I’m actually kind of intrigued by the Republican primary. I mean, yes, I’ve been alarmed, too, but mostly intrigued. It seems like Romney has been anointed the obvious front-runner almost from the get-go and the media stories have all been “And here’s where Romney’s lead becomes decisive and unassailable” only to have the decisive and unassailable lead evaporate. And yes, no delegates were awarded to Santorum yesterday, but he’s got very little money and his association with poop is even more yucky than Romney’s “I let the dog shit on the roof of my car” association. So, I think the fact that he pulled three wins out of his ass (sorry, folks, sorry) says something important.
I think it’s obvious that Romney doesn’t have the support of regular Republican voters and I think regular Republican voters are trying to signal as hard as they can that they wish they had someone else to vote for. But I’ve been trying to understand why, exactly, in order to speculate on whether he could turn it around.
Clearly, his religion is a problem. And one that the Republican establishment doesn’t quite understand. I think they think that he says he’s a Christian, so fine, he’s a Christian. But I don’t think Republican voters buy that. When he says he’s a Christian, I think it makes a lot of non-Mormon Christians uncomfortable and upset. The problem is that, for him to say he’s a Christian, for a lot of Christians, means that basic doctrinal tenets of Christianity can just be ignored. It’s not a matter of whether women can be preachers or something (though people get really worked up about that, too.)–not a “B” level problem. Christians don’t believe men become gods–an “A” level issue, so to speak (I’d lump in the divinity of Christ and the mystery of the Trinity as being other examples of “A” level issues). So, a religion that does believe that and which also calls itself “Christian” is going to dip into a lot of people’s uncanny valley–it’s supposed to be Christian and it comes so close that its inability to bridge the gap causes revulsion.
But would it be better for Romney to say that he’s not a Christian? I don’t know. We have another prominent example of a religion that believes Jesus is a holy dude, but that Christianity isn’t the end-all-be-all of religions and that they, in fact, have a later revelation that surpasses the New Testament. But I have a hard time imagining a Muslim Republican Presidential Candidate. Except that, I feel like, if I squint a little and imagine a Republican party that was like “Hey, let’s focus on economic conservatism and religious freedoms” and that turned away from xenophobic bigotry, it’s not hard for me to imagine Muslim Republican politicians. The party’d have to move some, but it’s going to have to move some if it doesn’t want to be lost on the trash heap of history.
I mean, consider where Republicans were, even twenty years ago, with Catholics and now Santorum is running for president as a Republican. And he’s getting votes, at least in the primary, from people who believe Catholics aren’t really Christian.
So, I don’t know. Maybe that’s an argument for Romney to continue to say he’s a Christian–eventually people will come around? But I don’t know. The differences between Catholics and Protestants aren’t at that “A” level.
And I stand by my earlier statement that this kind of has the Republicans over a barrel. If Mormons come to believe that Republicans won’t vote for a Mormon because of his religion, the Republicans face an enormous and very real risk of losing the Mormons.
But the other thing is that, as assholish as I think Santorum and Bachmann and Gingrich are, they’ve done a very good job of having a point of view and a message and getting it out there.
What does Romney really stand for? I don’t know.
One thing is clear, though. The time has NEVER been riper for a conservative party that wasn’t xenophobic. A political party that appealed to conservative Mormons, Muslims, African-Americans, Latin@s, and gay people as well as fiscally conservative white people would be incredibly popular. And I wonder if we’ll see a party like that come into being.