In last evening’s GOP presidential debate, Mitt Romney was asked by Byron York of the Washington Examiner whether he thought state legislators (as in New York) had the right to make same-sex marriage legal in their states. Romney answered: I’d far prefer having the [representatives of the] people make that decision
than justices. But I believe the issue of marriage should be decided at
the federal level.You might wonder why is that? Why wouldn’t
you just let each state make their own decision? And the reason is
because people move from state to state of course in a society like
ours, they have children.
After avoiding “white evangelicals” like yesterday’s coffee, the political reporting class has dusted off its old Rolodexes and discovered that when it comes to Iowa, it’s all about, well, white evangelicals. As in, where’s the Huckabee vote going? The big deal event of the summer is the Ames straw poll August 13, which WaPo’s Chris Cilizza has pronounced to be Michele Bachmann’s to lose. At the moment, that seems an easy call, since this exercise in organizational muscle has turned into a contest to see who will serve as Evangelical Challenger to The Mormon. Mitt Romney, the national frontrunner who won Ames easily four years ago (but then lost the GOP Caucus to Huckabee), has decided to sit this one out, as has his co-religionist John Huntsman.
Mitt Romney’s refusal to sign the “Pro-Life Presidential Leadership Pledge” cooked up by the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List looks like smart politics to me. The pledge is nowhere near as straightforward as the the quadrennial Republican Party platform’s abortion plank, which for a generation has called for a constitutional ban. Rather, it’s a carefully calibrated political document that tightens the screws on presidential appointments and the use of public funds, and promotes a new “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” I’d say it was designed to be acceptable to any GOP candidate capable of winning the nomination, while serving as an effective wedge in the general election.By choosing to discern problems with the pledge while insisting on his pro-life cred, Romney has managed to demonstrate his independence from his party’s interest groups, cuddle up to GOP moderates, and differentiate himself from (most of) the rest of the presidential field. In contrast to 2008, he actually looks like a guy with backbone.
Both Mormon presidential wannabes showed up at Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition (FFC) confab in Washington and managed to let the white evangelicals in the audience know who they were without actually using the M-word. After beginning his talk with a litany of anti-abortionism, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman gave a big shout-out to the people of his state and to the magnificence of its super well-run government and super prosperity, perhaps not realizing that nothing annoys white evangelicals more than having to acknowledge the kempt successes of Mormon lives and communities.As for Mitt Romney, he began by noting that there “we’re united tonight in a lotta things,” which is to say, there’s that thing that we’re not united in, that bit me in the butt last time around. Before that, there was his youthful wife Ann, who introduced her husband by mentioning her 16 grandchildren. Sixteen?? And what about your sister wives?Yes, the emergence of the FFC (which may or may not become a readily identifiable acronym) has provoked a spate of familiar talk about whether or not those pesky evangelicals will support a Mormon for president.
According to the latest WaPo/ABC poll, Mike Huckabee is the top choice for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. Mitt Romney is a close second. The Post’s
lede this morning is that Sarah Palin’s numbers among Republicans are
heading south, which is a good story. But I’ve yet to see Beltway
political scribes giving Huck serious attention this time around, much
less talk about the prospects of a two-man race between Huck and Mitt. The
CW is that it’s got to be someone else, since both Huck and Mitt are
Gallup’s new portrait of GOP presidential candidate preferences by issue preference displays some moderately interesting features. Among frontrunners Huckabee, Romney, and Palin, Huckabee is the choice of social conservatives; Romney, of economic conservatives; and Palin, of foreign policy conservatives. Mostly the differences are not great but a couple stand out. Huckabee is weak with those Republicans who care most about business. And Romney is very weak with the moral values crowd, who prefer Huckabee to him by a 4-1 margin.
In a post on who gets the vote of “religious conservatives,” Steve Waldman writes:That leaves Huckabee. As a former Baptist minister himself, he has
standing to criticize Palin without being cast as anti-Christian. Mainstream media mistakenly assume that Huckabee failed last time
because his base was too limited to religious conservatives. Actually,
he fared no better among Christians than McCain and Romney early on. He
was distrusted by many in the party for being too liberal, not for
being too conservative.This is entirely misconceived.
My proposed linkage between anti-Mormon prejudice among evangelicals and the persistent flip-flop charge against Romney has drawn some interest, and raised the question of how one might go about demonstrating it. In a comment, Lowell Brown, who posts over at Article6, expressed the wish for some empirical evidence: “Now, did Romney make some Christians distrust him because he claimed to have very similar beliefs? Maybe, but I sure haven’t seen any data to support that hypothesis.” While I don’t know of any survey of the subject, there is some anecdotage that points strongly in that direction, and in mine. To wit: Late last year, the Corner’s Jonah Goldberg quoted a number of responses to his thoughts about evangelical anti-Mormonism.
In an interview with John Green last week, former Romney campaign adviser Mark DeMoss (and one time chief of staff to Jerry Falwell) said pretty much straight out that it was Mike Huckabee who sunk the Romney campaign:Would I like the president to share my faith? Sure. Would I like Mitt Romney’s credentials and intellect and character and competence and experience combined with an evangelical Southern Baptist faith? I’d love it. But I didn’t have it, so I liked everything else.
I’m still catching up from last week, and in the process this piece by the Washington Times’ Ralph Z. Hallow caught my eye. The questions it raises have to do with the extent of evangelical antipathy to Mitt Romney, and the degree to which it is based on anti-Mormonism or concerns about Romney’s less than consistent record on abortion and gay rights. The answer may be that the alternatives are mutually reinforcing: Conservative evangelicals don’t trust Romney because 1) they don’t trust Mormons and 2) they think he’s a flipflopper. The latest poop on the GOP Veepstakes (from Politico’s Jonathan Martin) pairs Romney with MN Gov. Pawlenty as McCain’s two “conventional” choices. (The alternative is to do something wacky like picking Joe Lieberman.) My sense is that, in the end, McCain will go conventional and steer clear of Romney.
Mitt Romney’s son, Josh, told the Desert Morning News today that he is considering running for Congress. More interesting is his belief that Mormonism cost his father a win in Iowa. Josh Romney said “When it’s religion, you definitely take it personally. It’s highly offensive, but I think that the vast majority of people we saw were very accepting. They said, ‘Your dad shares our values and we don’t care about his religion.”
Prior to Mitt Romney’s withdrawal, there were five exit polls in states with high percentages of evangelicals that asked how much a candidate’s religious beliefs mattered: Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Mike Huckabee won Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, and came in second to John McCain in Oklahoma and South Carolina. Romney came in third in all of them except South Carolina, where he finished fourth behind Fred Thompson. The question is: To what extent did anti-Mormonism play a role in his poor showing in these states? Pending a multivariate regression analysis by some competent social scientist, my eyeball analysis suggests that it played a small but significant role.
So what’s the verdict on the religious significance of Mitt Romney’s run? Here are some provisional thoughts. 1. Romney’s Mormonism did hurt him. There were evangelicals who voted for him, but in those states where they are thickest on the ground, there were too many who didn’t.
CBN’s David Brody interviewed Christian Coalition leader and fallen GOP angel Ralph Reed on his thoughts of John McCain. Reed outlined what McCain needs to do to win over his party’s base. Reed: “First, he should choose a running mate with strong conservative credentials, both on social issues and economic issues. Then he should adopt a conservative platform at the convention, and run a general election campaign that sounds conservative themes on taxes, terrorism, and values. If he does those things, he should be able to unite the party.