Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Talking politics in and around church

I attend a theologically conservative Reformed church. With the approach of the Georgia primary, people have begun to talk about politics on occasions when we get together. Since I’m the only "political scientist" ready at hand, they ask me what I think. Here’s what I tell them.

First, the real national race for the Republican nomination is between Romney and McCain. That doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t vote for someone else, just that, when the dust settles, it’s likely to be Mitt or Mac.

Second, since a lot of people kinda like Mike, I tell them that the only--very, very, very slim--chance for their man is if McCain and Romney split the non-Southern primaries on Super Tuesday, while Huckabee runs the table in the South.

I also tell them that they won’t simply be throwing away their vote if they vote for Huckabee, assuming that either of the likelier nominees is acceptable. A vote for Huckabee can be a "send-em-a-message" vote, the message being the issues he emphasizes and the constituencies to which he appeals need to be taken seriously by the GOP establishment, not to mention by the 2008 nominee. The Republican stool needs all three legs and, numerically, the socially conservative leg is quite significant. Where would the Republicans have been without it in the past twenty years? Republicans also have to recognize that that leg is "evolving" a bit, with younger evangelicals having a broader set of policy interests than their elders. There’s a reason why Huckabee does well, for a Republican, among younger voters.

I also spend a good bit of time explaining to my fellow church-goers that Romney is not beyond the pale, that the Constitution contains his Mormonism the same way it contains their evangelicalism. The government can promote religious freedom and cooperate with all denominations in the pursuit of limited ends, but it can’t be used exclusively to favor the aims of one denomination. This is a hard sell, not because the people with whom I sit in the pews are theonomists, dominionists, or theocrats, but because they have an ill-defined concern about Mormonism and because they think that the example of a Mormon President can’t help but help that religion in the spiritual marketplace.

Next, I tell them that, while November is a long way off, right now it seems like McCain is probably a stronger general election candidate than is Romney. The latter has spent tons of money and had a hard time beating an underfunded field. Stated another way, Romney clearly has some significant strengths as an administrator and manager, but he’s not a good campaigner. While being President shouldn’t be about engaging in a permanent campaign, you have to win the office before you can put your other skills to good use...and perhaps begin to shift public expectations back to where they should be. If electability is their principal concern--something I stress is hard to know this far out (not too long ago, Giuliani seemed to be the winner of the electability derby)--McCain seems to be a better bet than Romney.

Finally, I suggest that, regardless of the Republican nominee, Hillary Clinton is probably a little easier to beat than Obama. If on February 5th in Georgia you see people who ought to have voted for the man from Hope voting instead for the woman who’s visited Hope once or twice, you’ll know why.

Discussions - 10 Comments

"they have an ill-defined concern about Mormonism and because they think that the example of a Mormon President can’t help but help that religion in the spiritual marketplace."

Albert Mohler publicly voiced concerns along these lines early on, but I think he has backed off a bit. He was not critical of Bob Jones III for his endorsement of Romney. But why is this necessarily an invalid concern? Its logic strikes me as hard to counter whether or not you think it is legitimate to consider. If a Wiccan was elected President, would that not further Wicca in the "spiritual marketplace?" Is it out of bounds because Mormonism claims to be a brand of Christianity and arose from Christianity, but would not be for Wicca because it is far outside of what is normal for America, or would it be illegitimate to consider for a Wiccan candidate as well?

A Wiccan candidate would promote far different politics than the folk in my disorganized, but orthodox, non-denominational church would ever support. Romney's politics and his spiritual values comport very well with their politics and interests. They, too, are leery of Mormonism, and many regret the passing of the Thompson candidacy and like Huckabee. Yet if they didn't know Romney was a Mormon, they would be very happy to support him, and may yet support him if it comes down to a Mac/Mitt race.

Kate, I'm not talking about policy. I'm talking about the concern that elevating a person of a certain faith to the level of President, would help legitimize that faith in the "spiritual marketplace." That seems like an entirely reasonable concern to me.

Mr. Phillips: What are you worried about? Why must Mormons be denied legitimacy in the "spiritual marketplace?" If they deserve no more of a hearing than Wiccan -- if their teachings are no more plausible or attractive than those of Wiccans -- then it seems there is no need to special action to suppress their "legitimacy."

Ralph, perhaps legitimize was a poor choice of words. (What I meant was legitimize it as just another denomination of Christianity which it is not.) Popularize might have been a better word. I am a Christian. I believe that Christianity is the Truth. Since Mormonism differs from Christianity on fundamental matters of faith, I believe Mormonism is in grave error. Why then would I not be concerned that Mormonism might increase in popularity?

The spiritual marketplace terminology was not mine. It is not a matter of determining which religion is more "plausible or attractive" in some sort of competition. It is about which religion happens to be True.

Personally, I think the "it might increase the popularity of Mormonism" is a bit of a dodge even though it is a reasonable concern. Christians should reject the liberal assumption that argues that it is illegitimate for Christians to prefer to vote for other Christians in the first place.


I don't regard it as illegitimate to make a candidate's faith (or lack thereof) a consideration in one's voting decision. Personally, I'm not particularly worried about what a political leader's success or lack thereof does to promote or diminish the popularity of his denomination, at least if he's acting within the confines of the Constitution. In fact, I doubt that there's any evidence that a President's denomination has gained anything as a result of his Presidency.

I take it then, Red, that you consider argument (for example, as to what is "more plausible or attractive") to be irrelevant to the question of what "happens to be true"?? Of course you are free to define "Christian" in a way you (and of course many others -- yes, over many centuries, that's right) find comfortable; but then you oblige me to point out that this is of course a point at issue between members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormons") and their detractors. I would be happy to reserve theological discussions for other venues, but since you seem to regard them as central to the political questions at hand, and since you apparently think little of Mr. Romney's explicit professions of belief in Christ as Savior and Redeemer, I offer this recent, plain, and authoritative (for "Mormons") statement.,5232,23-1-775-15,00.html

That said, I in fact agree with you that it is in general reasonable for Christians to prefer (on balance) to vote for other Christians whose deepest convictions they share. And none of this commits me to favoring Mitt Romney, though I confess he is looking better to me that the alternatives at present.

1/29/2008 12:18 AM

Electability - hard to believe that people still believe this stuff. In January 1980, Reagan was getting killed in the polls by Carter. The polls in Spring have a near perfect rack record of projecting the wrong winner in November.

There may be reasons not to vote for Romney, but this is not one of them.

Back in 1980, few doubted Reagan's capacity as a campaigner or his quality as a communicator. My concerns about electability are in part built on the fact that Romney has won, where he's won, in large part by being able to outspend his rivals, something he won't be able to do against either Clinton or Obama. I also wonder about his ability to appeal beyond his Republican base. In the end, I just haven't been impressed by him as a campaigner. I don't have many doubts about his abilities as an administrator, but, as I said in the post, he has to be able to put himself in a position to use those abilities.

I know that people can grow on the campaign trail, but they can also diminish. And I also know that November's a long way off. Hence my hedging.

No. What worried people about Reagan was whether or not he might be a crazy person and exposure proved him not to be. Local Republicans, back then, told me Reagan would never appeal beyond a small section of the Republican base. Well. I ask you....

The more I watch the Democratic candidates, the more hopeful I become about just about any Republican left standing after the next few weeks.

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