The GOP’s historic choice: a Catholic or a Mormon

As a New York Times columnist puts it: “For the first time in American history, a major political party may be choosing between two leading presidential candidates neither of whom is Protestant. If current polling holds through the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and beyond, the Republican nomination will come down to a choice between a Latter-day Saint, or Mormon, and a Roman Catholic.”

What are the implications of that?  Read on:

On the one hand, the Mitt Romney/ Newt Gingrich showdown — which, given the fickleness of primary voters, could soon seem as passé as Rick Perry/Herman Cain — testifies to Americans’ pluralist ideals. American voters, even religious Protestants, do not require that their president be Protestant, or born-again, or even a regular churchgoer. So long as a candidate makes bland, predictable affirmations of religious faith, he or she has adequately punched the religion card.

The New York Times/CBS News poll conducted Nov. 30 to Dec. 5 found that of seven Republicans in the race, the two Mormons — Mr. Romney and Jon M. Huntsman Jr. — were in the bottom three of evangelical Christians’ preferences in Iowa. Mr. Romney was fifth, with 10 percent of evangelicals saying they would support him on Jan. 3; the former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who is Catholic, was sixth, with 6 percent; and Mr. Huntsman got 1 percent support.

Mr. Huntsman and Mr. Santorum have been laggards throughout the campaign season, so there is nothing surprising about their poor poll numbers. But Mr. Romney has steadily been among the top candidates, and the fact that evangelicals give Mr. Gingrich more than three times the support they give him — 33 percent to Mr. Romney’s 10 percent — calls for some explanation.

After all, Iowa evangelicals are famously supportive of family-values Christians; four years ago, they helped deliver a victory to Mike Huckabee, the folksy pastor and former Arkansas governor. But in his public life Mr. Gingrich has demonstrated the sort of family values that evangelical voters might be expected to reject. In 1980, Mr. Gingrich left his wife of nearly 20 years, the former Jackie Battley, for Marianne Ginther, with whom he was having an affair. In 1981, Mr. Gingrich married Ms. Ginther, but he later left her for Callista Bisek, with whom he had been having an affair for several years. They married in 2000.

The third Ms. Gingrich is a Catholic, and in 2002, Mr. Gingrich asked the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta to annul his second marriage on the ground that the former Ms. Ginther had been previously married. “We were married 19 years, and now he wants to say it didn’t exist,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In 2009, Mr. Gingrich converted to Catholicism. It is not clear if he ever tried to have annulled his first marriage, which, if between two baptized Christians, would be considered valid by the Catholic Church. Mr. Gingrich’s spokesman, R. C. Hammond, could not be reached by telephone and did not reply to e-mails.

Contrast that messy personal history with Mr. Romney’s squeaky clean, Huckabee-like profile. He has been married to the same woman, the former Ann Davies, since 1969. They have five sons.

Of course, Mr. Romney has his own image problems, including his more liberal record and accusations of flip-floppery.

But it seems possible that but for his Mormon faith he would be doing better among Iowa evangelicals, especially against Mr. Gingrich.

Randall Balmer, who teaches American religion at Barnard College, offers two explanations for the support gap. First, he says, one should not underestimate the evangelicals’ suspicion of Mormonism. “They do see it as a cult, and the Mormons have not been able to overcome that,” Dr. Balmer says.

Read the rest.

Comments

  1. friscoeddie says:

    If Catholics jump on the Gingrich bandwagon [siting forgiveness and conversion].. they ought to get ready for a real bumpy ride till Nov. 2012..

  2. The article says that Mr. Gingrich’s second marriage was annulled–but not the first. If I understand Church teaching correctly, it is the first marriage that needs to be nullified. Without annulling the first marriage, his marriage to Callista could not be blessed. Are the facts wrong in this article? Is the first Mrs. Ginrich dead so no annulment is necessary?

  3. With these two, Obama stands a better chance of getting reelected. Gingrich has too much baggage politically and personally. Romney has better charisma but he has flipped flopped so much on issues and seems a weak candidate. Too bad the one that could have made Obama run for his life was another black person who unfortunately turned out to be a philanderer. We’ll have to wait and see.

  4. The Catholic Church does not consider the Mormon faith to be Christian. What theological dialogue that exists between the two is considered by Catholics to be interreligious and not ecumenical. But then we have our shared passion and position for the pelvic issues, which seem to be more important these days.

    Who knows what Newt really believes about the Godhead, but he does see himself as the savior of the United States.

  5. Deacon Mike says:

    The most telling line was in the first paragraph (about the quality of most religious discussion in political campaigns and what most people expected), and is the best reason to leave a candidate’s “Identified Religion” out of the debate: “So long as a candidate makes bland, predictable affirmations of religious faith, he or she has adequately punched the religion card.”

  6. And don’t forget the atheist that’s currently in the White House and will be running against one of them. ;)

    I can tell you I’m not supporting the Catholic in the primary. I’ve listed my long list of issues with Gingrich elsewhere. I guess i won’t have any choice if he wins the primary.

  7. I can tell you Deacon that I would have a hard time supporting an atheist.

  8. In theory, because of the economy, whoever is the Republican nominee should easily win in November 2012.

  9. Peggy Noonan so far has summed up Newt the best in today’s article:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/declarations.html

  10. If the nominee is Newt or Ronald McDonald I will vote for him over Obama.

  11. Deacon Mike says:

    Many of the candidates seem to be “practical atheists” in the sense that it doesn’t appear their belief in God is having a large impact on their actions. This is true of both Republicans and Democrats.

  12. naturgesetz says:

    Lack of governmental experience would have kept Herman Cain from being nominated, even if the accusations hadn’t.

    There is still plenty of time for candidates to trade rankings in the polls, but so far, Romney is the only one who doesn’t show major flaws and appears electable.

  13. Oregon Catholic says:

    No incumbants is my motto for all levels of govt. As soon as an elected politician gets into office they are focused on the next election and that is the source of a great deal of our problems – career politicians that are bought.

    I heard a good joke today that fits my motto. It’s probably old but it was new to me:
    What do babies diapers and politicians have in common? They both need to be changed often and for the same reason.

  14. Fiergenholt says:

    I really do not care about your opinion about President Obama’s chances in the 2012 election but he is not an “atheist.” Period. End of Report.

  15. If the American people put so much stock in personal baggage that they would reelect Obama, then we deserve what we get. So what if Newt has had some failure along the way. Failed marriages are a two-way street, and his previous wives played a role in the demise of their marriages.

    We have some deadly consequential issues before us as a nation, a nation with a divorce rate that is approaching 60%, rampant sexually transmitted disease, and a younger generation begging off of marriage altogether at frightening rates. Against this backdrop, all of this talk about Newt’s past marriages simply puts him in the American mainstream, and amounts to cheap moralizing and whistling past the graveyard.

    He’s a Catholic now, and we’ll see how the grace of the sacraments, including his sacramental marriage help to shape the man. In the interim, we have a failed president who actually makes Jimmy Carter look brilliant, and Catholics taking a detour down a dead alley. The Church has stated that Newt was never sacramentally married, and now he is. It’s time for everyone to honor the grace that has entered Newt’s life and look forward, which is the only direction in which such grace drives us.

  16. “So what if Newt has had some failure along the way. Failed marriages are a two-way street, and his previous wives played a role in the demise of their marriages.”

    Now, Gerard Nadal, how do you know that? Do you have some insider information?

    Maybe their role in the demise of their marriages was that they made the choice to marry him in the first place?

    It’s possible.

  17. Great. Our choice is between a polytheist who thinks that when he dies he will become a God over his own planet on the one hand and a twice divorced and thrice married Roman Catholic with a history of often erratic behavior on the other. And people wonder why I am a monarchist.

  18. HMS,

    It is pretty rare where one person is entirely at fault. The dry rot sets in over time with most folks, and there is usually a deficient skill set (spiritual, psychological, social, etc.) on both sides that contributes to the demise. I simply don’t subscribe to the notion that it’s all him, or all her. I’ve seen more divorces than I care to admit, and have never known of one spouse who had it so completely together that they were innocent and powerless to save their marriage.

    On the other hand, if Obama is to enjoy the edge because Barak’s still on his first wife, then I’ll take the thrice married Newt who has a 96% pro-life voting record over the angel of death in the Oval Office. One marriage and two children have availed that man NOTHING in the way of decency or mercy.

    Sometimes it takes someone who has failed greatly and suffered personal humiliation to appreciate human dignity in others, and govern accordingly.

  19. Yes, but monarchists had to contend with rulers such as George III, Henry VIII, and a host of other less-than-benign crowns. At least we get to vote the bums out ;-)

  20. Nice try, Gerard, but no cigar.

    I have counseled couples (I have an MA in Pastoral Counseling) and your assertion may be true is many cases but I will stand by my statement that “Maybe their (Newt’s first two wives) role in the demise of their marriages was that they made the choice to marry him in the first place?”

    I don’t think that you need to defend Newt Gingrich’s marriage issues in order to bolster your position against our present president.

  21. naturgesetz says:

    As long as we’re getting off topic —

    I’ve been mightily impressed by the lives of the late Archduke Otto von Habsburg, and his father Blessed Karl, the last Emperor of Austria-Hungary, as well as by the role the monarchs of other countries have been able to play from time to time. It seems to me that an hereditary monarch, outside of partisan politics, with real but limited powers (such as a veto on legislation) could have a beneficial effect in tempering the excesses to which democracies are prone when sloganeering and sound bites take the place of reasoned discussion and debate. An elective presidency in a parliamentary system has some of the same benefits, but since the parties generally propose candidates it risks becoming politicized, and an elective president cannot represent the nation and its existence in history the way a member of a “ruling house” does.

  22. pagansister says:

    President Obama is a Christian, by his own statements. Gingrich says he is Catholic( at least for now he is). You have no problem with that statement apparently, Manny. In the end, what difference does a candidate’s religion or lack of it make anyhow? That is not a requirement for the very hard job of President of this countrty. We aren’t Iran, Iraq or another country that is run by some particular religion. Fortunately.

  23. pagansister says:

    Someone mentioned above(Rudy?) that if Mitt or Newt is the Republican candidate, then President Obama will have a good chance of being re-elected. I agree. The Republican’s are in trouble if those 2 are the best they can do.

  24. pagansister says:

    The religion of the 2 men in this article should have nothing to do with their (IMO) lack of ability to run this country.

  25. naturgesetz says:

    Your complaint with one candidate is his theological beliefs; with the other it includes “erratic behavior.” I’d suggest that the former concern really has nothing to do with how he’d perform the duties of President, but the latter is legitimately something to take into account .

  26. naturgesetz says:

    I’m surprised that you think Mitt Romney lacks the ability to “run” the country. He ran the Commonwealth of Massachusetts quite well as Governor. I can understand that some people could disagree with his policy positions, but that has nothing to do with having the skills and personality to be able perform the duties of the office.

  27. justamouse says:

    What is with this idea floating around that all Catholics must be perfect? I thought the church was for the sick? So Mr. Obama can have one wife, 2.5 kids and be a nightmare of a president, while Newt has been married three times, (one wife wanted her divorce http://www.creators.com/opinion/jackie-gingrich-cushman/setting-the-record-straight.html ) he is now in a sacramental church and expected not only to have been perfect, but to be perfect?

    Talk like this is keeping a lot of people out of the church. They want to come in (yes, I’ve spoken to some) but are afraid of being held to a standard that is impossibly high for them.

    Let the journey toward God take it’s course. Let the healing of the sacramental life, take it’s due time.

    I think one of Mr. Karlson’s (a DB commenter) previous comments works here

    “Jesus never rejects the good done by sinners, but Pharisees use sinners as an excuse to reject the good.”

    I keep it stickytabbed to my monitor.

  28. Rick- he could not marry Calista in the Church unless the first marriage and second marriage were annulled or the second marriage was a ligamen (prior bond)…or it was ‘in favor of the faith’ through the Pauline or Petrine Privilege. There are lots of multi civil marriage cases that the Church deals with—in many different ways. Believe me, he could not have validated his current marriage or entered the Church without all the proper annulments, permissions and dispensations. It’s not a ‘one at a time’ process.

  29. Gerald is right; each marriage has to be examined from before the vows, the consent of each person… and both parties are involved. What led to the marriage? What was the intent of the parties? It’s rare that it’s a mistake of fact by one person only, or grave error on the part of only one person. If you don’t understand the process of annulment, perhaps you should look into it before criticizing what the Church has discovered through a very thorough investigation. It’s not an open public process except to the TWO parties involved; the petitioner and respondent. Even the Advocate does not have access to all the information. ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

  30. Yikes, I killed two kittens with my apostrophes there.

    Anyway, I think Mark Shea’s article on NC Register should be a wakeup call as to why fighting about Newt and his level Catholicness is ridiculous-we need to get Obama out, and start thinking about those within ANY party that overrides our liberties.

    http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mark-shea/ben-franklins-warning-is-our-present-danger/

  31. If we judged our belief with as much scrutiny as these candidates go through, I would suggest most would come up as you say being “practical atheists”. Just watching most exits of parking lots after Sunday mass would give one pause as to how much love your neighbor was picked up during the mass. I saw one woman repeatedly honk her horn at some old lady who was not moving fast enough for her.

    If the choice is Obama and anyone else, the choice seems simple to get the guy out of office who is a partner to planned parenthood abortion mills if one is truly Catholic. We all have some choices to make during the primary season, but lets hope we do not cast a vote for the most abortion loving president in history when we are down to the choice of Republican or Obama. If we fail, he could in appointments insure that abortion continues full bore in this country for a generation with a couple appointments.

  32. Amazing that those who are attacking Newt for his adultery actually want to defend Obama Christianity with his close relationship with abortion mills. Newt has almost a perfect pro life record and Obama is almost 100% if not 100% pro abortion. I can picture Jesus standing by supporting the adulterer, but not someone who has prime responsibility in being a Partner to abortion mills after what he said about those who harm children. Something about a millstone around their neck…

  33. One that fits this description is Obama. You could not have a dirtier diaper. He makes Newt look like JPII.

  34. I think Romney will face the biggest challenge in getting out the base vote of the Republican Party. He has never managed to get above the 25% level in most polls and as per this article, many will never vote for a Mormon ever and given his flip flop on abortion where he is so emphatic on both sides, this will never pan out for him. I’m not sure how he passes muster on that issue and standing with John Sanunnu, the guy who talked Bush I into David Souter as a conservative is not a good sign. That is why the people who care have been searching for the anti Romney. If Ron Paul was not such a nut on foreign policy issues, he could be a good choice.

  35. HMS. nice try. Obama and his support of abortion with every fibre of his body makes Newt issues pale in comparison. And marriage is a two way street, but even if Newt is the primer problem in both, he stayed with both wives longer than the average in the USA. Also, those who have been divorced once and remarry are even more likely to divorce again.

  36. Sorry, but what choice a person makes in his religion does factor into our decision on who to vote for in a country that is supposed to be one nation under God. Why else would we see Clinton running around with a bible and Obama trying to convince everyone he is a Christian. Try running in the USA as an atheist. And in office, knowing their faith sould also give us an idea of the type decisions they will make and how they will make them.

  37. I think it will be an uphill battle no matter who the Republicans nominate not because of Obama, but because of the media and the huge slush fund Obama team will have to dish out dirt. The Chicago machine will be in full power mode to try to trash anyone who gets the nod. They are already at work today.

    If Obama keeps trying to join the Occupy crowd and trashing anyone who is a success in this country, I think by election day folks will be sick of hearing from both and that the Occupy crowd will turn folks against Obama by their actions. If they try to trash the voting process in Iowa like they are talking about, it will not go over much with those who care about democracy in this country.

  38. justamouse, you have to understand that Mark Shea gave up on the republican party years ago. He says he is not aligned and believes no vote or supporting a third party who has zero chance of being elected is the right way to go. No amount of common sense posts make a dent or will allow him to acknowledge that his concepts are votes for Obama and the culture of death party. He and others who stay home, vote third party, or even worse give their vote to Obama are clearly signing up to support abortion and will result if successful on their part, in keeping abortion legal, funded, and supported for another generation.

  39. naturgesetz says:

    Mark, your response is a complete non sequitur.

    You weren’t talking about an atheist, you were talking about a Mormon.

    The fact that voters may be unwilling to elect an atheist* does not prove that they should be leery of electing a Mormon because of his church’s teachings on the afterlife.

    But even though you have utterly failed to make a case for being worried about Mitt Romney, I’ll come to your rescue. All you have to do is give me one example of an important issue which the next President is likely to confront in office where a belief that he will become a god and rule over a planet is going to significantly impact his decision — where he would decide one way if he had that belief and differently if he didn’t. Show me how the belief will lead to the different policy decision, and I’ll concede that you have a good reason to be concerned about that belief.

    *BTW Given a hypothetical choice between two candidates who are identical in every respect except that one is pro-life and will do all within his power to end abortion and the other is pro-abortion and will do all in his power to promote abortion, which one do you want, if the pro-life candidate is an atheist and the pro-abortion candidate is an active, believing, theist member of a mainline Protestant church that supports “choice?”

  40. Granted Henry VIII was a bad apple, but George III was a great king (until he lost his marbles). He is IMHO one of the most unjustly maligned figures in history. The proportion of bad monarchs as opposed to bad politicians does not stand as a good argument for democracy. As Margaret Baroness Thatcher once observed in response to a republican heckler, “anyone who would prefer a politician as a head of state over a monarch hasn’t met many politicians.”

  41. naturgesetz says:

    Correction: It was Ad Orientem, not Mark, who was talking about the Mormon. But Mark’s raising of the issue of atheists is still irrelevant, and my questions to him still remain.

  42. Henry Karlson says:

    Once again, that is not true. To support abortion is required to support abortion. Not voting as YOU want someone to vote doesn’t mean they are supporting abortion. This is, once again, the kind of attitude which makes people think “pro-life” is a sham, because it uses lies (“you support abortion”) to try to force people to vote for a political candidate.

  43. “Jesus never rejects the good done by sinners”

    I certainly don’t agree with that part, as the ONLY good Jesus does accept is that good done in HIS GLORY. Sinners or ‘saints’, the reality is most “good” is done for self interest, not the glory of God. That’s not to say all aren’t capable, only that most “get their reward at the time of the deed.”

    I do agree that Pharisees often use “sinners” to reject the good, which is a combo of both ignorance and a useable excuse.

  44. Mark Shea is certainly entitled to his opinon, but I take it with a grain of salt. As a country we are about to go over a cliff, and another 4 years of Obama will all but guarantee it, including a radical Supreme Court.

    I’m the first to admit that Newt has much baggage, but so did Peter the first Pope. Who knows how God might be working via Newt.

    IMO, anyone who under estimates God’s mercy, the sacrements, and especially the mass/ Eucharist is a fool. IF, and none of us could possibly know outside of Newt and God, Newt had a true Catholic conversion, who’s to say how he will rise up, with the strength of the above, like Peter the Pope, making his past, “the past.” If that be the case, how powerful would THAT be as witness in all of the free world. One thing Newt isn’t is dumb. I also don’t doubt that he was/is pretty inspired by JPII, and just “might” be, the man for the times, as crooked as the line may seem.

  45. Henry Karlson says:

    Klaire

    All good comes out of the Good, God. God approves of good which is done — such as showing charity to someone — even if the person is a sinner. We are not Calvinists or Lutherans; Jansenist ideology is rejected by the Church. God does not reject the good, for he is The Good and he doesn’t reject himself. Evil is a privation of the good — we need to be healed by the spiritual doctor, Jesus, when we sin — but in his healing us, he doesn’t annihilate the good which is already there, but restores the good which was lost.

  46. He makes Newt look like JPII.

    Only if you can’t read or think, have no conception of history, and think it impossible to be a moral human being unless you’re fat, white, and egocentric. Seriously, if you think that, I really doubt you’re able to make any reasoned judgements.

  47. Thank God there are real patriots who will vote against Republicans. Anyone who would vote for either of these two clowns over President Obama really hates America and decency.

  48. Mike I would vote for a phone booth over Obama. How much more mockery to Christian principles do you need to be convinced of how bad this man is for our country?

    That said, we get the leadership we deserve.

  49. Klaire:

    “including a radical Supreme Court.”

    I have to ask — is it the present Supreme Court you are condemning as “radical” or some future — yet to be named Supreme Court that President Obama might appoint if he is elected to a second term.

    The reason I am asking is that this current Supreme Court is made up of SIX Roman Catholic Justices and THREE Jewish ones. And I would hardly call any one of them “radical” — much less the court ever getting a majority (5-4) ruling that would be called “radical.”

  50. Future majority

  51. Then you are not very knowledgeable about the U. S. Constitution. A President may appoint anyone they want to the Supreme Court but the Senate has the last say. President Obama can nominate all the “radicals” he sees fit to but if the senators do not approve — that nomination is going nowhere. That has happened several times in the past fifty years or so.

    Wasn’t it Speaker of the House “Tip” O’Neill who believed firmly that “All politics in local”? If all that is true, you have to make sure the party of your own choice nominates a Senatorial candidate who believes the same way you do.

    Consider what the national polls are saying: 85%+ of the voting public detest the incumbents in Congress that are serving in their own districts/states. Now’s the perfect time to get politically active yourself. Election is less than 11 months away!

  52. So you judge a man(or woman ) by ONE stance on one subject, Mark? Interesting.

  53. Governor is much different than President—but a good training ground, I do agree with that, naturgesetz. I personally don’t think either of the 2 in this article could run this country—and at the moment I’m not sure any of the possible runners for candidate for the Republican’s could. Time will tell—but right now I couldn’t vote for any of the Repbulicans.

  54. Klaire, have you a phone booth in mind? :0)

  55. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    Nowhere in the media have I seen mention of the fact that in 1960 the biggest problem over religion JFK had with any group was with evangelical Christians. Now, according to many media reports, evangelicals are trying to decide whether to support Catholic convert Gingrich or rock solid Catholic Rick Santorum. Great unnoticed irony here.

  56. Thats right we get the leadership we deserve,

    And no one seems to have a problem when Gingrich says that we should place poor children in the schools as janitors, get rid of the union help and on top of that he feels that child labor laws are unnecessary.

    So much for “family values republicans”

    I’ll take the govt we currently have.

    S

  57. VELMA CREEKMORE says:

    What I do not get is that the claim for annulment for the second wife being that he was married before is valid. Was Gingrich married before? He is so arrogant that it is so sad.

  58. VELMA CREEKMORE says:

    Sorry, that she was married before. I guess it doesn’t count for him having been married before.

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