Mitt Romney has sat atop or near the top of Republican primary polls for months, but the party needs to have an internal discussion before they’re ready for a Republican presidential candidate, according to writer and Mormon expert Joanna Brooks.
Polling has suggested that a large minority of Evangelical Christian, Republican-leaning voters – an important constituency in the GOP primary – might be less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate.
“I think the GOP may have a problem on its hands,” said Brooks on the ABC News politics program “Top Line”.
” Over the last 20 years evangelical Christian conservatives have emerged as perhaps the largest single voting bloc in the Republican party, and 30% expressed reservations or say they outright won’t vote for a Mormon candidate for president. Those folks make up to about 60% of the voters in early states like Iowa and South Carolina. I’m thinking at some point maybe the GOP is going to have to have a sit down if Romney continues to be sort of the inevitable frontrunner as he appears now to be, there is going to have to be some in-house discussion.”
She pointed out that Mitt Romney, a Republican front-runner, has done his best to make religion besides his campaign and expressed doubt that Romney will be the candidate who can pierce through and become the first Mormon president.
“Anti-Mormon sentiment has been around for more than 150 years in the United States, I don’t think it’s going to disappear in one election cycle, and I’m afraid Mitt Romney is probably not the guy to do it. He’s a very careful politician, he wants to avoid sticky subjects.”
Brooks talked about Romney’s involvement in the church and that of all Mormon men.
“One thing that’s important to know about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is that the entire clergy is volunteer, so basically every adult male who is responsible gets a pastoral responsibility at some point. I mean certainly he has a record as someone who knows how to care for a community in pastoral ways. There’s a controversy about some of his record as a bishop actually in terms of some abortion counseling he did, that issue will probably resurface once again during the election. But you know Romney himself in his book, in his speech in 2008, has shown absolutely no desire to make his Mormonism an issue.”
Brooks talked about the large reach of the Mormon community in the U.S. and some common misperceptions about them.
“There are 7 million Mormons in the United States, we live in 50 states of the country, we don’t all live in Utah. It’s amazing, fully 80% in one recent poll I saw of Americans said they just don’t know that much about Mormonism,” she said. “People should know that we descend from American Protestantism, we have some beliefs considered unorthodox by other Christians, but we’re a Christian faith at heart. A lot of people believe we still practice polygamy, they’ve seen sensational coverage for example of some of the fundamentalist ultra-orthodox splinter groups in the West who do continue to practice. Mainstream Mormons like Harry Reid and Mitt Romney do not practice polygamy. It’s amazing how many people think we still do.”
But with attention, Brooks said “America is certainly having a Mormon moment and exploring its feelings about Mormonism and its anxieties and its lack of understanding.”
“The Church is certainly doing its part trying to get a message out on its own websites, it has a media campaign running in 15 major American cities trying to introduce people to who contemporary Mormons actually are,” she said. “Romney is going to try and lay low and just survive the best he can, and maybe Huntsman in 2016 who actually profits from all the suffering Romney is doing now.”