March 22, 2005

FIRST THINGS FIRST:

Onward, Mormon soldiers: How the Latter-day Saints could make Mitt Romney president (ADAM REILLY, Boston Phoenix)

AS MITT ROMNEY tests the waters for a potential 2008 presidential run, he’ll be able to tap a vein of affluent, motivated, activist supporters with considerable political experience — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), a/k/a the Mormons. The Romney family is to the Mormons what the Kennedys are to the Catholics. Mitt Romney’s father, George, a former CEO of American Motors and governor of Michigan, himself ran for president in 1968. Marion Romney, one of Mitt Romney’s cousins, was once a member of the LDS Church’s First Presidency, a triumvirate of the world’s three most powerful Mormons. And then, of course, there’s Mitt. A former venture capitalist and Mormon bishop, Romney unsuccessfully challenged Ted Kennedy in a 1994 Senate campaign and then rescued the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah — the Vatican of Mormonism — from certain disaster before being elected governor here. Like John F. Kennedy, who played to the religious loyalty and ethnic insularity of his fellow Catholics, and Michael Dukakis, who appealed to Greek pride, Romney — if he runs — will surely look to his own religious base to give his campaign leverage and traction.

If there’s a moment that marks the beginning of the LDS ascendancy, it came in 1979, when right-wing Christian fundamentalist Jerry Falwell announced the formation of the Moral Majority, the anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-gay, pro-school-prayer group that reshaped American politics. In Falwell’s coalition, individual Mormons joined forces with Christian fundamentalists and conservative Catholics in an attempt to make American politics more godly. The oft-isolated LDS Church had finally found willing partners.

Today, the nation’s Mormon population is relatively small: there are 5.5 million in the United States, compared to 66 million Roman Catholics. But their ranks are tight — a distinct advantage when operating in a fractious and factionalized society. In 1972, George McGovern and his liberal backers used similar cohesion to gain brief control of the Democratic Party. The conservative takeover of the GOP is a bigger success story; today, the former right-wing insurgents have become the right-wing establishment. Now the voraciously ambitious Mitt Romney wants a place at the table, if not the lead chair. And Mormon solidarity — next to which standard conservative esprit de corps pales in comparison — may help him get it. [...]

According to J. Quin Monson and David Campbell — professors at Brigham Young University (BYU) and Notre Dame, respectively, and Mormons both — the Latter-day Saints are the political equivalent of "dry kindling." The demands made on individual Mormons by their culture, Monson and Campbell claim, give them an unusually high aptitude for political activism.

To make their case, the professors cite a lengthy list of distinctive Mormon traits and habits. First, the overwhelming majority of Mormons vote consistently for Republicans; in 2000, for example, 88 percent of Mormons voted for George W. Bush. (Among other observant white Christian evangelicals, the number was 84 percent.) In addition to voting as a bloc, Mormons make greater sacrifices for their faith than members of many other religions do. The typical adult Mormon spends three hours in Sunday services; complements this with periodic worship in Church temples, which fulfills obligations that Sunday worship does not; visits a pre-established network of congregation members each month to discuss their satisfaction with the Church; and volunteers in some other capacity for his or her congregation. (One study found that 60 percent of Mormons volunteer annually for a church-related group, compared to 36 percent of Southern Baptists and 27 percent of Catholics.)

The list goes on. While the LDS Church is intensely hierarchical, its members are intimately involved in its day-to-day functioning; Monson and Campbell cite statistics showing that 53 percent of Mormons reported giving a speech or presentation at church in the past half-year, compared to 14 percent of Southern Baptists and four percent of Catholics. On top of that, most males also spend two years as missionaries just as they enter adulthood, journeying far from home to plug their faith to an often-hostile audience. Then there’s the unusually rigorous Mormon tithing guideline, which instructs adults to donate 10 percent of their income to the LDS Church. (In contrast, the Catholic Church asks adherents only to contribute to its upkeep; the average Catholic giving rate is about 1.5 percent.)

Imagine how all this might play out in the 2008 presidential campaign.


Ducking a re-election bid would be such an admission of weakness that it can't help but damage his candidacy, while running and winning would make him formidable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 22, 2005 6:12 PM
Comments

Welllll Maybe. Orrin Hatch thought he could be swept to the Republican nomination by a tide of Mormon volunteers as well.

Of course it helps if you look electable to more than just yourself and your family, so Romney might have a shot. He would have to become less wishy-washy on abortion, I would think.

Incedentally, our high rates of paying tithes and having children means that most of us have little left over for other kinds of giving. The time demands of church callings play a similar role. Still, he is an extrordinarily handsome fellow, maybe the sisters in the church will turn us all out to man the phones.

Posted by: Jason Johnson at March 22, 2005 10:21 PM

A Romney presidency means that every freaky thing about Mormonism (no blacks till the latter half of the 20th century, Jesus was Satan's brother, spirit wives, we all become gods when we die, God has a physical body, women have to be married to get to heaven, that underwear thing) gets dragged through the major media ad nauseum. Catholicism could handle it because Catholicism is significantly less weird and more widely follower than Mormonism.

Posted by: Timothy at March 23, 2005 1:39 AM

Candidate Rommey: " As a Mormon, I oppose gay marriage. It is our belief that a marriage is between a man and a woman........and a woman and a woman and a woman....."

Posted by: h-man at March 23, 2005 6:00 AM

Then of course there was the Mormon comedian, Brigham Youngman. His famous line was 'Take my wives, please.'

When Mitt Romney ran for the Senate against Teddy Kennedy, the Democrats including Teddy's witless nephew who was in Congress at the time unleashed all sorts of horribles directed at Mormonism that I thought had been left behind about Jews once public anti-semitism became outre' in America. One half-expected to hear claims of Mormons makng special bread with the blood of Christian children.

Posted by: bart at March 23, 2005 6:43 AM

The Mormons I have known (mostly in the Marine Corps) have all been fine gentlemen. That said, I remain leery of religious traditions whose scriptures have been handed over (or dictated) by angels in caves, and whose founders receive special revelations concerning their personal marital issues.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 23, 2005 12:32 PM

Lou-- agreed. Mormons tend to be some of the most upstanding people around. I have a sneaking suspicion that the entire religion is just an amusing way for God to use fools to shame the wise.

Posted by: Timothy at March 23, 2005 1:37 PM
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