Sabato’s Crystal Ball: The Romneys Run for President

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON? The Romneys Run for President

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America has known successful political dynasties in the last generation or two–the Bushes, the Clintons, the Kennedys. Not quite on the same level are the Romneys. George Romney made an unsuccessful run for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination. His son, Mitt, is currently seeking the same goal. Like his father, he is touting himself as a successful businessman, popular big-state governor, devout Mormon and family man.

But he can be forgiven if he hopes the similarities end there. For it was 40 years ago this month that Mitt Romney’s father was the victim of one of the more noteworthy “gotcha” moments of the media age, when he talked of being “brainwashed” by U.S. military and diplomats on a fact-finding visit to Vietnam. It set in play a slow motion political suicide that culminated several months later with the expiration of the Romney campaign before a single primary state had voted.

The episode began innocently enough. On Aug. 31, 1967, the senior Romney–then in his third term as governor of Michigan – taped an interview for a Detroit-based news show. In the process, he undertook to explain his early support of the war still raging in Vietnam–a support that had begun to wane. “Well, you know when I came back from Vietnam (in 1965),” Romney said, “I just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get…not only by the generals, but also by the diplomatic corps over there, and they do a very thorough job.”

According to Theodore White in his book, The Making of the President 1968, it appeared to be an unscripted “tossaway” line. But the comment was the one that the interviewer chose to accent in hyping his show to others in the media. The interview was telecast in Detroit on Sept. 4. The next day, the New York Times ran a brief piece on page 28 titled: “Romney Asserts He Underwent ‘Brainwashing’ on Vietnam Trip.” Two days later, on Sept. 7, 1967, the Times’ Tom Wicker, picked up the remark for his national column, and the unraveling of the Romney campaign was under way.

Basically, Wicker concluded, Romney was a well meaning flip-flopper who was out of his depth on the national stage. “If Romney really meant that he had succumbed to high-pressure sales talk and V.I.P. treatment from generals and admirals out to pull the wool over his eyes,” Wicker wrote, “then how does he expect anyone to look ahead with confidence to the day when he might be dealing with foreign leaders, pressure groups and those who want a few billion appended to the budget?” … He has given his opponents, Wicker continued, “the perfect phrase with which to deride him.”

The effect on the Romney campaign was virtually instantaneous. In late August of 1967, the Gallup Poll showed him the favorite of 24 percent of respondents for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination, a solid second to the front-running Richard Nixon. The next survey in mid-September, taken after the “brainwashing” remark and resulting flap, found Romney had plunged to 14 percent, and had fallen behind two fellow governors (and non-candidates), Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan.

The Romney campaign limped on for several months, but as a thinly veiled object of ridicule for political pundits, cartoonists and fellow candidates. In a quip that was not atypical, Democratic contender Eugene McCarthy mused that no “brainwashing” should have been needed when a “light rinse would have been sufficient.” Romney finally exited the race in late February 1968–his Gallup Poll standing down to 7 percent and a landslide loss in the upcoming New Hampshire primary lying dead ahead.

To be sure, Mitt Romney’s current bid for the Republican presidential nomination has seen its own share of rhetorical mishaps–from his inability to escape charges of flip-flopping on social issues such as abortion and gay rights to his comment equating his sons’ work on behalf of his presidential campaign to service in the military. The remarks have the capacity to linger, hurting the younger Romney’s efforts to win support among social conservatives, as well as fueling the perception that the candidate is a patrician at heart, leading a charmed life vastly different from that of the average voter he is trying to woo.

Yet none of Mitt Romney’s statements thus far have come close to derailing his campaign. Potentially more serious in the long run is voter reaction to his Mormon religion, an issue that played hardly any role at all in the demise of his father’s candidacy.

When George Romney’s Mormonism came up in the 1968 campaign, it tended to be indirectly. His liberal stance on civil rights was occasionally contrasted to his church’s position at the time prohibiting African-Americans from the Mormon priesthood. And his birth in a Mormon colony in Mexico drew questions as to whether he was constitutionally eligible to run for president.

The latter was a potentially serious problem for Romney. While he was born of American parents and became an American citizen at birth, legal scholars argued back and forth throughout his presidential campaign whether that was enough to meet the constitutional requirement of being a “natural born citizen.” Romney and his advisors insisted that it did, but the issue was never definitively resolved before he quit the race.

Yet there was also the feeling among some Mormons that if his campaign had lasted longer and had been more successful, his faith would have become an issue. The New York Times quoted an anonymous Mormon leader in the fall of 1967 as saying that “I’m glad his chances are slipping, because we’d be judged by what he did and there’d be an awful lot of mudslinging in the campaign about polygamy and the Negro thing.”

With Mitt Romney’s candidacy, the spotlight that the Mormon leader feared has finally been turned on the church, certainly to a far greater degree than in 1967. According to a survey this August by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 25 percent of respondents indicated reservations about voting for a Mormon for president, a higher rate than said they would have trouble voting for an evangelical Christian (16 percent), a Jew (11 percent) or a Catholic (7 percent).

What is worse for Romney is that resistance runs much higher among the religious conservatives that he and other Republican candidates covet. More than one-third of white evangelical Protestants in the Pew survey expressed their reluctance to vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, a figure that rose above 40 percent when only those evangelicals who attend church weekly were surveyed.

Why the considerable concern now with Mormonism?

John C. Green, a senior fellow in Religion and American Politics at the Pew Forum, suggests three reasons. First is what he calls “candidate viability,” the fact that Mitt Romney’s candidacy shows more potential to be successful than his father’s relatively quick-burning campaign a generation ago. Second, says Green, is more negative publicity these days about the church, from the current trial of dissident Mormon polygamists to the HBO television series, “Big Love,” about the trials and tribulations of a polygamist family in Utah. Third, is what Green views as the nation’s changing religious landscape, in which a candidate’s faith has become an integral piece of information for many voters in deciding whom to support.

The last explanation may be the most plausible, says Green. “But the picture is complicated: people really don’t know much about Mormons, so it is hard to tell if the source of their concern is the negative press, religious disagreement, or just the fact that Mitt has a chance to be president.”

And at this point in the campaign, having a viable chance to be president is more than can be said about his father 40 years ago.

The email contained a couple of illustrations which I will not attempt to reproduce.

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Author: HOLLY IN CINCINNATI, Copy Editor

Copy Editor

  • http://MormonsAreChristian.blogspot.com/ Bot

    The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is often accused by Evangelical pastors of not believing in Christ and, therefore, not being a Christian religion This post helps to clarify such misconceptions by examining early Christianity’s theology relating to baptism, the Godhead, the deity of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

    · Baptism: .

    Early Christian churches, practiced baptism of youth (not infants) by immersion by the father of the family. The local congregation had a lay ministry. An early Christian Church has been re-constructed at the Israel Museum, and the above can be verified. http://www.imj.org.il/eng/exhibitions/2000/christianity/ancientchurch/structure/index.html
    The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continues baptism and a lay ministry as taught by Jesus’ Apostles. Early Christians were persecuted for keeping their practices sacred, and prohibiting non-Christians from witnessing them.

    · The Trinity: .

    A literal reading of the New Testament points to God and Jesus Christ , His Son , being separate , divine beings , united in purpose. . To whom was Jesus praying in Gethsemane, and Who was speaking to Him and his apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration?

    The Nicene Creed”s definition of the Trinity was influenced by scribes translating the Greek manuscripts into Latin. The scribes embellished on a passage explaining the Trinity , which is the Catholic and Protestant belief that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The oldest versions of the epistle of 1 John, read: “There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water and the blood and these three are one.”
    Scribes later added “the Father, the Word and the Spirit,” and it remained in the epistle when it was translated into English for the King James Version, according to Dr. Bart Ehrman, Chairman of the Religion Department at UNC- Chapel Hill. He no longer believes in the Nicene Trinity. .

    Scholars agree that Early Christians believed in an embodied God; it was neo-Platonist influences that later turned Him into a disembodied Spirit. Divinization, narrowing the space between God and humans, was also part of Early Christian belief. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (Eastern Orthodox) wrote, regarding theosis, “The Son of God became man, that we might become God. “ . The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) views the Trinity as three separate divine beings , in accord with the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts.

    · The Deity of Jesus Christ

    Mormons hold firmly to the deity of Christ. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS), Jesus is not only the Son of God but also God the Son. Evangelical pollster George Barna found in 2001 that while only 33 percent of American Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists (28 percent of Episcopalians) agreed that Jesus was “without sin”, 70 percent of Mormons believe Jesus was sinless. http://www.adherents.com/misc/BarnaPoll.html

    · The Cross and Christ’s Atonement: .

    The Cross became popular as a Christian symbol in the Fifth Century A.D. . Members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) believe the proper Christian symbol is Christ’s resurrection , not his crucifixion on the Cross. Many Mormon chapels feature paintings of the resurrected Christ or His Second Coming. Furthermore, members of the church believe the major part of Christ’s atonement occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane as Christ took upon him the sins of all mankind.

    · Definition of “Christian”: .

    But Mormons don’t term Catholics and Protestants “non-Christian”. They believe Christ’s atonement applies to all mankind. The dictionary definition of a Christian is “of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to a religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ”: All of the above denominations are followers of Christ, and consider him divine, and the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. They all worship the one and only true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and address Him in prayer as prescribed in The Lord’s Prayer.

    It’s important to understand the difference between Reformation and Restoration when we consider who might be authentic Christians. . Early Christians had certain rituals which defined a Christian http://sacred-texts.com/chr/ecf/207/2070037.htm , which members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continue today. . If members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) embrace early Christian theology, they are likely more “Christian” than their detractors.

    · The Need for a Restoration of the Christian Church:

    The founder of the Baptist Church in America, Roger Williams, just prior to leaving the church he established, said this:

    “There is no regularly constituted church of Christ on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking.” (Picturesque America, p. 502.)

    Martin Luther had similar thoughts: “Nor can a Christian believer be forced beyond sacred Scriptures,…unless some new and proved revelation should be added; for we are forbidden by divine law to believe except what is proved either through the divine Scriptures or through Manifest revelation.”
    He also wrote: “I have sought nothing beyond reforming the Church in conformity with the Holy Scriptures. The spiritual powers have been not only corrupted by sin, but absolutely destroyed; so that there is now nothing in them but a depraved reason and a will that is the enemy and opponent of God. I simply say that Christianity has ceased to exist among those who should have preserved it.”

    The Lutheran, Baptist and Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) churches recognize an apostasy from early Christianity. The Lutheran and Baptist churches have attempted reform, but Mormonism (and Roger Williams, and perhaps Martin Luther) require inspired restoration, so as to re-establish an unbroken line of authority and apostolic succession.

    * * *
    · Christ-Like Lives:

    The 2005 National Study of Youth and Religion published by UNC-Chapel Hill found that Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) youth (ages 13 to 17) were more likely to exhibit these 11 Christian characteristics than Evangelicals (the next most observant group):

    1. Attend Religious Services weekly
    2. Importance of Religious Faith in shaping daily life – extremely important
    3. Believes in life after death
    4. Does NOT believe in psychics or fortune-tellers
    5. Has taught religious education classes
    6. Has fasted or denied something as spiritual discipline
    7. Sabbath Observance
    8. Shared religious faith with someone not of their faith
    9. Family talks about God, scriptures, prayer daily
    10. Supportiveness of church for parent in trying to raise teen (very supportive)
    11. Church congregation has done an excellent job in helping teens better understand their own sexuality and sexual morality

    LDS Evangelical
    1. 71% 55%
    2. 52 28
    3. 76 62
    4. 100 95

    5. 42 28
    6. 68 22
    7. 67 40

    8. 72 56

    9. 50 19

    10. 65 26

    11. 84 35

  • http://www.themoderatevoice.com/ Holly in Cincinnati

    Bot, this material is interesting but quite useless.

  • http://MormonsAreChristian.blogspot.com/ Bot

    Why is it useless? You have hundreds of Evangelical pastors railing against the Mormons based on false and defamatory information. The Mormons simply follow First Century Christianity theology more closely than Evangelicals (or Catholics or Protestants).

    How can Evangelical pastors say the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is not Christian? I can only conclude they are denigrating Mormons to protect their flock (and their livlihood).

  • http://www.themoderatevoice.com/ Holly in Cincinnati

    Well, now it’s clear which side you support.

    It’s useless because, in my opinion, Christianity is false. So, Christians attacking each other simply baffles me.