The Continuing Story of Romney's Mormon Problem

Even with rabid conservative opposition to health care reform, and his role in crafting Massachusetts' system of universal health care, Mitt Romney remains the prohibitive favor for the Republican presidential nomination. He has plenty of cash, a strong national organization, and substantial support from the GOP establishment. That said, given the religious composition of the early Republican primaries, I'm not sure if he'll have enough momentum to overcome this serious vulnerability:

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Christianity Today explains:

Pew finds Huckabee and Romney leading the field among Republicans nationwide, each with around one-fifth of Republicans naming them as their top choice. But there is a religious split among GOP voters, with 29 percent of white evangelicals favoring Huckabee and only 15 percent picking Romney.

Evangelical hostility toward Mormons isn't as widespread as it was a decade ago -- a result, in part, of coalition politics (the Religious Right), Romney 2008 and Glenn Beck -- but it's still present, thanks mostly to irreconcilable theological views and practices. Mormons disavow belief in the Trinity, draw their doctrine from outside the Gospels, and use an altered version of the Bible, which runs counter to evangelical views on the book's essential perfection. Indeed, more than a few evangelical leaders have labeled Mormonism a "cult." In a 2005 piece, Amy Sullivan details the long-standing tension between the two faiths:

Evangelical Christians consider Mormonism a threat in a way that Catholicism and even Judaism are not. The LDS Church, they charge, has perverted Christian teachings to create a false religion. As John L. Smith, a Southern Baptist who runs Utah Mission--an organization that tries to convert Mormons--told Christianity Today: "Mormonism is either totally true or totally false. If it's true, every other religion in America is false." To be tolerant of Mormonism is to put evangelical Christianity at risk. And to put a Mormon in the White House would be to place a stamp of approval on that faith.

This is very different from conservative evangelical hostility toward Catholics, which dissipated in the 1970s and 1980s (for a taste of old-school fundamentalist anti-Catholic rhetoric, read a Chick tract). Catholics, at the very least, shared key doctrines with evangelicals. Mormons are in a different boat entirely, and Romney will have to overcome that prejudice to win the nomination, given the evangelical stranglehold on Republican grassroots operations.

It's possible that he'll succeed, but I'm skeptical. After all, he isn't the only plausible candidate for the nomination, and if the contest comes down to two generic Republicans, I'm fairly confident that evangelical voters will prefer a run-of-the-mill Christian (Tim Pawlenty) to his Mormon counterpart.

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