Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith has been the target of many partisans throughout his political career. During his 1994 Senate challenge to Ted Kennedy, the Massachusetts senator and his surrogates attacked Mormonism for its exclusion of blacks in the priesthood, despite the fact that the ban was actually lifted in 1978. During the current electoral cycle, liberal commentators from Salon to the New York Times have insinuated that Romney and the LDS Church seek to take over the United States.
But it’s not just Romney’s Democratic opponents who have sought to use his faith as cudgel to pummel his political prospects. One of the greatest traffickers in anti-Mormon tropes has been his Republican rival, former Arkansas Governor and evangelical pastor Mike Huckabee.
During the 2008 Republican primaries, the New York Times Magazine reported Huckabee asking in an “innocent voice”: “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” (They don’t.) He later apologized, pleading ignorance. Many Mormons were not convinced, seeing Huckabee’s words as a classic anti-Mormon dog whistle designed to rally the conservative Christian community against the Church of Latter-day Saints. As prominent LDS writer Orson Scott Card said at the time, “We noticed and will not forget Mike Huckabee’s viciously anti-Mormon mockery of Mitt Romney during the 2008 campaign. If Huckabee is the Republican nominee for president, look for substantial numbers of Mormons to defect or abstain.”
Which is why Huckabee’s about-face at tonight’s RNC is noteworthy. Addressing the convention, Huckabee stated:
Let me clear the air about whether guys like me would only support an evangelical … I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country.
It’s an instructive sentiment, if arrived at belatedly by Huckabee himself. Hopefully, politicians and commentators on both sides of the aisle will take it to heart.