The Corner

Mormonism in the General Election

In my McCain article, I suggest that Romney’s religion puts him at a political disadvantage in both the primaries and the general election. One reader emailed back: “Speak for yourself, and for Republican primary voters.” I take it this fellow is a Democrat who joins in the general assumption that only evangelical Republicans have problems with Mormon candidates. The polling I’ve seen suggests otherwise. For example, a December FoxNews poll found that evangelical voters were only slightly more hostile to Mormon candidates than the population at large, while Democratic voters were much more hostile.

Another reader wrote in pretty eloquently on this point:

I’ve always appreciated the thoughtful support you have given John McCain, but at least one aspect of your piece today troubled me greatly.

Are you seriously suggesting that Romney should be rejected as the Republican nominee because of his religion (which happens also to be mine)? Where do we draw the line? Is there a polling number at which we are justified in jettisoning a candidate (to say nothing of our principles) because of his religion? Or is there some list of religions to which the rules do or do not apply?

Some “liabilities” should not be liabilities at all, and we should fight any effort to make (or keep) them so. (A strongly worded editorial from National Review in this regard would be a start.) I think we should be very, very careful about justifying bigotry for the sake of political expediency.

I’m sorry, but the argument, “Vote for McCain because he’s not a Mormon,” is appalling however it’s phrased, and I frankly expect better from you, of all people.

This is a tough one to answer, because I would like to be wrong. It may be that Romney’s social conservatism would win him evangelical votes against Clinton, and that the anti-Mormon Democrats aren’t people whom any Republican could reach. But let’s say I’m right: that Mormonism is a general-election liability in a year Republicans can’t afford unnecessary liabilities. I would agree with this reader in considering this situation unfair–and I think his suggestion that NR run an editorial on this point is an excellent one.

But I can’t sign on to the proposition that we should never take account of popular attitudes we find irrational or even hateful. Fighting anti-black bigotry was more important for the country in 1960 than fighting anti-Mormon bigotry (and fighting misunderstandings of Mormons) today. It does not follow that the Democrats should have nominated a black candidate for president in 1960. Getting a presidential nomination isn’t all about fairness.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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