Personally, I will gladly consider Mr. Romney as a candidate in the field of hopefuls and enthusiastically vote for him should he ascend to the nomination next year. I have a gut feeling that I am joined in this regard by at least 80 percent of Republican voters. ~Mark Davis
The numbers among likely voters that I keep banging on about are rather different from Mr. Davis’ generous estimate. Among likely GOP voters, 40% say they would never consider voting for a Mormon for President, and another 18% are unsure whether they would or not. It is impossible to know all the reasons why these people are opposed, but we can make a few educated guesses. In my own case, I can explain my reasons, as I do below.
First, there are the obvious reasons, some of which I have talked about at some length before. There is the desire to have a candidate to whom you can relate and with whom you can identify. Mormonism is unfamiliar and alien to the experience of most voters, and it is impossible for Christians to closely identify with someone from that background. There are many voters for whom a candidate’s faith is a major factor in their voting preferences, and this can become a question of whether or not someone has had the same religious experiences and has the same religious practices as these voters.
Then there are those voters who believe this is a Christian country, full stop, and therefore it is not desirable and not appropriate for non-Christians to have positions of leadership in that country–call this Christian majoritarianism, if you like. This attitude apparently becomes more intense when it is the Presidency at stake, rather than a single Senate seat here or there; the Presidency, at least for these people, is a symbol of the nation, and it is not acceptable for them to see that symbol pass into the hands of someone who subscribes to a fundamentally different religion. There is, of course, the perception among evangelicals and other Christians of Mormonism as a cult in the popular, pejorative sense of that term. This perception is strengthened by the fact that there are services that are closed to non-Mormons, which will always cause those already suspicious about a religious group to conclude that there must be something nefarious or undesirable going on in these closed sessions (when, of course, nothing of the kind is happening).
Then there are more visceral reasons and reasons based in ignorance: some voters dislike Mormons in particular because they have only heard bad things about them for as long as they can remember and what they have heard about them is often false or outdated. I virtually guarantee that some significant portion of intense anti-Mormon sentiment in this country stems from the false belief that the mainline LDS church allows polygamy. The relative obscurity of the religion combined with its, shall we say, troubled past conspire to make people anxious about its adherents even when there is no objective reason to have any anxiety about Mormons themselves.
For a few voters, and I would class myself among these, the non-Christian character of Mormonism troubles us, and its tremendous theological divergences from what some call the Great Tradition of Christianity mark it as a false religion fundamentally removed in important ways from the religion that has been the core of our civilisation. For cultural conservatives for whom that Christian heritage is extremely important, it would be quite unhelpful and even damaging to the work of preserving and renewing a Christian culture to rally around a candidate for the most prominent office in the country who does not really believe in that heritage. Indeed, such a candidate, of necessity because of his religion’s teachings about all other churches, regards the traditions and achievements of some 1,900+ years of post-Apostolic Christianity as an abandonment of the Gospel and a betrayal of the covenant with God, which means that he really must regard the history of most of our civilisation as a massive detour inspired by false doctrine and lies. If we are in a civilisational conflict, electing a Mormon President is a strange sort of vote of no-confidence in our own history and a repudiation of most of the heritage that at least some of us believe we are fighting to protect (from enemies here and abroad). To my mind, that declaration of hostility to our own past is far more dangerous and worrisome than the realisation of any of the far-fetched theories of Damon Linker about Mormon theocracy.
For those who regard this as terrible, there is some consolation. This wave of anti-Mormonism, with all its diverse causes, will not be derailing a particularly good candidate. Romney’s campaign is so vexed by conventional, run-of-the-mill problems of poor credibility and a bad record that he might belong to the most ordinary suburban evangelical church and still not have a chance in the primaries.