Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 19, 2007
POLITICS: The Trouble With Mitt Romney (Part 5 of 5)

The fifth and last installment of a five-part series on why Republicans who are serious about winning the White House in 2008 are wasting our time on Mitt Romney. For background, check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and, from February 2007, my explanation of why I'm with Rudy and my take on Mike Huckabee.

V. The "M" Word

A. Why It Shouldn't Matter

mittbook.JPGAt long last, after 12,086 words of turning the Eye of Sauron on Mitt Romney, we come to the delicate matter of Romney's religion. A few preliminaries are in order. First, I will admit that, perhaps naively after seeing how Ted Kennedy cynically used it as a wedge against Romney in 1994, I was initially dismissive of early concerns that Romney would face unusual electoral problems due to his Mormon faith. Second, I myself would vote with great enthusiasm for a Mormon president if he's otherwise a good candidate (i.e., Orrin Hatch - yes. Harry Reid - no.). As I have said before, I was behind Romney in 1994 and 2002. Sure, there are some things Mormons believe in, theologically speaking, that seem downright bizarre to me, but other people's religions often look like that from the outside. Short of a politician espousing a religious doctrine that leads to actively dangerous policies, I'm fine with having a President I disagree with on matters of faith - after all, 41 of the 42 men to have the job weren't of my faith (Catholic), and the one who was wasn't exactly a saint, nor is the nominal Catholic I'm supporting this time around.

Moreover, there is a lot to be said for sticking religious bigotry in a box where we never take it into account. Especially when, as The Wall Street Journal put it:

The Mormons seem the very embodiment of "family values," and you couldn't invent a religious culture that lived more consistently with Biblical messages. Broadly speaking, most Mormons have, and come from, big families; they're regular churchgoers and give to charity; they don't drink, smoke, gamble or engage in premarital sex. On the scale of American problems, the Mormons don't even register.

And, one would add, Mormons are just about the most solidly Republican group in the nation. I would hate to see Mormons come away from the 2008 primary process feeling like their guy didn't get a fair shake because of his religion. In fact, some people have even advocated supporting Romney for that reason alone, while others contend that Romney would draw strength from the inevitable bile hurled by the left at his church. So it's with a fair amount of trepidation that I even get into this topic, given the very long list of legitimate reasons to oppose Romney's nomination that I dealt with in the first four installments.

B. Why It Does

For all of that, though, politics must be conducted in the real world. As a Rudy supporter, I've spent a lot of time arguing with people who would sit out the general election and let Hillary win rather than lift a finger for Rudy, mainly over his views on abortion. I've made my case as to why it doesn't make the slightest bit of sense. But the fact that he loses some such voters is a reality Rudy has to deal with, and is one of the main reasons why I've been giving a second look to John McCain and, to a lesser extent, Fred. Rudy's answer to that dilemma is that he's a great candidate who can bring in other people to the party to replace the voters he loses, in a way that works to his advantage on the national map.

Whether you buy that argument in Rudy's case or not, the simple fact is that in the real world in 2008, Romney has a similar problem - and with some of the same voters - due to his religion. If anything, it's become a bigger problem with religious conservatives as a result of Romney's history of recent and prominent flip-flops on social issues: Mitt has had no choice but to tell people to trust him in politics because of his religious convictions - while simultaneously telling them not to worry about the details of his religious convictions because all that matters is how he translates them into political convictions. If he had shown more consistent support for the political results Christian conservatives seek to bring about, he might not be in the same fix.

We have a lot of scraps of evidence - a poll here, an anecdote there - suggesting that there may be a bunch of people out there who just won't pull the lever for Romney for no other reason than his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Let's consider a few polling data points:

*A Gallup poll just after Romney's big speech on religion showing that 18% of Republicans would not vote for a Mormon for President.

*The Boston Globe earlier this month claimed that "between 25 and 40 percent" of Americans in various polls have said they would not vote for a Mormon.

*A Pew Center poll from mid-2007 puts the numbers of those who are at least reluctant to vote for a Mormon at 25% of Republicans and 41% of regular churchgoing white evangelical Protestant Republicans.

*A February 2007 CBS poll showing about a quarter of voters in each party saying they would not vote for a Mormon.

*NPR collected six national polls from 2006 ranging from 14% to 53% having reservations about voting for a Mormon.

*Poll showing Mormonism with just barely higher public approval than Islam.

*Pollster Mark Mellman: "With polls measuring anti-Mormon sentiment anywhere from 20 percent to 60 percent, I'm not sure whether to despair more about our prejudices or the validity of our polls."

Romney's favorability ratings, where you might find prejudice against him to be buried, have been up and down depending on the poll, the date and the jurisdiction, but he has persistently shown higher unfavorability ratings than you would expect from a candidate with relatively low national name ID, and I believe it's only in the past six weeks or so has his favorability rating been regularly above his unfavorables.

And the anecdotal evidence, just to scratch the surface:

*A Dallas pastor's attack on Romney as not being a Christian.

*A Florida televangelist saying "A vote for Romney is a vote for Satan."

*Readers respond to former Congressman Martin Frost on Mormonism.

romneyjesus2.JPGNow, fair-minded people can and do disagree about how much validity to give these polls, and I'm sure polls can be cited going the other way. I suspect that the number would shrink somewhat on protracted public examination of the issue (Mellman's Hill column notes that the number of people refusing to vote for a Catholic dropped in half between 1958 and 1960). But here's what worries me: people don't like to admit to their prejudices. Prejudice in the voting booth may be overstated, but we know enough of human nature to know that if X percent of people say they won't vote for a candidate of a particular faith or race or gender, the actual number has to be higher.

I can't for the life of me figure why the people who argue that Rudy is unelectable due to potential defections from Christian conservatives aren't similarly worried about Romney. And unlike Rudy, Romney isn't going to reach out and bring in a whole lot of people who didn't vote for Bush in 2004; he just doesn't offer anything all that new or different, and more blood can't be squeezed from the stone of Mormon voters - only in Nevada (6.96% of the population) and maybe Arizona (5.97%) is the Mormon bloc large enough to potentially make a difference in a swing state. So unless Romney can limit the potential losses from unease with his faith, he's in even worse shape than he'd be already due to his other problems as a candidate. I wouldn't let this concern over religion bother me if I thought Romney was a tremendous candidate, since he'd be able to overcome it. But when you start with the many flaws Romney already has, as discussed in the first four installments of this series, this is one more thing to worry about with Romney that we don't need.

All of which increasingly convinces me that Romney isn't Mormonism's JFK, but more like its Al Smith, the first Catholic nominee who lost to Hoover in 1928. Now, I can fully understand why members of Romney's own faith community may well want to see him nominated in the hopes of breaking down barriers, and may see it as preferable to run Romney and lose than get behind someone else. There's a real hunger out there to get that last stamp of legitimacy on the LDS community in this country, a hunger not dissimilar to what Hillary, Obama, Huckabee and Richardson are playing to in their own ways. But this election is too important, with too much at stake, to expect the rest of us to sign on to that venture. Send us a better messenger, and we'll carry that message then.

Conclusion

The trouble with Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate in 2008 isn't just any one thing; it's the whole package, and specifically the fact that he has a weakness to undermine every case that could be made for him. He can't run on his record; it's too sparse. He can't run on his principles, which are elusive and ever-shifting. He can't run on his personality, which comes off as overly programmed. He can't run on his faith, which is unpopular. He can't run on his biography, which starts with being born into a wealthy and influential family and encounters no particularly compelling adversity along the way. He can't run on his platform, which ranges from an immigration plan that was clearly designed just to get him through the primaries to a health care plan that, like Bush's prescription drug plan, is basically just HillaryCare Lite. He can't run on his fortune; the Democratic field can outspend anyone this year. He can point to his record as a businessman, but after 8 years of a CEO/MBA president, a CEO Vice President and a Cabinet stocked with CEOs from many different industries, it's hard to convince the average voter who is disaffected with Bush that what the Bush Administration really needed was more businessmen. What's left?

mittbert2.JPG

Romney has more than amply demonstrated that, however personally honest and decent a man he may be, he is a thoroughgoing political opportunist, and neither remotely good at hiding that fact nor possessed of counterbalancing virtues as a candidate. The transparency of that opportunism, combined with a thin resume of public leadership, minimal foreign policy experience, the lack of an identifiable core of beliefs or rationales for running, and a pronounced tendency towards the lamest sort of campaign gimmickry, not only raises questions about what kind of president he might in theory be, but also compellingly demonstrates that he would be a disaster as a general election candidate. If we nominate him, we will lose.

Argue all you want about which candidate is the best and who would benefit the most from a Romney defeat in the primaries, but of this I am sure: 2008 does not end with President-elect Mitt Romney. The endgame of Romney's strategy is the nomination, and we should give that nomination to someone who is better situated to do something with it. The sooner we get him off the stage, the faster we can focus on the candidates who are worthy of our time and attention. Romney has wasted far too much of both.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:00 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Romney doesn't have all Mormons in his pocket...

I am a Mormon who would only vote for Romney in a general election, since he certainly represents my views better than anyone on the Democratic side this time around. But if my primary vote counted (it hardly does here in Seattle), my vote would be for McCain.

Part of my problem with Romney is his faith, just like part of my problem with Hillary is that she's a woman.

I'd love to see a Mormon president, but not that Mormon President. Similarly, it made me ashamed, not proud, that Harry Reid was the first Mormon Senate Majority Leader. I believe that a Mormon should be more interested in serving the country's needs than in serving their party.

The same thing with Hillary. I would love to see a woman be elected president. But not Hillary. Not that woman.

Posted by: Joel B at December 19, 2007 4:07 PM

HILLARY CLINTON FOR PRESIDENT.MIKHAIL KRYZHANOVSKY
FOR VICE PRESIDENT ?
Mikhail Kryzhanovsky,KGB superspy, the author of the "White
House Special Handbook", or How to Rule the World in the
21st Century", is the US president de facto. Since 1996, our
presidents, Democrat Clinton and now - Republican Bush, make
top political decisions, based on his instructions. It's high time
to move forward and unite both leading political parties and the
nation. Is Hillary Clinton, who helped him to fight CIA, ready
for the mission (and take him as her co-runner)?
GOOGLE

Posted by: steve at December 19, 2007 4:18 PM

Wasn't Reagan Catholic?

Posted by: soccer dad at December 19, 2007 6:15 PM

No, he was Irish but not Catholic.

Posted by: The Crank at December 19, 2007 6:53 PM

Crank, I've listened to you, and I've listened to Hewitt. I don't know if you make a better argument, but you come off as less disingenuous about Romney than Hewitt does.

None of the candidates excite me with the exception of Duncan Hunter, and he's wasting his and everybody's time, and I don't agree with him on free trade. The main question to be answered is the veracity of your contention that Romney brings us no new voting blocs, and thus is unelectable at a time when Democrats are ascendant. Hewitt would respond that Romney can convince anyone to vote for him if he will just listen and give him a chance. I am persuaded that Hugh has been snookered.

The alternate you offer has drawbacks too, and would lose more votes than you apparently think he would. If Guiliani is nominated, I'm with him, but you are discounting a tremendous number of people who see the Mayor as just another panderer. This whole notion that whatever his beliefs about abortion and guns would be overcome because he'd appoint strict constructionists to the courts is doubtful to me because I'm not persuaded that he'd know one if he heard one. Yeah I know, Ted Olsen will take care of it, don't worry. That attitude brought us Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter, all tremendous disappointments, and all coming from Presidents who should have known better.

Posted by: NRA Life Member at December 19, 2007 11:14 PM


MITT"S LATEST LIE UNCOVERED

http://thephoenix.com/article_ektid53200.aspx

Mitt said, last week, in the biggest speech of his campaign, that he 'saw his father march with Martin Luther King." He repeated that claim on Meet the Press on Sunday. Turns out Mitt's father never marched with MLK. His campaign manager is trying to say that they both showed up at different rallys for Civil Rights in Detroit during the same year -- so that counts. Yeah right!

Posted by: Patrick at December 19, 2007 11:50 PM

Not even in Detroit-in the sundown town Grosse Pointe,where the only blacks allowed to enter in 1967 used the servant's entrance.
Maybe Romney was referring to his other 'father',like Bush did.

Posted by: AnonE.Mouse at December 20, 2007 7:53 AM

NRA Life Memeber: I don't think Guiliani would come across as a panderer in a general election because it is exactly opposite of his personality. I lived in New York while he was mayor and he definitely spoke his mind. There was one incident - I don't remember exactly what it was but I think it involved a police incident -- where Guiliani said at a press conference "I know what to say to make this go away but I am not going to say it because I don't believe it." I am surprised that there are people who view him as a panderer now.

Posted by: wd at December 20, 2007 10:16 AM

wd, I think Rudy has become a panderer, doing what all candidates (even McCain to a lesser extent) will do to get a win. However, back to Mitt. I had said he just looks wrong to win, and I stand by that statement. However Crank,you mentioned a Gallup Poll when (was it 18%?) of Protestants won't vote for a Mormon--I think that really means closer to 30%.

Sort of like Harold Ford in Tennessee. Now he was, and is, an intelligent classy man, who stands for so many upright things, but in a non-prissy way, that he just oozes senatorial ability. And I think he would have been a great senator. However, there was a small percentage in polls who said they wouldn't vote for him because he is black. Yet he lost in his state, while basically sharing the views of a large majority of his Tennessee. He lost by not a lot, but let's face it, he lost because he is black. Because a larger percentage than will ever admit it to a pollster, won't vote for the Mormon, the black, the woman, the Jew, Catholic (although the last two is fading to an extent I think), that's a reality. I mean who wants to admit to a perfect stranger that you are really a bigot?

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at December 20, 2007 10:48 AM

I think the evidence shows that Ford lost that election mainly because (1) TN is now a pretty solidly Republican state and (2) Ford's family, a longstanding TN political dynasty, was up to its eyeballs in corruption scandals, and they caught up with him. Ford didn't really run the best campaign, either.

Posted by: The Crank at December 20, 2007 11:05 AM

Can you really equate not voting for a woman or a black individual with not voting for someone because they are a Mormon? Being a woman (for instance) means nothing except that you are a certain gender. The person could be conservative, liberal, moderate, have any variety of beliefs, etc. However, being a Mormon comes with a certain set of beliefs that people may find objectionable, disconcerting or downright strange. There are oodles of beliefs in Mormonism and perhaps Mitt does not adhere to them all. I don't know that. Does he believe Christ is going to rule the world for 1,000 years from Jerusalem and Missouri? Not that I would vote for him anyway for reasons unrelated to his religion but if he does believe that I would find that of concern. If Tom Cruise (for example) ran for President are his Scientological beliefs off the table because they are his religion and to not vote for him because he is a Scientologist makes one a bigot? How about someone who is Wicken? It seems that saying "I will not vote for anyone who is black" is close-minded, bigoted and racist. Saying I won't vote for someone who is a Mormon may be an expression in a distrust of that particular religion. I guess this would beg the question as to whether all religions occupy the same level of acceptance and credibility.

Posted by: jim at December 20, 2007 11:56 AM
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