(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this post, click here.) Mitt Romney’s concession speech (here) was gracious, generous and conciliatory. It even impressed MSNBC talker Chris Matthews, who has spent the better part of a year accusing the Republican presidential candidate of being a racist. I urge Romney supporters to watch the concession speech. It shows a decent, good, honest man handling defeat with class and wishing his opponent, after a hard-fought battle, the best of luck during his second term.
There’s no doubt that a huge majority of of active Mormons were invested heavily in seeing Mitt Romney become president of the United States. And the fact that he would have been the first LDS president was no doubt a huge factor. Instead, Mitt Romney has become the Mormon version of Al Smith, the first Catholic to be nominated for president by a major party. Smith, in 1928, lost badly to Herbert Hoover.
I’m only a second-generation Mormon, but within the LDS Church, activity is more important than pedigree. You become “grafted” into the traditional history of the church, and feel the same kinship to the faith’s early leaders and pioneers that longtime members do. I’d wager that to many of his disappointed Mormon supporters, and I count myself among that group, Romney represented more than just a candidate. He looks like an LDS general authority, (he was a regional representative, one step down), or a stake president, (he was one), or a bishop, (which he also was), or other positions he has held, such as home teacher or high priest group leader. I’m not saying that LDS supporters expected him to be an advocate of his religion in the White House. Rather they saw him as one whose qualifications to be president included his tenure through the many roles and responsibilities of the LDS Church.
However, Romney’s candidacy turned off some active liberal Mormons who saw Romney’s conservatism as a negative portrayal to their faith. A local political leader, and Mormon leader who is a Democrat related to me how ashamed he was that Mitt Romney, a man he regarded as a poor role model, was the campaign representation of the LDS Church. A colleague of mine, a liberal very devout Mormon, said, as a Mormon, he was ashamed of Romney’s campaign.
I noticed liberal LDS writer Joanna Brooks, enthused after Obama’ re-election, talk about a Jon Huntsman candidacy in 2016. She described it as a “jack Mormon” campaign. That may have been tongue in cheek, but the idea of Huntsman as the “right” Mormon candidate is a popular one among Mormon liberals. Both my above friends, as well as others hostile to Romney, describe him as the perfect Mormon candidate with the same wistfulness that many Romney supporters have. But that’s a pleasant myth. Huntsman went to great lengths to avoid being tagged as a Mormon. His campaign failed because he was supercilious and arrogant at debates and on the stump, and turned off voters.
When it comes to politics, the party most often rules; when it comes to religion, it’s between the individual and God. There will not be another “Mormon” candidate who represents the mainstream of the LDS Church and so easily fit the figure of authority as Romney did. For that reason, it was an historic election.