Some might think that Romney lost evangelicals because he wasn’t Christian enough. I think it’s the other way around. He acted too Christian.
Romney believed that to win the nomination he had to win over evangelical Christians. He figured the way to do that was to get all Jesusy. So he declared, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.” In so doing, he showed a fatal misunderstanding of the attitude of evangelicals toward Mormonism. Though some evangelicals do believe Mormonism is an evil cult, many simply believe it’s an odd religion. Strange, but no stranger than all sorts of other religions. These evangelicals are actually quite tolerant, and would be willing to vote for a non-evangelical candidate who shared their values in other ways. Remember how popular Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, was with evangelicals? Many Christians at the time simply said, well he’s not of our faith but he’s religious, the next best thing to being a religious Christian, and he’s got conservative values.
Romney could have engendered the same response. He could have stressed his religiosity, and the wholesomeness of Mormons (a “brand asset” for the faith). But when he instead went around demonstrating his Christian-ness, he crossed a line, making many evangelicals think he was misrepresenting Christianity. He went from being odd to being dangerous.”When he goes around and says Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior, he ticks off at least half the evangelicals,” Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention said. “He’s picking a fight he’s going to lose.”
Of course Romney was in a difficult position. Mormons do consider themselves Christian. So he was faced with the dilemma of alienating evangelicals and betraying his own faith.
Did Romney lose many votes because he’s a Mormon? Here’s a data point: the online survey Beliefnet did a couple of weeks ago asked evangelicals whether the religious beliefs of any candidate would make them more or less likely to vote for a particular candidate. 32% of evangelicals said Romney’s religious beliefs would make them less likely to support him, compared to 16.5% who said so for McCain. Among conservative evangelicals, the effect was even greater — 35.6% for Romney and 15% for McCain.
By the way, those Democrats who might chortle that Republican intolerance cost them their best candidate, don’t get too smug. Our survey showed that Democrats were just as intolerant of Mormons as Republicans are. At least they have that in common.
I’ve been reading various conservative blog posts on whether Huckabee cost Romney the nomination. Why isn’t the question posed the other way around? Why aren’t conservative anti-McCainiacs complaining that Romney cost Huckabee the nomination?
Based on market performance, Huckabee is clearly the better candidate. Having spent a fraction of the money, he’s won almost as many states as Romney. While Romney became conservative in the last year, Huckabee has been conservative his whole life. He has more experience in government, is more articulate, and a better campaigner.
So why is there this complete assumption that if any one of them had an obligation to leave it was Huckabee? First, a lot of conservative religious leaders simply didn’t like Huckabee. Some of this is based in ancient history. During the battle to take over the Southern Baptist Convention in Arkansas, Huckabee was viewed as being on the “moderate” side (though he was plenty conservative). Many religious right leaders never forgave him.
Second, the Conservative Media Establishment really is far more concerned with economic issues than values issues. When push comes to shove, Rush Limbaugh cares more about taxes and immigration than abortion. Huckabee is viewed as soft on taxes, which apparently is more important than being strong on oppositing abortion. So much for the holocaust of the unborn.
The more cynical interpretation is that values voters have gotten a peek at the true priorities of the conservative establishment, which wanted evangelical votes but, when forced to choose, simply didn’t view the values issues as paramount. Every time I hear one of the anti-Huckabee conservative say Huckabee isn’t a serious candidate, I wonder what really is making them say that. Do they think he’s unserious because deep down, they really don’t think banning abortion is all that important? Is this one of those rip-off-the-mask moments when values voters get to look into the eyes of their conservative allies and see what’s in their souls?
If this theory is true – that they unfairly dissed Huckabee because of cultural arrogance – then in the way of karma, they’re getting their just reward: the nomination of their number one nemesis, John McCain.