My fellow Evangel blogger John Mark Reynolds has a piece up at the Washington Post On Faith blog about Mormonism and the challenges its practitioners face in the political arena. In the post, he notes that the LDS church upholds many virtues that are beneficial to the republic, while its “theological vices” are not threatening to the community. I don’t take issue, really, with any of this. Certainly, it is true that the LDS church cherishes America and wishes it well. It is also true that the LDS church has nurtured a number of outstanding citizens. Tangentially (very tangentially), one of the best lines in the piece is where Reynolds notes that the media is highly aware of Glenn Beck’s Mormon faith and amnesic with regard to Harry Reid’s.
However, I think much of the concern with the public perception of the Mormon church is misplaced with regard to politics. Being Mormon is probably not as heavily disabling a factor as many think it is. I know many will point to Mitt Romney’s run for president in 2008 as proof of anti-LDS bias, but too much may have been made of it. Mitt Romney had several pretty serious problems facing him in the presidential primary.
First, he ran for president as the one term governor of Massachusetts. It does not inspire confidence when a governor holds office for one term, declares victory, and abdicates for a presidential run. This is especially true when one suspects he would not have been able to win a second term. That, of course, is not Mitt Romney’s fault. It is Massachusetts’ fault, but it still reflects badly on him as a political champion.
Second, Romney conducted his campaigns for office (senator and governor, unsuccessful and successful) in Massachusetts and thus had to run away from the kind of conservative image that attracts voters in many other parts of the country. Opponents could point to archival evidence of Romney distancing himself from Reagan’s legacy, for example, and making statements in sympathy with the pro-choice position.
Third, Romney’s crowning achievement as governor of Massachusetts was presiding over a comprehensive health care reform effort which required individuals to purchase health insurance. Setting arguments about federalism and the appropriateness of states doing such a thing versus the federal government doing it aside, that kind of gubernatorial activity did not create the strongest foundation for a Romney primary run in ‘08.
All of this is to say that being a member of the LDS church was probably not Mitt Romney’s biggest problem as a politician running in conservative primaries.