Commentary Magazine


Huntsman Makes Romney Look Principled

One of the greatest obstacles to Mitt Romney’s quest for the presidency has been his reputation for incessant flip-flopping. From abortion to health care, Romney’s positions have been all over the place, fluctuating with the political winds and the voters he’s trying to win over. But there is one point on which he is as steadfast as the Rock of Gibraltar: his Mormon faith.

There were those who wondered whether the addition of an unprecedented second Mormon presidential candidate in the form of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman would steal some of Romney’s Latter-Day Saints thunder. But far from eating into the former Massachusetts governor’s base of support, Huntsman appears to have alienated them, and in the process, made Mitt look like a stand-up guy.

According to a piece in Politico, LDS members are viewing Huntsman’s decision to place his national campaign headquarters in Orlando, Florida rather than on the shores of the Great Salt Lake with dismay. Even worse, various opinions attributed to Huntsman about his Mormonism are being interpreted as an effort to distance himself from his religion. At a time when the LDS church has become a popular culture piñata with HBO’s recently concluded Big Love and Broadway’s Book of Mormon both skewering the Saints, they have good reason to be sensitive about a public figure that seems ashamed or uncertain about his identity.

By contrast, Romney has never wavered in his willingness to go before the public as a devout Mormon. His 2008 campaign speech in which he took on the question of whether Americans would vote for a Mormon was a model of principled consistency. Whatever other problems voters had with Romney, they had to respect his willingness to stand up for his faith.

Huntsman’s long shot presidential bid seems to be predicated on selling Republicans on the idea of nominating a more centrist figure whose views on global warming and other hot button issues are not in sync with the party’s base. Perhaps as part of that he thinks he needs to “transcend” his Mormon background. If so, that’s a mistake. Many Americans may not know what to think about the LDS church but there’s no doubt that they will think even less of a politician who is trying to run away from the faith of his fathers.