Religion and the Right

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Peter Beinart’s latest screeds on the Ground Zero Mosque (to use the Daily Beast’s nomenclature) are, I’m afraid, examples of the perils of writing in rage. I hope that in time he comes to regret some of his formulations. (“The GOP’s new heroes are former Muslims like Nonie Darwish and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. That’s one way to escape the new Republican bigotry. Maybe the folks the GOP wants to harass in Arizona should try becoming former Hispanics.”) I don’t wish to say anything more about his main line of “argument,” since it seems to me to consist mostly of hostile characterization and overwrought emotion.

I was more interested in a passing remark Beinart makes about Mitt Romney that’s worth mentioning: “I wonder what Mitt Romney was thinking, as he added his voice to the anti-Muslim chorus. He surely knows that absent the religious right’s hostility to Mormons, he’d likely have been the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee.” The casual repetition of this claim suggests that it is becoming part of the conventional wisdom, but I don’t believe it is true. If you look through the exit polls from the GOP presidential primaries in 2008, the biggest trend you notice is that strong pluralities of evangelical Republicans voted for the evangelical candidate, Mike Huckabee. Voting for coreligionists might not be the most praiseworthy behavior, but it’s not the same thing as bigotry. Most of those evangelicals would have supported Huckabee over a Catholic, too; and I don’t think it would be fair to describe the Mormons of Utah and Nevada as biased against evangelicals because they too voted for their coreligionist (more overwhelmingly than evangelicals did, if I recall correctly). None of this is to deny that religious conservatives — and other voters! — have specific objections to Mormon candidates. But I don’t believe that this animus cost Romney the nomination.

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