Mormons, Mitt and Conservative Evangelicals

At Rolling Stone, the distinguished political historian Rick Perlstein provides some history about the regular trumping of theology by politics in the process of making his case that fear or hostility towards the LDS faith won’t keep conservative evangelicals from pulling the lever for Mitt Romney in November (or earlier than that in the primaries, once he is the putative nominee). Evangelicals used to say the same things or worse about Catholics, Perlstein notes, until they found a common cause–and common enemies–in the culture wars.

I definitely agree that Christian Right types will support Mitt against Obama, though I do not necessarily share Rick’s belief that the main factor at play here is unreflexive obedience of the rank-and-file to their political and religious leaders. So long as Gingrich and Santorum are still in the race, a few of their theocratic backers will use anti-Mormon prejudice as a tactical weapon. And some (though not many) low-information evangelical voters may refuse to go along in the general election.

The key factor here is the common-enemy issue. Conservative evangelicals may not like Mormonism, but they tend to like “Mormon values” a lot. And more importantly, the LDS and its believers are a lot less threatening to Christian Right foot soldiers than the “secular-socialists” they believe are hell-bent on eventually wiping out Christianity as we know it–less threatening, in fact, than the mainline Protestants that many evangelicals don’t consider actual Christians (e.g., the President of the United States) insofar as they deny biblical inerrancy and don’t understand that legalized abortion is the Second Holocaust.

As the old proverb says, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Whether politically active conservative evangelicals are entirely comfortable with Mormons or with Mitt, they qualify on those grounds.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.