Interesting that Romney doesn't seem to gain any edge in his neighboring state. But it's so early and the numbers will certainly change a lot between now and the primary.

I wonder if McCain has the stamina and desire to go through an even longer and more brutal campaign than he did before?

cowboyangel said...

Oh, on the Evangelical view of Catholics and Mormons, and of potential GOP candidates: I don't get the sense that there's any one overriding way that Evangelicals are thinking about these topics. My feeling is that some of them will have no problem with Romney, some will have no problem with Brownback, and some will have no problem with Gingrich. I mean, if they can deal with Newt's despicable behaviour, how much are they really going to care about Romney being a Mormon? Some of them would probably vote for Jeffrey Dahmer if he said he was against abortion.

Also, the Evangelicals only make up a part of the GOP. Many others won't care at all about Romney's Mormonism. Unless an another candidate is able to play into people's lack of knowledge/fear about it. Which they have tried with him before, according to the National Review article.

Steve Bogner said...

It's about a year too soon for presidential campaigns, in my opinion. I'm trying to ignore it all until the summer of '08!

I'm probably the only Republican around the comment box here, and so far I'm liking Obama ;)

Jeff said...

Liam & William,

Yes, if Gingrich won the Republican nomination, he'd get absolutley crushed in the general election. I have no doubt about it.

Evidently Brownback is another one of Fr. McCloskey's high-profile converts of power and influence. I guess we'll be seeing lots of Opus Dei articles in the press again soon. It appears that his wife and children are still Methodists.

Question: Where is the real evangelical Protestant candidate on the Republican side this time around? I think more candidates are going to come in.

Hegel might be an interesting candidate, but he might be sort of a one-trick-pony.

I heard Giuliani doing some God-talk on the news the other day. That was certainly new. It was jarring, coming from him. It was the same old neo-con, "we must export our values around the world" kind of speech.

I think Romney is going to pick up a lot of steam once he gets some name recognition. People might start to recall him better nationally when they get reminded about his role in salvaging the Salt Lake Olympics.

The Brownback thing is interesting. Over the last few years conservative Catholics have been forming an alliance with fundamentalist Protestants, even though I'm sure they are mutually convinced that the other is going to burn in hell.

I really don't know what Fr. Neuhaus expects to accomplish in the long run with that ECT thing of his. Very strange bedfellows, if you ask me. A marriage of convenience that would turn in on itself in a heartbeat it it ever accomplished what it set out to do in the political sphere.

Jeff said...

Hi Steve,

I've voted Republican in every Presidential election since 1984 (voted Democratic in 1980). As I've said here, I've become very, very uneasy about where this country is headed, and not just in terms of foreign policy. As far as local races are concerned, I've often split my vote.

I find Obama to be a fascinating candidate. Did you happen to catch him on 60 Minutes the other night? He admitted to having done some "blow" in his college days. I think that at this point in history, pot-smoking is one thing the country is going to look past, but an admission to having used cocaine? I wonder. Has the country changed that much, as the baby-boomers head well into middle-age? Maybe it has...

Steve Bogner said...

Didn't catch him on 60 minutes, and have only read a limited amount of material on him.

There's plenty of dirt to dig up on most any of the candidates, I would bet. To a great degree, you have to overlook much of the past - who among us hasn't changed/matured since our school days?

Rachi said...

Hi Jeff
thanks for visiting my blog, and for your words of support and encouragement and for your prayers! it is much appreciated :) it's always great to hear of how other's have overcome similar struggles!
wow on reading some of your blog! and you have some great links too, I will have to further check them out!
hope you are well, thankyou and God Bless
love Rachel

Jeff said...

Hi Rachi,

I think you might have me confused with the other Jeff on Paula's More Light, but that's OK! I'm glad you came by just the same. Any friend of Paula and Crystal's is a friend of mine. Nice blogs, I hope you won't mind if I stop by now and then. :-)