I don’t comment much on politics, but the last couple of days have been really instructive as to the political instincts (or lack thereof) of some Evangelical Christian conservatives. To recap, Pastor Robert Jeffress told a conservative political gathering that they should vote for “real Christians” over someone who, although a “moral person,” was not a real Christian. When asked to clarify, Jeffress said he meant Mormons, whom he described as belonging to a cult. He also said Christians should vote for a Christians over a Jewish candidate and stated that Catholicism was a corrupted version of Christianity.
So much to deal with, but the important point is this: he clumsily injected religious intolerance and prejudice into political discussion, something most Americans find at best inappropriate. Perry, when asked about it, said only that he didn’t think Mormonism was a cult, but offered no opinion on the notion that real Christians shouldn’t vote for a Mormon.
Reasonable conservatives from Bill Bennett to Charles Krauthammer have called on Perry to repudiate Jeffress’s remarks. At a press conference today, Mitt Romney and New Jersey governor Chris Christie both expressed disgust at Jeffress’s comments, Christie saying that any campaign that would associate itself with such a point of view “is beneath the office of the president.”
Reaction from some Evangelical conservatives in comments at the National Review website and elsewhere seems to be that Romney is being whiny and playing the victim, some even accusing him of political correctness. It’s all a ploy to discredit Perry, they say.
I should say that I don’t know who I’ll support next year, and Romney has never been one of my favorites for a number of reasons. But the Romney campaign is, I’m sure, loving every minute of this. They probably can’t believe their luck.
Mormonism was inevitably going to be an issue in this campaign. Romney tried to head it off in 2007, but there is no doubt that Evangelical bias against Mormons hindered his campaign. This time around, however, he didn’t have to head it off. Instead, Jeffress’s clumsy and bigoted remarks brought up Mormonism in the best possible way for a Mormon candidate: he made being uncomfortable with Mormonism seem unfair and narrowminded and explicitly linked anti-Mormonism to anti-Semitism. Brilliant move. Romney probably didn’t even need to say anything about the remarks.
Jeffress intended to sway Evangelicals toward Perry, which he may well have done, but then Romney was never going to get a large chunk of that voting bloc. But for everyone else, Jeffress is another in a series of bad miscues for the Perry campaign. First, he’s been terrible in the debates, and then there was the Niggerhead controversy, and now this.
It’s not like Perry’s campaign couldn’t have seen this coming. Jeffress has a long record of bigoted and intolerant statements about Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and just about every other group that is not Evangelical. They had two weeks to vet this guy, and yet they approved of his introduction, with its unsubtle call for religious prejudice, with Perry afterward saying the pastor “hit it out of the park.”
If nothing else, Perry’s campaign is showing itself to be inept and clumsy at best. And at worst, it may be intentionally fanning the flames of religious intolerance. Sorry, but that’s not what I want in a president. But he does have nice hair.