Mormonism and 2012
Prof. Russell Arben Fox has contributed to a debate on whether Republicans ready for a Mormon President, and speculates that Huntsman may have an advantage in the contest with Romney:
Mr. Huntsman doesn’t have the legacy of a previous run for president shaping his campaign, freeing him to craft different responses to Republican primary demands, moderately employing his Mormon identity while still drawing on the socially conservative reputation of the faith.
My guess is that Huntsman will face the worst of both worlds politically by being Mormon by background and being someone with a reputation of greater religious eclecticism than Romney. For those not alienated by theological differences, Romney at least has the reputation for being more closely attached to his church, and that will probably recommend him to more primary voters than Huntsman’s “different types of philosophies” language.
Earlier, Prof. Fox made a questionable claim about Romney’s 2008 campaign:
During the 2008 election cycle, Mr. Romney put his faith at the center of his campaign, insisting that it was as thoroughly American as that of any other Christian faith.
This is not exactly how it happened. Romney talked a lot about generic faith, and he emphasized the importance of religious liberty and tolerance, but he was positively allergic to any discussion of what it was that his faith taught. He was usually careful not to refer to his religion by name. His religion’s American identity can hardly be disputed, and it is in any case not what troubles many Christians about Romney’s religion.
As Ramesh Ponnuru points out, and as I have said many times before, the difficulties that a Mormon presidential candidate face are not limited to the Republican primary electorate. It is an obstacle that goes well beyond evangelical Christian distrust of and competition with Mormonism. The proper question is whether enough Americans are ready for a Mormon President, and at present the answer would seem to be, “Probably not.”
Jeremy Lott suggests in a column in the new issue of TAC that this may not be such a bad thing for Mormons:
Winning the presidency would finally confer a sense of national acceptance on the Church Formerly Known as a Cult.
Yet that didn’t work out so well for Catholics—or other religious minorities, for that matter. Forget the mythologizing of Camelot: the Kennedy clan played the religion card for cynical purposes only. They brought some of the worst aspects of Irish-American power politics to the national stage, and they became a de facto liberal Catholic aristocracy that the bishops were reluctant to challenge. Evangelicals could tout Jimmy Carter as our first “born again” president—but the less said of that, the better. And in Barack Obama, members of the many African-American churches could claim not only a parishioner but an eloquent and educated convert. Then the Rev. Jeremiah Wright cleared his throat.
This is a bit overstated, but the basic observation is valid. Few religious groups have benefited much from the degree of scrutiny that a presidential campaign and victory entail. For that matter, it hasn’t usually helped many national candidates to be closely identified with a religious group that most Americans barely know and don’t understand very well.