Conspiracy Theories

The Book of Anti-Mormon

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Jeremy Lott on the politics of anti-Mormonism:

Riders of the purple panic.

Anti-Mormonism played a highly exaggerated role in Romney's defeat four years ago….That heavily evangelical Republican primary voters didn't buy into his candidacy right away does not mean that they were passing judgment on Romney's religion. There were plenty of reasons not to vote for him that had nothing to do with his religion. He was considered a centrist from Massachusetts in a party that is more conservative and now has a Southern base. Romney had learned his moderation in the cradle. His father, auto exec and Michigan governor George Romney, had been the preferred candidate of the Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party against Richard Nixon in 1968.

Mitt Romney flip-flopped and zigzagged a lot and then shamelessly turned around and attacked people for taking the very positions he used to hold. This enraged his primary opponents. Their political consultants found that one of the best ways to attack him was with robocalls that simply replayed Romney's old words to would-be voters. They could quote him distancing himself from President Reagan, say, or endorsing insurance mandates, or huffily and unambiguously endorsing the right to abortion.

Few of the reasons shouted publicly or whispered privately against Romney four years ago had a thing to do with his Mormonism. At best, it was a sweetener for evangelical voters: "Vote for Huckabee/McCain/Fred Thompson because he agrees with us and, by the way, he's not a Mormon." Many Romney backers refused to admit their candidate's own qualities had something to do with his loss. They blamed the whole tackle box on anti-Mormon bigotry and worried that persistent prejudice would prevent Romney from running a successful campaign in the future.

Go here to read the whole piece, which discusses the current race as well as the last one. And stay tuned to Reason for more on the subject: I have an article coming up in the August/September issue arguing that, despite some high-profile moments of anti-Mormon bigotry on the campaign trail, by historical standards Mormonism enjoys a high level of acceptance in America today. Strange stories about the church still circulate, but we are a long way from the days when the popular perception of the faith featured a wild mélange of mind control, assassinations, secret sexual lodges, and conspiracies to subvert the republic.