The New York Times ran a front-page story Thursday on how Mitt Romney’s being a Mormon may damage his chances as he seeks the GOP nomination. Of special concern, according to the story, are Southern evangelical Christians in early primary states who mistrust Mormonism. “Mr. Romney’s advisers,” wrote the Times, “acknowledge that . . . questions about whether Mormons are beholden to their church’s leader’s on public policy could give his opponents ammunition in the wide-open fight among Republicans to become the consensus candidate of social conservatives.”
Well, evangelicals may or may not mistrust Mormonism as a religion. But when it comes to public policy, those Mormon “church leaders” stand hard against abortion, gay marriage, gambling, and alcohol consumption—views that handily comport with those of evangelicals. The Times, in other words, has it backwards. The real concern of many social conservatives—and of the Romney campaign—is not that Romney is a tool of his socially conservative church but that as a politician he has had too liberal a record to get through the primaries.
True, as governor, Romney fought (and pretty much lost) a long, tough battle against court-imposed gay marriage in the Bay State. But as a politician, for better or worse, he has always been more of a businessman/technocrat than a red-meat guy. True again, on the issue of abortion, he claims to have had an epiphany that has made him pro-life. One of his favorites lines is that “even Reagan didn’t always hold Reaganite views on abortion.” Still, he ran for (and won) the Massachusetts governorship as a pro-choice candidate, with support from Planned Parenthood.
Romney is working hard, with some notable recent success, to win the support of evangelical leaders who cannot bring themselves to back Rudy Giuliani (pro-choice) or John McCain (whose pro-life views are widely mistrusted). But why does the New York Times not want to tell its readers that the ex-governor has, until recently, had a solidly liberal record on abortion, a record entirely at odds with the Mormon church and, incidentally, to the left of Democratic Senator Harry Reid, a fellow Mormon who is pro-life? Could it be because this information might kindle friendly interest among potential moderate voters who will believe he is really one of their own? In a perverse way, the Romney campaign could regard the Times story as a sign of success.