Several times recently I’ve found myself in discussion with some of my Republican friends about Mitt Romney and the Mormon issue. The argument presented is that Romney can’t win the general election because evangelical voters – specifically those in the South – won’t vote for him because he’s a Mormon and that somehow the red states in the South will become possible Obama victories because of Romney’s faith.
I’m not going to get into the differences between the religious beliefs of evangelical voters and Mitt Romney; that’s a conversation for a different place at a different time (with someone much smarter than me). I would, however, like to address this notion about evangelical voters and their assumed behavior at the polls.
There’s a part of this argument that is valid: the part that takes place in the primary elections. It’s fair to assume that Romney is losing votes in the primary election because of his faith. I’d even make the argument that it’s a part of the reason Rick Santorum has been doing so well lately (though why they pick the liberal Catholic over the liberal Mormon is beyond me). The difference comes when we’re talking about a general election instead of a primary election.
In the primary, Romney will take a hit on being a Mormon just like Ron Paul loses votes over his stance on foreign policy. It’s the same way Newt Gingrich will lose votes because he is (or was) a pretentious, two-timing slime ball, and Rick Santorum will lose votes because, well, because he’s Rick Santorum.
But when November comes around, if Mitt Romney’s name is on the ballot, he’ll get the vast majority – if not all – of the evangelical vote. People who insist otherwise are deceiving themselves. Here’s why:
- Evangelical voters voted for John McCain. No, McCain’s problem wasn’t religious; his problem that he was a bad choice to be in charge of anything, especially not the whole nation. They might not have loved him like they loved Mike Huckabee. They may have only voted for him because of their love of Sarah Palin. But they voted for him. And anybody who was able to pull the lever for McCain will have no problem doing the same for Mitt Romney when the time comes.
- Evangelical voters hate Barack Obama. Whether it’s because they’re convinced he’s a citizen of another country, ineligible to be president, a secret undercover Muslim, or just because FOX News says to hate him, they hate him. And they’ll vote for anybody on the ballot who’s not Obama.
- Evangelical voters won’t support a pro-choice candidate. The default go-to party for a Republican’s protest vote is the Libertarian Party. Libertarians are typically pro-choice (Gary Johnson is, and I’m assuming he’ll be the nominee), and the evangelical voters I know would take a Mormon over a pro-choice candidate any day.
- Evangelical voters believe a vote for anyone other than the Republican is a vote for Obama. I’ve been on the receiving end of this point many times, so I’m certain it’s true. If you’re abstaining completely or voting for any candidate other than the Democrat, you’re really just helping elect a Democrat. It’s bad logic, and it’s not true; but that doesn’t stop them from believing it.
- Evangelical voters are Republicans who will vote for the Republican no matter what. They might want to cast a protest vote for the Libertarian or abstain altogether, but when it comes down to Election Day, the possibility of their red state turning blue will push them to vote for the Republican, even if he is a Mormon.
There are plenty of valid reasons to not vote for Romney – even in the general election: support of the health care mandate, his liberal tendencies while Governor, or maybe his warmongering preferences. But his religion isn’t one of those valid reasons.
Likewise, there are some good reasons to vote for Mitt Romney – even in the primary election: like his executive experience or his business experience. But again, his religion is not one of those reasons.
We need a president that is an honest, morally upright, decent person. And though you can disagree with the Mormons over what they believe, you’ll have a hard time finding a Mormon who doesn’t strive to be an honest person of impeccable character.
I no longer vote based on fear – fear of Democrats, fear of Mormons, or fear of what might happen if I don’t choose the guy with the “R” next to his name. I used to fall into that trap, but I don’t do that anymore because now I vote on the direction of my conscience. If I can’t vote for someone with a clear conscience, I don’t do it.
I encourage people to vote for what they believe is right and trust others to do the same. But though casting a principled vote sounds like a great idea, the truth is that evangelical voters won’t vote on principle; they’ll vote for their party because the nominee isn’t quite as bad as the Democrat they’re supposed to be voting against.
Evangelical voters, don’t get all emotional pretending you’re not going to vote for Romney simply because he’s a Mormon. When November arrives, you’ll vote for Romney because your political convictions outweigh your religious convictions.
And therein lies the problem.