GOP considers two Mormons (moderates?)

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By Rick Howell

    Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, not just in life but even in presidential politics.

    Given the rise of the religious right in Republican Party politics since the 1980s, the GOP has been seen by many as almost a completely religious party.
    But no one would have foreseen that next year, two of the party’s leading presidential candidates would be…Christians, yes, but…Mormons?
    Many Protestants (and probably many Catholics, too) might not say it out loud, but they see the Mormons as little more than a cult. They think of founder Joseph Smith siring all those children with all those different women and, well, it just gets worse from there.
    The sort of Christian fundamentalists, “evangelicals,” I suppose, who make up the Falwell/Robertson wing of the GOP also can’t abide anyone reading a “Book of Mormon,” not when so many of them believe in the inerrancy of their King James Bible.
    Certainly, Governor Mitt Romney understands this. In 2008, he and his staff referred to the problem as “TMT,” The Mormon Thing. But Romney didn’t get far enough to have it become a major issue. This time, he could well be the nominee.
    Romney is easily leading the pack when it comes to raising money. In just one day recently, he raised $10 million. He has wide support among “the Republican establishment,” meaning RNC members, long-time major donors, and various state party leaders and players.
    But the nominee is decided by the winners of primaries and caucuses, which gets us back to right-wing Christian fundamentalists, and the other far-right types that typically vote in those contests.
    Yet, the hard-core types in the party would seem to have several options among Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, maybe Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry, if he gets in.
    Could it be that another Mormon might emerge as Romney’s chief alternative? Former Utah Governor Jon Hunstman entered the race a few weeks back. He is said to be the one candidate the White House might fear, given his pedigree in government and his personal fortune.
    Hunstman wants to try something new in the politics of his party. He wants to seek the presidency without spending every minute demonizing Barack Obama, shouting “socialism, socialism!,” and actually showing respect for the man and the office.
    So, here we are, the year before the election, and the race for the party’s nod might come down to two Mormons. Jerry Falwell must be turning over in his grave, so to speak.
    Romney and Hunstman might have something else in common: Both could be closet moderates. Romney has quite a record as a moderate governor of Massachusetts and has caught a lot of flak from the far right for the health care law he passed there.
    Hunstman has made it clear that he’s ready to rein in the military empire we’ve maintained. He called Afghanistan “a tribal state,” and said we had no business playing “traffic cop” there.
    But far-right shock troops long ago took over the national GOP, and “moderate” is essentially a dirty word. Conservatism is the party religion, or at least a 12-step program to which any nominee must consent.
    But if either man starts getting close to the nomination, who will bring up TMT, the Mormon thing? Bachmann strikes me as a likely person to do this, especially given her status as a “Christian conservative.”
    So, for Romney and Hunstman,  I don’t know what’s worse: Being a Mormon among a bunch of religious rightists, or a moderate surrounded by far-right caucus and primary voters.
    At any rate – and this is the good news - I don’t see either one of them beating President Barack Obama.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.