Friday, July 6, 2007


Republicans over the past few decades have been eager to play at the divisive game of faith-based politics. W's campaign took the strategy to a whole new level, demonstrating that a presidential campaign can be won on essentially the evangelical vote alone (watch the fantastic PBS documentary about it here).

I have, even when I was religiously inclined, always found this to be a cheap and particularly exploitative tactic. Of course Democrats have also, and nearly as frequently, kowtowed to the exigency of the religious vote in their campaigns, but they have never done it well. I am wont to believe this is because they are reluctant to prostitute private matters of spirituality for political support, but the better part of me knows that they're not so much good-hearted as bad pimps.

In any case, the recent Republican strategy of becoming super-cozy with our own homegrown fundamentalists will come back to bite them this election. None of the serious candidates are likely to turn out the evangelical vote, but perhaps the best candidate overall will probably be torpedoed in the primary because of his religion. It's about time Republicans found out that the faith-based voters they have befriended are not the tolerant and benevolent disciples they have professed to be; they are the bigots that we have always known them (by their fruits) to be.

This piece correctly picks out the problem:

But moderate Republicans aren't the ones who could derail a Romney candidacy. His obstacle is the evangelical base--a voting bloc that now makes up 30 percent of the Republican electorate and that wields particular influence in primary states like South Carolina and Virginia. Just as it is hard to overestimate the importance of evangelicalism in the modern Republican Party, it is nearly impossible to overemphasize the problem evangelicals have with Mormonism. Evangelicals don't have the same vague anti-LDS prejudice that some Americans do. For them it's a doctrinal thing, based on very specific theological disputes that can't be overcome by personality or charm or even shared positions on social issues. Romney's journalistic boosters either don't understand these doctrinal issues or try to sidestep them. But ignoring them won't make them go away. To evangelicals, Mormonism isn't just another religion. It's a cult.

All of this leaves Romney in a real pickle. Thus far, he's tried to follow in the tradition of other Massachusetts politicians and "pull a John Kennedy," declaring personal faith irrelevant to his qualifications for office. This is a nonstarter. We live in a political era in which, thanks largely to Republicans, candidates are virtually required to talk openly about their religious views. There is no way a Republican, especially in a GOP primary, can avoid the issue--if for no other reason than the press won't let them.

The tragedy--or, depending on your point of view, the irony--is that Mitt Romney may just be the most appealing candidate Republicans can field in 2008, the one most likely to win the White House by shoring up social conservatives and rallying business interests without frightening swing voters. Yet the modern GOP's reliance on evangelical voters and its elevation of personal religiosity--strategies which have served the party so well in recent years--may doom the chances of this most promising candidate. Or, to put it in evangelical terms, it might be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for Mitt Romney to win the Republican nomination.

The article is almost two years old, so I think Amy Sullivan (the author) should be patting herself on the back about now for her to-the-letter accuracy.

Of course, Fox tries to blame the liberals. Pretty hilarious. In a classic technique of PR judo, they try to support Romney by galvanizing the support of religious folk against those godless liberals who would criticize him (although the critics are, in fact, almost all conservative Republicans; after all, what do Dems care about a guy they won't vote for anyway?) The irony is disgusting, and all the more poignant because liberals have demonstrated the obvious fact that they are tolerant of different religions by electing him governor in a very liberal state. You think Romney could be governor of Mississippi? Fat chance.