The media and Mormonism, on the eve of the election
At the end of August, Ed Klein, author of The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House, wrote an editorial for Fox News in which he described a meeting headed by Obama’s campaign manager, David Axelrod. “According to my sources inside the campaign, Axelrod & Co. discussed what might be called the nuclear option: unleashing an attack on Romney’s Mormon faith via the mainstream media,” Klein wrote. The primary strategic goal would be turning evangelical voters, a key element of George Bush’s winning 2004 coalition, away from Romney.
Klein’s sources told him Axelrod was considering this risky strategy because the polls were closing in Wisconsin, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Seven weeks after Klein wrote his editorial, most of those states have indeed become very tight, and there are polls showing Romney ahead in most of them.
There has been sporadic media interest in Mormonism throughout the campaign, ever since Mitt Romney became the likely Republican nominee. Quite a few stories were popping right around the time Klein wrote, and he listed some of them in his piece, from GQ Magazine and hyperventilating MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell (currently a minor sideshow attraction for challenging Romney’s son Tagg to a fistfight) launching high-octane tirades, to more respectable media outlets producing lengthy “special reports,” of the type they would never dream of directing at Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s Church of Racial Hatred.
A couple of weeks later, U.S. News & World Report noted that according to Google search data, interest in Romney and Mormonism was “higher than ever before.” Searches for the term “Romney Mormon” saw “a significant spike” in August. The U.S. News analysis even mentioned that it might have been prompted by all the media coverage Ed Klein had mentioned. According to Google, there was more interest in Romney’s religion than in any of the overt attacks launched by the Obama campaign, including Bain Capital and Romney’s tax returns.
But by the end of September, both media coverage of Mormonism and Google search excitement had begun to subside. (Funny how they seemed to drop off in tandem, isn’t it?)
If the media coverage, and consequent public interest, was directed or nourished by the Obama campaign, it would appear their “nuclear option” fizzled. If it was merely a spontaneous expression of interest by curious voters, their curiosity would appear to be satisfied.
Rev. Billy Graham weighs in
And the window of opportunity for using Mormonism as a wedge to peel off evangelical voters appears to have closed, because early in October evangelist Billy Graham took “public steps to embrace Mitt Romney for president, removing Romney’s Mormon religion from a list of cults on his website and taking out an advertisement that appears to urge people to vote for Romney,” as reported by ABC News.
Mormons had formerly been sandwiched between Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists on Graham’s cult list, but Romney visited with Graham at his North Carolina home, and things apparently went very well. Graham didn’t quite come around to formally endorsing Romney, but his organization did take out an ad in the Wall Street Journal urging voters to cast their ballots for “those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman.” And that sure as heck isn’t Barack Obama.
A September special report on “Mitt’s Mormon-Christian Coalition” by Jeremy Lott chronicled the evolving relationship between Catholics, evangelicals, and Mormons as the Romney campaign unfolded. There were questions about some degree of anti-Mormon bias contributing to his 2008 primary defeat, but by 2012 it never seemed to be much of a factor. Evangelical support began lining up behind Romney early. There were evangelicals like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry in the race, but voters of that faith background who didn’t support Romney tended to line up behind Catholics Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. A majority of Catholic voters, meanwhile, seemed to prefer Romney, who would eventually select a Catholic running mate, Paul Ryan. There doesn’t seem to be any politically meaningful interfaith tension – certainly not enough to offset Obama’s abortion extremism, or the assault on religious liberty under Obamacare.
Of course, in the wake of the “Innocence of Muslims” controversy, it’s tough for the Obama campaign to cast aspersions on anyone’s religion – the president just spent several weeks loudly declaring that religious insults are absolutely intolerable. The Mormon church hasn’t given the media much in the way of controversy to write about. Romney has even been known to invite reporters along to church services. The voting public appears no more concerned with Romney’s church than it does with Big Bird or “binders full of women.”
Editor’s note: Click here to read Jeremy Lott’s special report.