Lessons from a MormonPolitically Aware, Top Highlights Thursday, January 26th, 2012
Commentary: Politically Aware
Wondering if the United States would be ready for an openly LGBT president? Watch what happens to Gov. Mitt Romney. No, not Rick Perry. Mitt Romney.
Impeccable hair may seem to be the only similarity between Romney and a gay man, and ideologically, that may well be the case. But politically, Romney’s Mormon faith provides a Republican reflection of the issues that might face a Democratic LGBT candidate.
At 2 percent of the U.S. population, Mormons represent a minority group on par with, if slightly smaller, than the estimated number of LGBT Americans. Mormons predominantly identify with the Republican Party mirroring the Democratic leanings of the LGBT community. Both groups are geographically concentrated, with LGBT voters in urban coastal areas and Mormons in the Utah and Mountain West, allowing increasing success in regional elections.
At the national (and sometimes state) level, however, both Mormons and the LGBT community are regarded with suspicion, if not outright contempt, by other power centers within their chosen party. Proposition 8 taught LGBT Californians just how many Democratic allies were out of step with our goals. Mitt Romney may be learning the same lesson from evangelical Christian Republicans, who view the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more as a cult than a branch of Christianity.
By the most recent math, Sen. Rick Santorum won Iowa by 24 votes, ending Romney’s nine day reign as the first non-incumbent Republican to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. Santorum’s vote came largely from the same evangelical Christians who handed former Gov. Mike Huckabee a victory 4 years ago, putting the first nail in Romney’s 2008 campaign coffin.
Still, an Iowa draw and a New Hampshire victory should have gathered the G-O-P faithful behind Romney. Instead, the G-O-D faithful, or at least their alleged leaders, gathered in Texas to agree on a candidate. While their endorsement was split between Santorum and Speaker Gingrich, their clear anti-Romney message started a seismic shift that left Romney a double digit loser in Saturday’s South Carolina primary only a week after he led by a similar margin.
What does this have to do with an LGBT candidate? One can easily imagine an LGBT candidate doing well enough in a split Iowa field to earn a ticket to New Hampshire, as Romney did. He or she could be carried to victory by “Live Free or Die” voters with nearly a decade of experience in marriage equality. Sadly, one can also imagine a religious roadblock similar to the one placed to derail the Romney campaign, particularly given the analyses of the 2008 election showing that religiosity was a powerful predictor of a “yes on 8” vote, even among Democrats. (The racial and ethnic differences implicated early on largely disappear once religious tendencies are taken into account.)
Democrats hopefully wouldn’t have as overt an event as the Texas meeting, and party leaders won’t blatantly say “Don’t vote for the gay guy” any more than they say “We can’t nominate a Mormon.” Rather, expect a whisper campaign with the same euphemisms: “He can’t win in the general;” “He can’t be trusted on our issues;” or the ever popular “He’s just not one of us.” Ask the Romney campaign if they’ve heard any of those.
Candidates do matter, and Romney has problems beyond his faith. Still, we’d be foolish not to learn from his campaign, even if we’re probably 8 years from a viable LGBT candidate. If Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination this year, we should steal his campaign playbook for overcoming evangelical resistance. If he loses, we should be part of the autopsy.
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