Rick Perlstein doesn’t think Mitt Romney’s Mormonism will ultimately matter to Evangelical voters, and I tend to agree. You should read the whole thing, but here’s how his piece starts:
I’ve never been impressed with the argument that Mitt Romney makes for a weak Republican nominee because conservatives don’t like him. That’s not how that party works. Like they say, “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.” Don’t believe me? Think back four years. When the race was still up in the air, the venom aimed at McCain was ten times worse than anything being suffered by Mitt. I collected the stuff back then: Rush Limbaugh said McCain threatened “the American way of life as we’ve always known it”; Ann Coulter said he was actually “a Democrat” (oof!); an article in the conservative magazine Human Events called him “the new Axis of Evil”; and Michael Reagan, talk radio host and the 40th president’s son, said “he has contempt for conservatives, who he thinks can be duped into thinking he’s one of them.”
Then McCain wrapped up the nomination, and Mike Reagan suddenly said, “You can bet my father would be itching to get out on the campaign trail working to elect him.” One thing Republicans understand: In American elections you have to choose from among only two people – not between the perfect and the good.
He adds a bit later:
I think they’ll get over it. In American religious history, theological qualms tend to get pushed aside when politics intervenes.
Consider that little more than a generation ago, Catholics had it even worse than Mormons do now. “Theological qualms”? Try this one on for size: Once upon a time many, if not most, Protestant fundamentalists identified the Roman Catholic Church as nothing less than the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth – the dreaded “Whore of Babylon” described in Revelation 17 and 18. More prosaically, they identified Catholics as an alien force. Billy Graham reassured his followers in 1960 that it was legitimate to vote against Catholic John F. Kennedy out of religious prejudice, because the Roman Catholic Church “is not only a religious but also a secular institution, with its own ministers and ambassadors.”
Fast forward to now: extremist Catholic voters and activists are in lockstep with extremist Evangelical voters and activists, because conservative religious people in this country, at least of the “Judeo-Christian” variety, have united about that which they hate.
It’s actually a little bit astonishing to look at how much American theology has changed in the past century. Rick’s piece looks back on that time not so long ago when Evangelicals really, honestly, didn’t care about abortion. For some of us who weren’t around in the 1970’s, it’s hard to imagine, but they used to consider that a Catholic issue and they kinda sorta totally hated Catholics. Now the enemies are gays, women, Muslims, etc. We’ll keep hearing the prognostication about whether Evangelicals will vote for a Mormon up to the day that Romney ties up the nomination. At that point, wingnuts, like they do, will fall in line.