Conservative, evangelical Christians have been slow to embrace Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential campaign because of his Mormon faith. But if Romney wins the GOP nomination, he faces an even “nastier” campaign from liberals and the secular left over his religion, according to a Mormon scholar.
“I’d be really surprised if we don’t see a kind of consistent whisper campaign that implicates Romney’s Mormonism,” said Patrick Mason, professor of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in California.
Mason believes the secular left feels threatened by religion and is likely to lash out at what he calls “the peculiar aspects of Mormonism.”
“We’ve already started to see this kind of rhetoric. There really is a certain nastiness to it, a certain meanness to it. I think partly it’s just an overall beef with serious and conservative religion in public life,” said Mason, author of “The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South.”
Mason cites a recent column in the New York Times by Yale professor Harold Bloom, who called Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, “a superb trickster.”
“The Salt Lake City empire of corporate greed has little enough in common with the visions of Joseph Smith. The oligarchs of Salt Lake City, who sponsor Mr. Romney, betray what ought to have been their own religious heritage,” wrote Bloom.
Christopher Hitchens went even further in a recent column in Slate, calling Smith a “fraud and a conjurer” who founded a “weird and sinister belief system.”
“We are fully entitled to ask Mitt Romney about the forces that influenced his political formation,” Hitchens wrote, declaring Romney’s religion fair game in the presidential campaign. “He should be asked to defend and explain himself, and his voluntary membership in one of the most egregious groups operating on American soil.”
Mason predicts more of that should Romney win the GOP nomination.
“Certainly they’ll pick up on the history of polygamy,” Mason told American News Report. “They’ll say that Mormonism is anti-democratic, that’s its hierarchical, that’s its patriarchal. There will probably be stuff that it discriminates against women, that it has a history of discrimination against blacks, that it’s homophobic. I think those are the kind of critiques that we’ll see from the secular left. But those are people who weren’t going to vote for Romney anyway.”
Mason said it reminds him of the 1960 presidential campaign, when polls showed that about a third of Americans would be unwilling to vote for a Catholic. That year John F. Kennedy was elected the nation’s first Roman Catholic president.
“There’s no doubt there’s a pervasive strain of anti-Mormonism,” said Mason. “It either comes out of ignorance or genuine disagreement. But I’m not sure that translates into an absolute prohibition on Mormons being successful running for office.”