The Washington Times is reporting that various Evangelical leaders are imploring John McCain not to select former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as his running mate on the 2008 Republican Presidential ticket. There are three main reasons for this, neither of which I am particularly fond of.
1. Mitt Romney is not particularly strong on social issues like gay marriage and abortion. Romney admits to developing a pro-life position only within the last decade and was governor when the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, both things that make some in the Evangelical community skittish. Never mind that Romney’s position on abortion as governor was to the right of McCain’s, or that Romney led an unsuccessful effort to overturn the gay marriage legalization in Massachusetts – it’s a “what have you done for me lately?” sort of a proposition. Needless to say, by that metric, Romney is especially weak.
2. Evangelical leaders have other people in mind. Namely, in the case of some leading megachurch pastors, there is a push for former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister running on a populist platform, to be McCain’s VP candidate. Although eventually picking up a handful more delegates than Romney, Huckabee’s appeal was largely limited to the Deep South, and stayed in the race for about two months longer than Romney did, largely relying on a rather impressive grassroots network. As much as I think that Huckabee would be a terrible candidate (he seems less Ronald Reagan and more Jimmy Carter), I can’t begrudge people their own personal preferences. I’d just prefer they be more open about it.
3. Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Some religious leaders are suspicious of Romney’s Mormon faith, considering him to not be a Christian, and therefore diminished in standing in their eyes. Personally, I find this to be, in some ways, analogous to anti-Catholic sentiment prior to JFK’s electoral victory in 1960, and just as baseless. I am less interested in what a politician might do with respect to a particular religion than I am concerned about how that politician will impact America as a whole for better or for worse. I am a Christian of an Evangelical stripe, but I cannot begrudge somebody who is sincere in their religious faith.
The main weight behind these threats is that Evangelical leaders will encourage their followers to stay home on Election Day if a VP candidate not to their liking is selected. And then what? Have Barack Obama elected? As dicey as some may think Romney is on sanctity of life issues, even the most strident pro-lifer would have to agree that most any Republican is better on the issue than Obama, who carries a 100% rating from the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). Also, the power on most social issues rests from judicial appointments, which are the domain of the President, not the Vice President. Considering John McCain is a potential mixed bag on judges, it’s possible that those lines of thinking should have been considered long before making McCain the presumptive nominee. In fact, adding Huckabee to the ticket could possibly have the disastrous effect of having economic conservatives either stay home or vote Libertarian, with the only options on the Republican ticket being somebody with an inconsistent record and one with almost no record, but a wide streak of populist, protectionist rhetoric.
Of course, this may all be for naught – McCain has made a career out of not making friends with the Evangelical community, and whatever direction they try to prod him into may end up causing the exact opposite to take place.