Mitt Romney
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

In explaining his vote to convict President Trump on the first article of impeachment—abuse of power—Mitt Romney invoked the example of his father, George Romney, a prominent Republican leader. But I kept thinking of a different Romney relative – his great, great grandfather, Parley Pratt.

Pratt was one of the original apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He was imprisoned because of his association with Joseph Smith, the religion’s founder, who was quite literally martyred for his faith. Pratt’s relatives fled to Mexico to avoid persecution for practicing an important tenet of their faith, polygamy.

Much has been made of the religiosity of Romney’s Senate speech. Most notably, Trump scorned him for it and suggested he “used religion as a crutch.” But Romney has mentioned his oath before God many times before Wednesday. In fact, I cant help but think that Romney’s religiosity wasn’t the only factor in guiding him toward his decision, but his Mormonism specifically.

It’s hard to generalize, but while LDS members have become deeply mainstream, and reliably Republican, they also have a vivid of history being isolated, attacked, and alone. I wonder if there might also be, in their cultural DNA, a visceral understanding of being the ones who stand in isolation against the dominant culture.

Other examples come to mind. Jeff Flake, heretofore the most prominent never-Trumper, was also Mormon. In 2010, the conservative movement rallied around an effort to block the construction of an Islamic center in lower Manhattan. Only one conservative Republican that I could find – Senator Orrin Hatch, also a Mormon – defended the Ground Zero Mosque.

This is not to say Romney has a long history of such principled behavior. He is one of the most ideologically malleable politicians on the national stage, He went from being a liberal Republican governor of Massachusetts to a conservative Republican when running for president. I’ve long thought that he made a huge mistake in 2012 by trying to hide his Mormonism. He kept talking about his “Christian Faith” instead of leaning into his genuine LDS piety.

In one of his interviews this week, he said he’d regretted moments in his own career when he put political expediency over his own moral code. “I have found, in business in particular but also in politics, that when something is in your personal best interests, the ability of the mind to rationalize that that’s the right thing is really quite extraordinary. I have seen it in others, and I have seen it in myself.”

I’m not sure what Parley Pratt would have made of that. But he might have advised him: Don’t worry great, great grandson, it’s okay to stand against the mainstream culture.

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Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman is chair of the Rebuild Local News Coalition, cofounder of Report for America, and a contributing editor at the Washington Monthly.