What’s wrong with Mitt Romney? The former Republican governor of Massachusetts has been winning his party’s debates hands down in the eyes of most critics, and he leads many of the polls. He also leads President Obama in polls of Independents, and seems the most likely Republican candidate to wrest the White House from the Democrats.
Yet, we keep hearing about the nagging doubts as to his legitimacy from a conservative point of view. Most frequently, these doubts come down to Romneycare – the healthcare plan that the candidate instituted in Massachusetts and that has made the state one of the leaders in terms of percent of population covered. However, the state is now actively seeking ways to further control rising healthcare costs. Romneycare is often cited as the template for the federal healthcare plan often called Obamacare that is despised by many people who refer to themselves as conservatives. Eliminating Obamacare is at the top of the “promises” list for each of the Republican candidates – including Romney. Other doubts include his support of the $700 billion Wall St bailout and his commitment to a more limited federal government.
But, Romney is tarred with one very important negative that goes far deeper than his sponsorship of state-run health insurance: he’s Mormon. The Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) is considered suspect by some leading evangelical Christians, as well as Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and other traditional Christian sects. At the recent Values Voters Summit, Mormonism was referred to as a cult, and its link to Christianity was questioned.
It is difficult to fully understand the source of this antipathy between various Christian sects and Mormonism, but the differences appear to be based on other elements than just religious dogma or philosophy. To be kind about it, some evangelical Christian leaders seem somewhat prejudiced against Mormons. Perhaps they are intimidated by the aggressive proselytizing that typifies Mormonism, or the fervor of Mormons and the closeness of Mormon families. Perhaps they are put off by the entire Joseph Smith history and its interference with the belief in the completeness of the New Testament.
Any way these differences between Christian conservatives and Mitt Romney may be viewed, it points out the continuing risk of mixing religion and politics. Religions exist on absolute beliefs, and are largely based on faith. Political systems exist around compromise among a variety of positions and are (or at least theoretically supposed to be) based on fact-based discussions and debates. Minds can be changed in politics. Truths are usually immutable in religion. I submit that one of the reasons we have reached such gridlock in our current political environment is because of the spillover of religion into political discourse.
As far as Mitt Romney is concerned, the issues of Romneycare and the candidates changing views on choice and other rock-rib conservative issues seem far less important than the underlying and insidious prejudice against Mormonism that infuses opposition against him. The Republican Party is much the weaker for this prejudice and will be well served to ignore its proponents, step above it and choose its candidate on the basis of which contender has the best chance to win the White House in 2012.