Latter-day politics

Our blog missed the fuss earlier this month when an adviser to Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said this in National Review magazine: "He's been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly." National Review and The Weekly Standard both recently published cover stories about Romney. Though National Review's standing ovation gained more attention, The Weekly Standard's profile, by publisher Terry Eastland, represents the better work. The titles suggest the two magazines' rather different approaches: John J. Miller's piece for National Review is "Matinee Mitt," while Eastland's respectful but more comprehensive report is the witty "In 2008, Will It Be Mormon in America?"

Eastland's article wrongly claims that "no Christian body accepts a Mormon baptism as valid." (Daniel Tuttle, the Episcopal Church's first bishop of Utah, decided not to require rebaptism of LDS converts, and that practice continues today among most Episcopal clergy.)

But Eastland interviewed an impressive number of people, and brought back the sort of pointed remarks that make a long profile sing with informed analysis:

What do evangelical leaders active in politically conservative circles say about a Romney candidacy? Many I asked were reluctant to be quoted by name. As one of them told me, "We have to work with Mormons." Over the past quarter-century Mormons have made common cause with politically conservative evangelicals (and Catholics) on a broad range of issues involving marriage, family, abortion, stem cells, pornography, and religious liberty. Moreover, Mormons have worked alongside evangelicals for many of the same candidates at election time.

Someone willing to go on the record was Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship. Notwithstanding his "fundamental" theological differences with Mormonism, Colson said, "I could in very good conscience support Romney," calling him "a first-rate guy in every respect" and "a social conservative on most of the issues we care about." Colson obviously wasn't declaring for Romney, but simply indicating that he would not in religious principle, so to speak, be opposed to Romney and indeed could find political reasons to support him. Whether he would actually do so, of course, would "all depend on what the lineup is" and "where each person stands." The other evangelical leaders I contacted took the same view. Colson offered the likely correct forecast: Romney's appeal to evangelicals might slacken if a competent evangelical or Catholic with social views similar to Romney's were in the race; on the other hand, Romney's stock with evangelicals might go up if he were pitted against candidates holding more liberal social views, regardless of their religion. One evangelical leader offered this succinct take on whether Romney's faith would hurt him in the primaries: "Against Giuliani, no. Against Frist, yes. Against [Rick] Santorum, yes. Against Arnold [Schwarzenegger, who is ineligible], no."

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