I have some theories. Well, I have one theory, but I think I see a lot of evidence for it. I think people in the South don't like him because he seems like a giant faker. I mean, say what you will about our politicians (and lord knows I have made my opinions on them clear), but do you ever doubt for a moment the sincerity of who our politicians are? They may lie, sometimes. They may have boneheaded opinions or do dumb-ass stuff. But I don't, for instance, believe that Stacey Campfield is faking his Stacey Campfield-ness, you know? For better or worse, he is who he is.
I think Romney does OK among Republicans who are used to a kind of fake sincerity — rich folks and folks with a lot of experience with Washington-types. But people who expect you to actually be who you're pretending to be? They just won't vote for him.
I'll admit that as a Democrat, I find this hilarious, because it seems clear to me that 10 years of successful messaging that Islam is evil, 10 years of "We are a Christian nation" and five years of "Obama is a secret Muslim" have finally blown up in the faces of the very folks who thought they'd be able to smoothly sail Romney into a presidential nomination.
I mean, really. First, you spend years saying that a religion that builds on the Bible, but has a different take on Jesus than Christians have had up to that point, and has extra scripture that comes from a revelation given to a dude who had visions of angels, is evil. And then you say that a dude you claim practices that religion absolutely should not be president. How are you going to turn around and say that another religion that builds on the Bible but has a different take on Jesus than Christians have had up to that point, and has extra scripture that comes from a revelation given to a dude who had visions of angels, is just fine? And that a dude who follows that religion is a great candidate for presidency?
How, exactly, did the Republican elite think that was going to play out? Personally, I am all for religious tolerance, but I just don't see how they thought they could pass Romney off as a Christian. "I'm a Christian, I just don't believe in the Trinity" is a 2,000-year-old heresy. Every time some religious group tries to claim both of those things — that they're Christian and that they don't believe in the Trinity — they are dismissed from Christianity. It's an old theological debate, but one in which the non-Trinitarians have been repeated losers.
And when you come into a region where people believe the United States is a Christian nation, and you want people to vote for someone who belongs to a group that doesn't sound Christian, you have to expect trouble.
But look at the polling. Everyone was so busy playing "Oh, the South. What ignorant hicks!" by asking whether Southerners believe Obama is "a Muslim" that they've never, as far as I've seen, bothered to poll whether people who believe that the United States is a Christian nation believe that Romney is a Christian. That might still let the rest of the country laugh at us, but at least it'd also tell us something useful about why people are voting how they are.
I'm also curious about this question because it seems to put the Republican party in general in something of a bind. The Latter-Day Saints are a natural Republican constituency and they're growing. But there are a lot of other natural Republican constituencies — church-going blacks and Latinos, for instance — who Republicans have managed to alienate. If Mormons come to believe that the Republican base will not vote for a Mormon candidate because of his or her religion, will they leave the Republican party?
And I'm curious about whether Republicans who so far have shown no enthusiasm for Romney will bother to come out to vote in the presidential election. He's throwing red meat to the base, with his talk of closing Planned Parenthood and cutting off funding to the NEA and the NEH, but conservatives I've talked to just don't believe him. They think he's saying those things to get elected. In other words, that he's faking it.
Lastly, I am curious about how you read Haslam's endorsement of Romney. Do you think that's based on a sincere conviction that he's the best man in the race? Or do you think it just has to do with him aligning himself with the man who will be the eventual Republican nominee?