The pundits have been saying for many election cycles that a Mormon cannot win the Republican nomination because Evangelical America will not support him. Of course, until the last of his non-Mormon opponents self-immolated, Romney lost every primary held in the South. How is it that the Evangelical Republicans, always believers in Biblical literalism, can now support a committed Mormon like Mitt Romney? There is no doubt that he is a dedicated Mormon as he has said so in public many times, and the Latter Day Saints Church is the single largest recipient of his philanthropic largesse.
One might conclude that Evangelicals now believe that Biblical literalism has exceptions, or that the prophecy of the Anti-Christ is simply metaphorical rather than literal. Perhaps the literalist calculation that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, and that dinosaurs and mankind co-existed in a type of Flintstones world has at last fallen out of favor. Perhaps American Evangelicals are evolving like native Europeans who turn to Christianity for weddings and funerals and not much else. Have the divorce rate and unwed teenage birth statistics among Evangelicals begun to cause real epistemological doubt?
The formal answer to the above questions: Probably Not! What these voters may really value in Romney is his competence. Romney has succeeded admirably at everything he has done in the world of high finance and state government. To succeed in both endeavors, Romney employed neither ideology, nor belief; rather he used hard work, information and intellectual problem solving skills. That might explain why red-meat Republicans questioned Mitt’s conservative bona fides for so long.
Compare Romney’s success with the lack thereof by the last Republican president, George W. Bush. Bush 43, according to a 2008 presidential ranking authored by the most prominent living scholars of presidential history, was one of the worst presidents of all time. His record of abject failure at every business venture in which he was involved before politics was well known. His history of alcohol and drug abuse was likewise known to Republican insiders. Poor “W” was an exceptionally lazy fellow who could not be bothered to do the reading and preparation and drudgery required of leaders; “W” believed much, but knew so little. Republican voters evidently liked having a president as unaccomplished as themselves, a sort of dumb-downed Republican “everyman.” The 2008 election changed all that.
Bush 43 so damaged the Republican brand that the 2008 elections went heavily in favor of the Democrats. 2010 results gave the GOP hope, but only if it could put the INCOMPETENCE issue to rest. Mitt Romney, despite his religion, record of moderation and lack of typical Republican beliefs, is at least regarded as a competent achiever. Will that be enough? Will the memory of Bush 43 taint him? Will “W” even get an invite to the GOP Convention? Evangelicals seem willing suspend belief in Biblical literalism and give Mitt Romney the chance to show his stuff. At least they can feel reasonably hopeful he won’t trigger more Bush-style catastrophes.