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Mitt Romney and the US Christian Right

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 3rd May 2012

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Mitt Romney
Now that Mitt Romney will almost probably be the US Republican presidential candidate, what will this mean for the course of the US presidential election later this year?

Let's put it this way. Mormonism is a social conservative faith and its hierarchy and many conservative lay members collaborate with conservative Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants when it comes to opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage. This is certainly the case within the US House of Representatives. Conservative Catholics tend to be more pragmatic when it comes to interfaith outreach when it comes to opposing abortion and LGBT rights- indeed, vanquished Rick Santorum, although himself a conservative Catholic, had much more support amongst fundamentalist Protestants than he did amongst those of his own faith during the earlier primaries. Many Catholics vote Democrat and were annoyed at Santorum's distance from progressive church social and economic philosophy.

However, the same cannot be said of fundamentalist Protestants. Certainly, some are pragmatic enough to recognise the necessity for enlistment of other religious social conservative allies, but some are not. They prioritise religious orthodoxy and view the Church of the Latter Day Saints as a 'non-Christian' 'cult.' Therefore, they might reject Romney on confessional grounds. They would then probably abstain from voting Republican and vote for more 'ideologically pure' but unelectable right-wing parties.

Others might vote for a religious social conservative Mormon candidate but are uncertain that Romney fits the bill. He's seen as a social liberal within the Republican camp because of his support for President Obama's public healthcare reforms, and especially for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would outlaw discrimination against lesbians and gay men.

 

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Squashed Newt: After Romney steamrollered over him...
However, he also favours the total prohibition of abortion as much as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich did. He is actively reaching out to religious social conservatives, trying to woo Santorum and Gingrich supporters after their exit from the nomination race during the course of the last two months.

Romney may also pick a religious social conservative vice-presidential running mate to balance his 'ideologically impure' perceptions amongst Republican fundamentalist voters. However, he will need to be sure that the chosen vice presidential nominee is more capable than Sarah Palin proved to be back in 2008. If she or he proves too extreme, history will repeat itself.

As matters stand, however, there is no prospect whatsoever that sole surviving rival contender Ron Paul would be able to catch Romney, given that the faux libertarian has yet to win a single state and has only one tenth the level of support available to Romney.

Is the United States ready for a Mormon president? Perhaps not, unless Romney can manage to persuade fickle fundamentalist voters that he's the 'lesser of two evils' compared to Barack Obama, the incumbent.

However, he runs a real risk in doing so- too far to the right might see an electoral backlash, given that the mainstream electorate is already antagonistic given the Republican ideological fervour for social conservatism at a time when the volatile US economy is their dominant concern. If he does nothing, then he may convince the fundamentalist bloc to boycott Republicanism during the forthcoming election, however.

Furthermore, as David von Drehle noted in an article in Time magazine earlier this year, the Republican Party itself is fragmented between fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, foreign policy 'neoconservative' hawks and religious social conservatives. Unlike other western liberal democracies, the non-incumbent opposition party lacks a permanent leader of the opposition until the primaries have taken place, hamstringing the Republicans in this instance.

Or perhaps this election was lost during the interminable preliminary Republican candidate primary bloodletting? Time alone can tell. In any case, the odds for a second presidential term seem to currently be in Obama's favour.

Recommended:
Rhys Blakeley: "Can America elect a Mormon President" Prospect 191 (January 2012)
David von Drehle: "The Conservative Identity Crisis" Time: 13.02.2012.
Andrew Gimson: "Seeking the Right Way to Win: Why Conservatives on Both Sides of the Atlantic are in Crisis" Time: 16.04.2012.
Fareed Zakaria: "How Today's Conservatism lost touch with reality" Time: 14.06.2011.
BBC: Republican primary- delegate totals: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-16291574


Craig Young - 3rd May 2012

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