In a presidential race in which Romney's candidacy is testing the country's attitudes toward Mormonism, the comments by a McCain representative in Iowa are the latest of several instances of rival campaign operatives trying to bring Romney's faith onto the campaign playing field. Over the past year, staff or volunteers from at least three opposing campaigns have, at times subtly and at times not, spread negative information about Mormons in an apparent effort to damage Romney's bid for the presidency.
I'm shocked, SHOCKED that there is gambling going on here!
This should come as no surprise for everyone not a demented Red State partisan. The strain of Evangelical Christianity elevated in the last several years as the official dogma of the Republican Party is notoriously intolerant of theological deviations. Not just divergences about gays, or women's rights, or evolution, but also flavors of Christianity that do not share their American Protestant Third Great Awakening roots. It took decades and whole lot of swallowing centuries of enmity to find common ground with conservative Catholics centered around abortion and sexual politics. I suspect it will take an equal effort to accept a Mormon in a leadership position like the Presidency.
But what I think is more at play here isn't just the natural tendency to look askance at theological differences, but rather the sort of politics fostered in the Republican Party in the last few decades in the hothouse of the College Republican system. This whisper campaign to attack Romney through his Mormonism is pure Rovian politics. College Republican campaigns are infamous for their dirty tricks and lie campaigns. Anyone familiar with the 2000 GOP primary job on McCain should have seen this coming. Remember the stories about his kids?
It's not going to get any better either. Let's face it, it has worked too often for anyone to decide they are better of not trying it. The fact that the James Dobsens of the GOP find Mormonism apparently distasteful and not authentically christian make it all the more likely it will not only continue, but the effort will intensify. Don't kid yourself either that Giuliani's East Coast Catholicism isn't sticking in a few craws in the Dobsen camp, particularly since their anointed one, Sammy Brownback, languishes in the single digits. The Obama/Clinton scrap is going to look like rock/paper/scissors next to the mudfest that is coming.
Naturally the press corp isn't catching on to this story. There are so many "Hilary is an uppity liberal elitist" stories to run above the fold at the Times and Post for a gruesome bloodbath awash in religious intolerance to bother with. Besides, Mitt Romney smells nice, like a summer day, or a pine forest, or some such pleasant odor. Hilary probably smells like Grandma.