A Mormon as President? Yeah, right.
At least that’s the opinion held by many, including the humble dictator of this blog. Last week James Taranto of the Opinion Journal wrote an article based on his interview with Mr. Romney. Currently Republican Governor of the state of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney gained fame through his help in resurrecting the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
How or why the most liberal state in the Union would ever elect a Republican governor (let alone four in a row) is beyond this writer and is a potential topic for another post. In 1994 Mr. Romney ran against king liberal himself, Ted Kennedy. As anyone who has watched the Alito hearings knows, Ted Kennedy is still seated in the Senate meaning Mr. Romney lost that ’94 election. Boding well for Mr. Romney’s political fortune in Massachusetts and other Blue states is the fact that he won 41% of the vote–more than any other Kennedy challenger.
Mr. Taranto, whose opinion holds vastly more water than mine, thinks Mr. Romney’s chances are better than zero.
Mr. Romney could be an attractive presidential candidate. His sunny disposition puts one in mind of Ronald Reagan — he laughs easily and smiles almost continuously. He is a governor, as were four of the past five presidents; but he can claim more international experience than most state executives. In addition to his work on the Olympics, he has served on the federal Homeland Security Advisory Council, chairing its working group on intelligence and information sharing.
Though not a war superhero like Sen. Kerry, Mr. Romney can claim achievements in business, politics and the Olympics–an event, you’ll recall, that helped heal the nation and show a strong American front in the months following 9/11.
He is a fiscal conservative, helping Massachusetts to avoid tax increases in the lean years following the recent recession. Asked about social policy his response is similar to Pres. Bush. He personally opposes abortion but will not actively campaign to overturn Roe v. Wade. He supports President Bush and his views regarding the war on terrorism and our enviableness in Iraq. His politics seem centrist enough to appeal to many Americans–but he may not make it as far as the general election.
The problem with Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign is not so much his appeal to American liberals, but his ability to appeal to conservatives–especially the right wing–those who will actually turn out to vote in the primary election.
Many of his beliefs mirror those of the religious right. Informal polls show he would do well in early primaries in states like New Hampshire and Michigan. But there is a large amount of anti-Mormon sentiment among the religious element of the Republican party, among others. Their opposition could prove detrimental to his early candidacy. The degree to which he is able to overcome this anti-Mormon sentiment will have a great deal to do with his early success.
I once spoke at length with one of his former colleagues at Bain and Co. He told me of an informal speech given early in his 1994 Senatorial campaign. After Mr. Romney gave a little speech, thanking his colleagues for their donation to his campaign, he opened the floor for questions. Among the first questions was one about his position on abortion. After thinking for a moment, Mr. Romney said that it was a tough question, a tough topic. He said, paraphrasing, that it was difficult in the way that the issue of plural marriage had been difficult for his church. His colleague observed to me, and I tend to agree, that answering one controversial topic by raising another one at least as sticky (if not more so), was probably not the smartest politics.
Religious prejudice will be a huge mountain for Mr. Romney to climb in 2008. As Mr. Taranto notes,
[the] crucial question will be whether Mr. Romney’s religion is a handicap. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is indigenous to America, but many Americans view it with suspicion. In a 1999 Gallup poll, 17% of those surveyed said they would not vote for a Mormon for president, far more than said the same of a Jew (6%) or a Catholic (4%).
At the very least, it should bring a great deal of attention to the church and its values and beliefs. One school of thought holds that any press is good press. I guess his candidacy, successful or not, should make it easier for the next Mormon to run for President or any other political office.