Huntsman’s Candidacy and the Danger to Mormonism

As Jon Huntsman prepares to declare his candidacy for President, I wonder whether what he will have to do to become viable will pose a threat to GOP Mormon political figures outside Utah.

Given the collective insanity that now characterizes the GOP, Huntsman is going to have to flip-flop on a variety of issues.  Climate change?  He used to favor cap-and-trade, and as Utah Governor he had the state join the Western Climate Initiative.  Now he opposes both.  The stimulus?  In 2009, he said it was too small.  Now he supports the Ryan plan and wants to cut the budget even further.  He happily accepted the job as Obama’s Ambassador to China and is now running against him; despite a relatively cordial campaign statement, his rhetoric will have to get more extreme.  That’s going to get him the reputation in Republican circles as someone with no real convictions.

And what other candidate in the Republican race fits that pattern?  The other photogenic, former GOP governor who also just happens to be a Mormon: “Multiple Choice” Mitt Romney.

All politicians change their positions, flip-flop, backpedal, etc.  It’s part of the job.  It’s not a sin.  And it goes without saying that Mormon politicians are no better or worse than any other religion.  Orrin Hatch is very consistent, despite changing on the DREAM Act, for example.  Ditto Harry Reid.  Or all the Udalls.

But the current Republican base is religiously intolerant.  There is little doubt that one major reason why Romney flopped in 2008 was because evangelicals didn’t trust Mormons.  Jews are convenient to much of the evangelical “dispensationalist” base because Israel might provide a convenient Rapture launching pad, but anti-Semitism suffuses much of it, as does anti-Catholic intolerance: the website of Michele Bachmann’s church for many years referred to the Vatican as the “whore of Rome.”

And now the two Republican candidates who will be most susceptible to the charge of flip-flopping, inconsistency, lacking core convictions, untrustworthiness are members of a religion that much of the GOP base distrusts anyway, and for good measure, like many religions, keeps secrets. 

I suspect that over the next year we will be reading some very ugly things coming from evangelicals about the Latter-Day Saints.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

16 thoughts on “Huntsman’s Candidacy and the Danger to Mormonism”

  1. Jonathon,

    If you haven’t been reading ugly things about Latter-Day Saints coming from evangelicals already, you haven’t been paying attention. Here’s one, datelined Salt Lake City, and titled “A Vote for Romney Is a Vote for the LDS Church”: http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Vote-for-Romney-Is-a-Vote-for-the-LDS-Church-Warren-Cole-Smith-05-24-2011.html

    Here’s the nut ‘graph:

    Placing a Mormon in that pulpit would be a source of pride and a shot of adrenaline for the LDS church. It would serve to normalize the false teachings of Mormonism the world over. It would also provide an opening to Mormon missionaries around the world, who could start every conversation: “Let me tell you about the American president.” To elect a Mormon President is to advance the cause of the Mormon Church. (emphasis added)

    This is specific to Romney, I’m-an-evangelical-and-I-hate-Mormonism screeds are a nickel a gross. When it comes to evangelicals (and especially the really rabid ones), I feel a lot like Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your christians.”

  2. “the website of Michele Bachmann’s church for many years referred to the Vatican as the “whore of Rome.””

    Good to know if she gains any more traction.

    I suspect that anti-Mormonism is in the process of diminishing, but we’ll see. Romney tried to deal with it in ’08 by uniting the religious in hatred against the non-religious. Maybe he won’t feel the need to do that now, and the non-religious are increasing even among the right. We’ll see how it plays out though.

  3. Dennis, that didn’t seem that ugly, or even untrue (I don’t hear anyone claiming that the election of Obama hasn’t been generally a “source of pride and a shot of adrenaline” to black people)–except for the part about “false teachings”–which “Christian” zealots have been wont to use freely against anyone who sits more than one pew over from them on Sunday.

    It’s gonna get a lot uglier than that–although it will be hard to get uglier than what Obama has faced. It’s not likely anyone will imply a Mormon candidate is less than human.

  4. So, the threat is that a system of organized lunacy might get a reputation as… a system of organized lunacy? What exactly is the problem here?

  5. Brett, the question is whether Mormonism, especially as practiced by those born into it (as opposed to the typically more fervent converts) is any wackier than other faiths believed to be less politically problematic. John Hagee and James Dobson are leading lights to the Republican Religious Right, but are undoubtedly at least as nutty as Huntsman. Heck, there’s every reason to find some of Dubya’s religious statements to be of more concern than anything I suspect Huntsman or Romney believe.

  6. @ doretta

    Perhaps I’m reading between the lines, or hearing the dog-whistles in that article. Joseph Smith ran for President in 1844, and his published writings reflect a belief that theocracy is the ideal form of government. (See Brodie’s biography of Smith, No Man Knows My History for some of the details, Quinn The Mormon Hierarchy: The Origins of Power has other details, particularly with regard to how Smith’s beliefs about government affected the LDS power structures.)

    Now, I suspect that the evangelical crowd with agree with that viewpoint, provided they were allowed to be the theocrats. What they fear is a theocracy where someone else is the theocrat. Since they’ve spent the last 150 years or so convincing themselves that the LDS is devil-spawned, it’s no surprise that they write things like this.

    And it’s going to get worse, so long as Romney and Huntsman remain in the race.

  7. Warren, is it any wackier? Well, maybe a little, what with the magical glasses and all. But I’d be fine with other religions being discredited, too; It’s all good, when a religion gets discredited.

  8. I gotta disagree with Jonathan’s political analysis. Romney is running for President in 2012. Huntsman is running for 2016. Huntsman’s hope is that the wheels come off in 2012 for the Republicans, preferably with Michelle Bachman as their candidate, and they feel compelled to run with a sane candidate in 2016. So he has no incentive to act particularly crazy, by current Republican standards, at least. In contrast, Romney must swallow soap so he can appear to foam at the mouth.

  9. In all seriousness, though, as much as the thought might disturb you, given the relative proportion of Repubicans and Mormons in the population, a Mormon getting the nomination is likely to increase, not decrease, the reputation of the religion. Assuming he doesn’t auger in spectacularly…

  10. Oh, the irony! During my military career, active & reserve, I knew many Mormons. (They seem to have a propensity for military service.) I’ve subsequently become acquainted with a few more. With virtually no exceptions the Mormons I have known have been good people and excellent role models. Their faith seems to instill the primacy of God, country, and family to possibly a greater degree than other faiths. Of course this is a snap judgment based on personal, anecdotal evidence, but I would have thought that most God-fearing, flag-waving, family-values GOPers would find a Mormon candidate very appealing.

  11. You know, both Romney and Huntsman would have problems even if they weren’t Mormons. It’s never a good year for a gun control advocate like Romney to run for the Republican nomination, and, when the GOP is running against Obamacare, Romneycare is a bit of an albatross, for all that doing it at the state level doesn’t have quite the constitutional problems. And he’s got serious amnesty problems, too. Basically he’s a liberal Republican trying to pretend to be a conservative, and conservatives are sick of that sort of thing.

    Likewise Huntsman has amnesty problems, Obamacare problems, and, really, do you want to run a former member of the administration against the administration? Ok, so he’s got Harry Reid’s endorsement. That’s supposed to help him win the Republican nomination? I don’t think so.

    Bottom line is, neither of them needed to be Mormons to lose the nomination.

  12. “I suspect that over the next year we will be reading some very ugly things coming from evangelicals about the Latter-Day Saints.”

    Ugly in exactly what way? Uglier than what Mormons say every day about gay people?

    You mean things like Brett’s “So, the threat is that a system of organized lunacy might get a reputation as… a system of organized lunacy?”
    This might set you all aflutter if you’re living in some sort of hippy “all religions are fundamentally true and reflect our inner star child” fantasy, but I have no problem with calling a spade a spade. I just wish Brett had the self-awareness to see that his words apply just as much to Catholicism, or Orthodoxy, or any of the ten million variants on Protestantism, or Judaism, or …

  13. “Their faith seems to instill the primacy of God, country, and family to possibly a greater degree than other faiths. Of course this is a snap judgment based on personal, anecdotal evidence, but I would have thought that most God-fearing, flag-waving, family-values GOPers would find a Mormon candidate very appealing.”

    Do American high schools really teach NOTHING about European religious history? Not even about WHY the Pilgrims and Puritans left England?
    Ralph, you are committing exactly the same error that all moderately “spiritual” people commit — thinking that you understand these people and their motivations.
    The issue has NOTHING to do with “things we all agree on” like living an ethical life, or even, in this case, whether god exists. The issue hangs on theological minutiae.

    Look at European history. Is the Holy Ghost WITHIN us or BESIDE us? Does the Holy Ghost give rise to God, or to both God AND Jesus? Does the wafer in the mass “really” turn into the body of Christ? These are important issues worth killing or dying over.
    There are plenty of “martyrs”, on both the Catholic and Protestant side who died not because religion offered a good excuse to off troublemakers, but because they sincerely would not on one of these bizarre issues, and their opponents likewise.
    And it’s not even just US history. Should preachers concentrate on the Covenant of Works or the Covenant of Grace? Look at where Rhode Island came from…

    Compared to these minute differences (which remain amongst all these Churches, if you actually believe this stuff full-bore), Mormonism is obviously way beyond the pale.

  14. “I just wish Brett had the self-awareness to see that his words apply just as much to Catholicism, or Orthodoxy, or any of the ten million variants on Protestantism, or Judaism, or …”

    As an atheist, I find that wish hilariously redundant.

  15. Fair enough, Brett.
    I’ve never seen you express those sentiments before, but then, I’ve hardly taken the time to read your entire web oeuvre.
    My bad.

    (Of course we could then go down the path of whether your economic beliefs form a faith-based system of organized lunacy, pace my comment in
    http://www.samefacts.com/2011/06/economics/alfred-marshall-v-homo-economicus/#comments
    But I don’t have the energy for that right now, and this post is probably not the right forum anyway.)

  16. Well, Maynard, the “But I’d be fine with other religions being discredited, too; It’s all good, when a religion gets discredited.” remark might have clued you in…

    No, probably not the right forum, and I suspect your understanding of my economics is not hugely better than my religion… Remind me if an appropriate thread appears.

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