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.