By David Hill - 03/13/07 07:38 PM EDT
The Romney campaign has been expecting a torrent of “anti-Mormon prejudice.” But it hasn’t happened. Mitt has mostly been left alone. Most unexpectedly, Evangelical Christians have been reluctant to say much. While my own reading of polls leads me to guess that Evangelicals are evenly split on accepting a Mormon as president, they are united in their silence on the matter.
This is a key development because the liberal mainstream media will now feel free to go after Romney. Most journalists were initially anticipating a Religious Right attack on the former Massachusetts governor. So the press held back from scrutinizing Romney’s faith. In a fight between James Dobson or Jerry Falwell and Mitt Romney, most reporters would have taken the candidate’s side. But barring a situation where “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Romney is soon going to be fair game for enterprising reporters.
While Evangelicals disagree with Mormons over theological issues like the canon of scripture and belief in the Trinity — matters that the majority of the public would find arcane — the media will luridly focus on certain Mormon practices that most Americans will find fascinating yet “weird,” secretive, and intolerant.
The “weirdness” assault will initially focus on Mormon baptism of the dead. Everyone knows that Mormons are genealogists. It’s a wholesome, family-oriented interest. What few Americans know is that Mormons are interested in genealogy because they want to identify all the dead so they can baptize them posthumously. Devout young Mormons routinely volunteer for proxy baptisms at secret Temple ceremonies. A Mormon will be dunked repeatedly as he’s baptized for scores of the long departed. This blew up on the Mormons in 1994 when it became known that Mormons were posthumously baptizing Jewish victims of the Holocaust. By 1995, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was forced to say it was stopping the practice. But the rumors of Jewish baptisms continue to smolder.
So there is a pretext for the press to get into this matter. But what will drive them wild is something that opposition researchers may be latching onto. It is almost certain that a younger Mitt Romney would have participated in baptisms for the dead. A knowledgeable former Mormon missionary recently told me that a Mormon with Romney’s pedigree would have very likely participated. Was Romney ever baptized for Jews? Catholics? Blacks? Why or why not? Reporters will ask.
The attack on Mormon secrecy will involve these baptisms and other “secret” ceremonies in the Mormon Temples that are closed to the public. The press never likes for anything to be closed to public view. Even Mormons can’t always get into the Temple. First, they must get a “recommend” that a Bishop approves. It’s so restrictive that I’m told parents are sometimes barred from the Temple marriage ceremony of their own children simply because they are behind on their tithing.
This might make sense to Mormons, but Americans are going to think twice about voting for a man whose chooses to belong to a church that would keep a mother from attending her own daughter’s wedding.
The “intolerance” message will predictably get into the Mormons’ past treatment of Blacks and women. While Mormons can convincingly say they have tried to deal with these issues through reforms, Romney will be called to account for his role in the church before the reforms took place.
If Romney ever picks up any steam, he can expect to feel this heat from African-Americans.
Some pundits are still speculating that Romney’s Mormon faith isn’t a big deal. I say it’s big enough for many Americans to say “no deal” to his candidacy for the nation’s highest office.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.