She is hardly alone in that belief. One in five Americans declare that they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate — even if that candidate were a member of their own party. There is no other religious group that comes close to inspiring that kind of widespread hostility in U.S. voters. Seven percent of Americans say they would not vote for a Catholic, 9 percent would oppose a Jew. Five percent would oppose a black candidate, 6 percent a female candidate. Twenty-two percent would oppose a Mormon. The only groups with higher negatives are homosexuals and atheists, and their numbers are improving. Anti-Mormon hostility has been more or less constant since Gallup added the question to its survey in 1967, an innovation occasioned by the presidential campaign of a moderate Mormon ex-governor and millionaire business executive by the name of Romney. George Romney’s candidacy was hobbled by his infelicitous use of the word “brainwashing” to describe his experience on a Department of Defense–organized tour of Vietnam (“A light rinse would have been sufficient,” quipped Eugene McCarthy) and by the New Hampshire machinations of Nelson Rockefeller, who saw to it that Romney’s 1968 campaign was over before it began. For his ineptitude, Romney père was rewarded with the secretary’s chair at Richard Nixon’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, a career-ending appointment that prevented the country from answering in 1972 or 1976 the question that went unanswered in 1968: How big a problem is religion for a Mormon presidential candidate?
“Brainwashing” is a word that recurs in the public discussion of Mormons and their beliefs, and critics such as Tricia Erickson are confident that Romney fils has had more than a light rinse. “It is my opinion that an indoctrinated Mormon should never be elected as president of the United States of America,” she told CNN. “Indoctrinated temple Mormons, as Romney is, have experienced years of brainwashing and indoctrination, and also have made covenants and oaths that they plainly cannot disobey.” She quotes approvingly from the late Ed Decker, another ex-Mormon who once filled the same market niche. Among other things, Mr. Decker accused Mormons of employing the ritualized sexual abuse of children to ensure conformity: “These acts are designed to subjugate the children involved and brainwash them into a satanic mindset,” he wrote in My Kingdom Come: The Mormon Quest for Godhood. In that book, he cites the 1990 “Pace memo,” in which Glenn L. Pace, a high-ranking officer of the Church, related to his colleagues that some 60 people had made allegations of bizarre, occult-oriented sexual abuse against figures in the Church. Mr. Decker neglected to cite the follow-up investigation by Utah’s attorney general, which found that there was no evidence at all for the claims and that their details were, as one investigator put it, “absurd,” of a piece with the other fantastical allegations of satanic sexual abuse associated with the “recovered memory” therapy that was au courant at the time. No word from the authorities on how far the Mormons have advanced in their plans to establish a diabolical monarchy with its capital in Independence, Mo. (pop. 116,830), but perhaps that is because, as Ms. Erickson worries, Mormons have infiltrated the FBI and CIA in “disproportionate” numbers.