I’m begining to think that the whole anti-Mormon thing isn’t quite the albatross some have made it out to be. Romney’s Mormonism lends itself to all sorts of favorable storylines. Americans love to think they’re voting for “inclusion.” Reporters love to conjure the story of JFK as the first Catholic President. They love to chatter about “firsts” and the like. I really don’t buy that anti-Mormon prejudice is nearly so strong as those polls would indicate. The stories in the mainstream press are going to treat his Mormonism as a net plus. The chatter about it will highlight Romney as a “believer” in the primaries, an identity he’ll have pretty much to himself so long as Brownback stays out. And when he does better than these undoubtedly soft poll numbers would suggest, it will give his campaign a certain success story narrative. I’m not saying his Mormonism is a pure asset by any stretch. Some people are clearly honestly turned off by it. But, it gives Romney a lot of opportunities to play subtle identity-politics games on the right and I think he’s shrewd enough to exploit those opportunities.
Update: From a friend well-versed in the highways and byways of the religious right:
I basically agree with your take on Romney’s Mormonism as a campaign issue. In fact, I think he has (probably unintentionally at first) used it to his advantage with conservatives so far. Everyone I talk to on the social right seems to say something along the lines of “well Romney looks pretty good, but the Mormonism thing might hurt him with conservatives.” The second part of that statement makes the first part possible—in other words, we don’t look at other things that might hurt him with conservatives, like the fact that he basically ran as a liberal just a couple of years ago for the job that he now holds, and has since changed all his views on social issues while in office. If the only thing that worries us about him is “the Mormon thing” then we’ve basically set him up as a test of our own open-mindedness, and Americans will almost always pass such a test. And anyway, everyone says it might hurt him with other conservatives, almost no one seems to be saying “I won’t vote for him because he’s a Mormon.” It’s a useful distraction from his point of view at this point, and will probably not be a huge impediment at a later point, and it’s giving Romney a chance to have people get used to him as the conservative conservative in the race without looking too hard at his record.
Anyway, my two cents—I really am impressed with him, although the Mormon thing could hurt him, you know.
And: From a longtime reader:
It’s just like any other generic ballot poll. When asked about X candidate vs. “others”, the tendency is for people to conjure up their ideal candidate in their mind so X candidate just doesn’t stack up. When secular liberals hear Mormon, they think Bible thumper, when evangelicals (of which I count myself) they think cultist. The reason the evangelical leaders like Romney is they have met him. He is not “a Mormon”, he’s a guy with certain principles that happens to be a member of the LDS church and that’s how it will play out among most evangelicals…I think. Wasn’t Nixon a Quaker?