mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Making Mormonism Work for Mitt

The hundreds of millions of Americans who haven’t read Newsweek in years will not have noticed that former Bush speechwriter and respected commentator David Frum has a piece in the most recent issue arguing that Romney’s Mormonism, though currently a political problem, can be an asset to his campaign if it is framed properly for the electorate. Writes Frum:

Voters are likely to know two things about Mitt Romney: that he’s rich and that he’s a Mormon. At the same time, more than one fifth of Americans tell pollsters they won’t vote for a Mormon for president. Yet if Americans understood Mormonism a little better, they might begin to think of Romney’s faith as a feature, not a bug, in the Romney candidacy. If anything, Romney’s religion may be the best offset to the isolation from ordinary people imposed by his wealth.

It was Romney’s faith that sent him knocking on doors as a missionary—even as his governor father campaigned for the presidency of the United States. It was Romney’s position as a Mormon lay leader that had him sitting at kitchen tables doing family budgets during weekends away from Bain Capital. It was Romney’s faith that led him and his sons to do chores together at home while his colleagues in the firm were buying themselves ostentatious toys.

Frum makes an important point.  Mormonism forms a core part of Romney’s personal narrative; he needs to own it, or others—the press and political opponents—will present his religion for him in a less flattering light.

The line Romney must walk is a tough one. Any sense that he’s using the platform of a presidential campaign to proselytize would alienate much of the country — and especially the GOP base, where the Mormon faith is often seen as a dangerous anti-Christian heresy.

Somehow, he has to leap over that barrier and let people know how engaged his faith has led him to become in the lives of all kinds of people at all kinds of socio-economic levels. Whatever doctrinal issues orthodox Catholic and evangelical Christians have with Mormon theology, the family values, strong local communities and help for the poor and sick found among the Latter Day Saints speak to deep American values.

Romney’s assignment, or that of his campaign, must be to highlight and make real the service and engagement that come out of his faith without looking as if it is trying to promote that faith.  It won’t be easy, but the odds against a Romney victory lengthen to the degree that the campaign can’t find its way over this obstacle.

Features Icon
show comments
  • thibaud

    Actually, the third thing is more significant than the first two: Romney is a straight-up Keynesian, as he made crystal clear in response to TIME’s question about reducing spending in 2013.

    That he’s rich and mormon mean nothing to me, but the fact that he rejects his party’s flat-earth economics berserkers is hugely attractive. Hope, indeed.

    Here’s Romney the Keynesian, speaking with TIME’s Mark Halperin:

    Halperin: You have a plan, as you said, over a number of years, to reduce spending dramatically. Why not in the first year, if you’re elected — why not in 2013, go all the way and propose the kind of budget with spending restraints, that you’d like to see after four years in office? Why not do it more quickly?

    Romney: Well because, if you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5%. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I’m not going to do that, of course.

  • PBC

    Mormonism isn’t much of a barrier. His father was elected governor in the ’60s and ran for president as a Mormon without it being much of an issue as compared,to say, Vietnam. Many famous athletes are Mormon, including former San Francisco quarterback Steve Young.

  • Gene

    I understand that American evangelicals have serious problems with Mormonism. However, I have complete confidence that the American left and a large swath of the Democratic Party will succeed, by November, in making allies of Christians and Mormons across this great land.

  • Anthony

    David Frum is both an insightful and enlightening writer – he is on to something when he posits “faith as a feature, not a bug in the Romney candidacy.” I can’t posit how much Mormonism is a campaign obstacle but Romney’s ascribed religious service speaks for itself.

  • ms

    I encourage Mormons out there to help Romney help people understand Mormonism. The way to do this is to, without proselytizing, make sure that everyone knows you are Mormon, to live up to the teachings of your faith, to answer questions cheerfully and undefensively, and to every now and again poke fun at yourselves. Joke about how Mormon vices consist of coca-cola and chocolate for example. Bring things you do into ordinary conversation–I’m busy that night because I help out with the youth program at my church, or I can’t go to lunch today because I have to take an elderly friend from my church to the doctor, etc. These are all the commendable realities of Mormon communal life and they have been the realities of Romney’s life. Does Mormon doctrine have some oddities? Sure. As Dennis Prager points out, every belief system seems odd to the people who don’t believe it. Do votes need to fear a Mormon president? Well, if Mormon politicians answered to church hierarchy, why would we have Harry Reid and Mitt Romney, men with diametrically opposed policy viewpoints and both active Mormons, on the national stage right now? Mitt Romney epitomizes the practical good sense and communal ethos of Mormonism. Mormons, help him make that case!

  • Mick The Reactionary


    “respected commentator David Frum”

    Respected by whom?

    By Mead and 2 of his commentators?

    By DailyBeast who employes him as a (fake) token conservative?

  • Mick The Reactionary

    Whole Mormon issue is likely to be utterly irrelevant in 2012 Prez elections.

    Evangelicals might have problems with Mormonism, but they also live in Red State which Willard Mitt Romney will easily carry.

    Far left hates Mormons but Willard is going to loose Blue states anyway.

    The only issue is How Mormon issue will play out in Battleground states, all 5 of them.

    Political “scientists” and prognosticators should be able to name 1 or 2 states where Mormon issue will possibly swing election.

    Silence is deafening.

    Another fake issue by a fake conservative Frummie.

  • Jim.


    Amen, brother, amen.

    It will happen that much faster if the Democrats decide to concentrate on social issues.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    This election is going to be a referendum on Obama, and things are going insanely bad for him.
    1. Job growth has stalled,
    2. The Democrats have been humiliated in Wisconsin,
    3. The attorney general is facing a contempt-of-Congress citation,
    4. Talks with Pakistan have broken down,
    5. Bill Clinton is contradicting Obama,
    6. Mitt Romney is out raising him,
    7. Democrats and Republicans alike are complaining about a “cascade” of politically motivated national-security leaks from his administration,
    8. He is now on record as saying that the “private sector is doing fine.”
    9. Obamacare is about to be declared Unconstitutional
    10. His commerce secretary is facing felony hit and run charges.
    11. Jewish support has fallen 10%
    12. American Family net worth has fallen 40% in 3 years back to 1991 levels
    13. Leftist Journalists are ripping him a new one
    14. Comedian Don Rickels is making racist jokes about him in Hollywood and getting laughs
    15. Racist Black Comedian Chris Rock is reminding people he is half-white

    He really is an amateur; I doubt he will ever recover. I have been saying for some time that this election is going to be similar to the Ronald Reagan vs. Jimmy Carter landslide, and not the close horse race so many think.

  • Kuro

    This is another in a long line of calls for Mormonism to be an issue. Romney is doing better every day without it, and it would be a distraction to social issues that could loose the election.
    There isn’t solid statistical evidence to support your claim that this needs to be made an issue, but rather the economy is issue one for Americans. Contrary to the thrust of this article, if Mormonism becomes a significant feature of this election then Romney has already lost on the issue. He needs to ignore this and other distractions and speak to Obama’s record, especially on the economy.

  • Kuro

    @ms: as a Mormon myself I often try to follow and certainly share this set of values myself. It’s sad that our discourse in this country is presumed adversarial on the most important of issues. Family, politics, morality, religion, etc. all seem to get people geared up for a fight rather than a sharing discussion with mutual respect and I don’t think this has to be the case at all.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service