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Mormon Candidate a Step Toward a Jewish One?

Romney will be the first non-Protestant GOP nominee

Marc Tracy
April 19, 2012
Mitt Romney yesterday.(Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Mitt Romney yesterday.(Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)

In the midst of the election dogfight, it is worth taking a step back to note just how remarkable the 2012 presidential election is shaping up to be—particularly if you are a member of an ethnic or religious minority. Because one of the candidates is an historic pathbreaker whose nomination will represent a tremendous leap forward in terms of the diversity of those who contend for the nation’s highest office.

And the other candidate will be a black guy.

In U.S. history, there have been exactly four major-party presidential nominees who were not Protestants: Al Smith, John Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, and John Kerry. Mitt Romney, the (we can now say it) presumptive Republican nominee, is of course Mormon—which, in terms of broad American comfort-level, probably represents a step beyond the aforementioned Catholics and Greek Orthodox. So in that context alone, he is exceptional. But, of course, all four of those men were Democrats. Romney will be the first Grand Old Party nominee who is not a Protestant.

Are Jews identifying with Romney’s religious difference? A late February poll of registered New York voters saw Romney with a very high 46 percent to 44 percent approval rating among Jews: Obama barely fared better, and it’s a figure that wiped the floor with the men who were then the other three major contenders. Of course, Romney was also the moderate frontrunner, and so this should be expected even if he were a WASP. Still, couldn’t you see it—an oddly yet weirdly intuitive sense of solidarity between two disproportionately affluent, politically savvy religious groups, neither of whom consider themselves Gentiles? Expect to learn more about those aspects of Mormon theology that deem adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to be descended from the House of Israel. Expect to read more articles like this one, about two senators from Utah (Democrats, actually) who helped support the Zionist movement and strove to get America to help save Jews from Hitler; or this one, from Tablet Magazine, on the similarities between anti-Mormon and anti-Semitic biases. Who knows, maybe we’ll even hear about Angels in America, whose main characters are mostly Mormons or Jews?

Finally, Romney’s eventual nomination probably makes the path for an eventual major-party Jewish nominee easier. That would be fun. But first, there should probably be a woman. I mean, they’re not even a minority.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.