The separation of church and hate

As night follows day, Mitt Romney’s ascension to the status of Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting has been followed by escalating attacks from the left on every aspect of the candidate’s character and heritage, including his Mormon faith.

Every day seems to produce fresh examples of the left’s anti-Mormonism. The most prominent recent example came from Democratic Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Speaking to reporters, he suggested Romney would have a difficult time winning over female voters because his “family came from a polygamy commune in Mexico” and because women are “not great fans of polygamy.”

It was an odd statement to make, especially given that Schweitzer’s preferred candidate—Barack Obama—himself comes from a family with a history of polygamy.  

It was also odd because it’s President Obama’s position on marriage that’s more likely to lead to legal recognition of polygamous unions. Liberals dismiss the slippery slope arguments against same-sex marriage—that altering the legal definition of marriage in terms of gender will eventually lead to altering the definition in terms of number.

But, as David J Rusin argued in a recent National Review article, today’s polygamists, mostly Muslims, are a determined lot. “[N]either bureaucratic obstacles nor public exposure of the social ills accompanying polygamy will deter polygamous Muslims from seeking what they desire.”

Gov. Schweitzer’s remarks underscored the left’s animosity not toward polygamy but toward Mormons. Every poll that breaks down Americans’ views of Mormonism by political party shows that, on average, the more liberal a person’s politics, the more likely he is to have anti-Mormon bias.

In a 2011 poll, Gallup found that 27 percent of self-identified Democrats said they would not vote for a Mormon of their own party for president. Only 18 percent of Republicans felt similarly. Polls by Quinnipiac and Pew have found similar disparities.

A Pew poll found that 31 percent of Democrats and 23 percent Republicans said they would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate. It also found that 41 percent of liberal Democrats said they would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate.

These numbers may explain why most of the media’s anti-Mormon rhetoric has come from the most liberal outlets, including the New York Times and MSNBC.

Even some liberals are beginning to acknowledge that anti-Mormon bigotry is more often found on the left. As the Daily Beast writer Peter Beinart admitted last week, “Democrats have [a] bigger anti-Mormon problem” than Republicans.

Earlier this year, leftwing columnist Frank Rich wrote in New York Magazine that liberal anti-Mormonism was the “big dog that has yet to bark, and surely will by October.”

By October? Try April. While most voters don’t start paying close attention to elections until October, the left is already honing its attacks on Romney’s faith.

The media spent most of the last year warning of conservative and evangelical bias against Romney because of his faith. But the only example they could cite was Pastor Robert Jeffress, who in October publicly referred to Mormonism as a “cult” and declared that Romney is not a Christian and that “every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.”

Of course, the media ignored what Jeffress said next, which was that if it came down to a choice between Romney and Obama, he’d support Romney for the White House. Which is precisely what  Jeffress did last week, telling reporters that he endorsed Romney “in spite of his Mormon faith.”

The left’s preoccupation with Romney’s faith gives the Republican nominee a chance, as one political consultant put it to Politico recently, to “own his Mormonism.” Polls show that most Americans who know anything about Romney know that he is a Mormon. He can’t run from it.

Romney’s faith will continue to be a major target for liberal pundits and Obama surrogates. Liberal comics will no doubt continue to have a field day lampooning its more exotic traditions.

But there’s no need for Romney to give another Kennedy-esque speech distancing himself from his church, as he did in 2007. Instead of running away from his faith in public, Romney should use the attention to explain to voters how his faith informs his conservative positions on life, marriage and family.

The liberal media attack Romney’s faith not because they are skeptical about its doctrines. Secularists don’t care about theological debates. Nor are they really bothered by the more controversial parts of Mormonism’s history, such as its treatment of black members.

They scrutinize Romney’s faith mainly because Romney is the only one standing between their candidate, Barack Obama, and a second term. Which is the same reason even the most conservative evangelical should be willing to overlook Romney’s faith come Election Day.