Culture Shocks

April 13, 2011

Yesterday, I was the guest on the radio program "Culture Shocks" with host Barry Lynn, talking about religion and politics (and my new book). You can listen to the program here. Also yesterday, a couple of Republican presidential hopefuls made moves to push their campaigns forward. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty declared on CNN that he was "running for president," although a spokesperson later clarified that Pawlenty merely meant still exploring a run (and thus holding off the 'official' announcement until later in hopes of getting more media attention for announcing the obvious). In signs of his expanding presidential ambitions, Pawlenty hired a campaign manager, who promptly declared he felt God wanted him to run Pawlenty's campaign.

Yesterday also saw Mitt Romney announce the formation of his presidential exploratory committee (with a symbol that seems like it was borrowed from an Aquafresh box). Romney faces unique challenges in our age of confessional politics. On the one hand, Romney proved during the 2008 campaign that he is capable of using the confessional political style in his campaign rhetoric. On the other hand, his Mormon faith raised a lot of questions that continue to hamper his presidential aspirations (this duel nature for Romney is why is a great fit for the cover of my new book). Carl Forti, who was a top Romney campaign official in 2008, recently argued that Romney is still confronted with a religious test:

It's not something you can test. It's not something you can poll. ... There's just a bias out there.
Democratic pollster Mark Mellman added that it was "the last socially acceptable religious prejudice" (although it hardly seems accurate to say Mormons are only ones facing political prejudice). A couple of months ago, this argument was made more forcefully by Mark DeMoss, an influential evangelical PR agent. DeMoss is urging conservative evangelicals to vote for the candidate who can do the best job (and he thinks that is Romney) and pay less attention to faith. DeMoss argued:
Those who would suggest I am placing values on the back burner will be misreading me and wrong. I am only saying that a candidate's values alone are not enough to get my vote. For example, my pastor shares my values, but I don't want him to be my president. (By the way, 'energizing a crowd' is also not enough; Justin Bieber can do that--but I don't want him to be president either.)
The question is whether many evangelicals will heed that advice. Interestingly, there is the possibility that another Mormon will enter the race--Jon Huntsman Jr., the outgoing U.S. ambassador to China. The question is whether that will bring more attention to the Mormon faith or make it less of a big deal for Romney.