Over at Times and Seasons, Kaimi linked a Weekly Standard article that offered, in my opinion, an excellent analysis of whether Mitt Romney’s faith as a Latter-day Saint will permanently handicap him as a presidential candidate. Given what I know of the vindictiveness and prejudice of Evangelical Christians, I have consistently made the argument that neither Romney nor any other Latter-day Saint could possibly be elected as President of the United States because of Evangelical hatred of Latter-day Saints. But Terry Eastland’s analysis has influenced my thinking to be more positive.
Eastland brought Reid into the picture. In an earlier post over at United Brethren, I argued (in a tongue-in-cheek tone but in all seriousness) that the only way a third-party candidate could win the presidency would be if two Latter-day Saints ran against each other, since my foundational premise is that a Latter-day Saint could never be elected over the calumny sure to be offered by so-called “Christians.” But Eastland’s analysis of how Reid could play into the picture caught my attention:
If Romney ran and were in the lead or gaining ground, a desperate candidate, or more likely a political action committee, might bring up the church’s pre-1978 exclusion of blacks from the priesthood, or the continuing exclusion of women. Or there might be an attack on Mormon doctrine–to the effect that Romney is a member of a cult. The evangelical leaders I spoke with said that such an attack wouldn’t work, as it would be seen as way over the line of what’s politically acceptable. It’s interesting to imagine who might rise to Romney’s defense, and it’s not inconceivable that Harry Reid–the Senate minority leader and a Mormon (one of just 4 Democrats among the 16 Mormons in the Senate and the House)–would protest, especially if his party or its allies were the ones lobbing the grenades.
In the first bolded portion, I must admit that I disagree with this part of Eastland’s analysis. Eastland claims that “The evangelical leaders I spoke with said that such an attack wouldn’t work, as it would be seen as way over the line of what’s politically acceptable.” I simply do not think that Evangelicals would pull punches when it came down to the wire out of a concern that disparaging Romney’s religion would be seen as “way over the line of what’s politically acceptable.” Instead, I believe they would resort to tired Evangelical methods of disseminating falsehoods or half-truths about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in an effort to cast it as a dangerous cult. Evangelicals have been too consistent in taking this road to think that they would somehow lay off when the stakes are so high as to have a Latter-day Saint president of the United States.
In the second bolded portion, however, I find Eastland’s analysis to be intriguing. Having Reid as the Senate minority leader could go a long way in preventing a Democratic candidate from resorting to such anti-Mormon bigotry (which, without Reid there to cry foul would, I fear, be considered completely legitimate by both liberal and conservative alike). But as a faithful Latter-day Saint himself, Reid would hardly sit by and allow a smear campaign against Romney based on Romney’s faith. After all, what does the pre-1978 exclusion of blacks from the priesthood have anything at all to do with Mitt Romney or his qualifications for the presidency? Absolutely nothing. In the first place, the exclusion cannot be imputed to Romney. In the second place, whether such exclusion was justified or not (and who is to be the judge of that?) the Church no longer excludes blacks from the priesthood (it also did not exclude them at the very beginning, in the 1830s and 40s). The women and the priesthood would be a red-herring, especially if lobbed by Ted Kennedy, whose brother was the first and only Catholic president, the Catholic exclusion of women from priesthood ordination notwithstanding.