It was, I’m afraid, a classic example of Freudian denial when, back in 2007, the dean of Bob Jones University endorsed Mitt Romney as the GOP presidential nominee with the phrase, “we’re not electing a pastor–we’re electing a president.” The phrase, which became something of a commonplace among Romney’s backers on the religious right, pointed to the fact that during the presidency of George W. Bush evangelicals did indeed come to view the president as pastor-in-chief. Remember that scene in the 2006 documentary “Jesus Camp” where the children do spiritual warfare before a cardboard cutout of President Bush? By then evangelicals had become accustomed to referring to him as “our Christian president,” and the hope was that he would not be the last of his kind.
And that’s where the anti-Mormon rubber hits the road. It really does bother a lot of evangelicals that the occupant of the White House should manifest the spiritual potency of the office on behalf of a religion they consider beyond the pale. Not that they like thinking of themselves as bigots who need to have a white male evangelical in the nation’s bully pulpit. So in the year of Hillary, they eagerly embraced Sarah Palin. Setting their early sights on the dislodging our first black president, they warmed to Herman Cain. And now, with a Mormon poised to pluck the nomination for his own, they may be turning to a dyed-in-the-wool Roman Catholic: Rick Santorum.
Whether Santorum can actually assemble enough evangelical support to give Romney a hard time down South remains to be seen. He’s got to come out of New Hampshire as a plausible number 2 and then needs to win South Carolina, if he’s to become the Mike Huckabee of 2012. Huckabee’s campaign, you’ll recall, did not “fizzle…beyond Iowa,” as Alex Altmann unaccountably wrote over at Swanpland yesterday. Winning primaries in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana does not count as fizzling. If Santorum can do something along those lines, he sets himself up very nicely to become Romney’s veep. (Nota bene: Santorum strongly endorsed Romney in 2008.) And thus to become an acceptable Lt. Pastor at the right hand of the LDS president.