Friday, February 17th 2012, 10:15 AM EST
This has not been a good week for Mitt Romney, in the same way that 1912 wasn’t a good year for the Titanic. Polls now put Rick Santorum ahead nationally. Santorum also has a lead of between 4-10 points in Michigan – the next big primary and Romney’s home state. Rick’s lead in Ohio is estimated to be an astonishing 18 percent.
Of course, this is a race with incredible ups and downs and it could just be that Santorum is enjoying his moment of glory. But one challenge that Romney does face is the growing importance of the “weirdo factor” – the creeping sense that he isn’t like you and me.
The weirdo factor was first popularised in discussions about Jimmy Carter back in 1976. Part of Carter’s problem was his idiot smile and his frosty manners. But the bigger issue was his religion. Carter talked a lot about being “born again” and confessed to a journalist that he often felt “lust in my heart” for women other than his wife. Americans found Carter’s strain of evangelical Baptism hard to follow. “What does he believe?” pundits asked. Does he “talk to God”? Does he take the Old Testament literally? Will he try to outlaw abortion?
Mitt Romney faces a similar problem with his Mormon religion. Whenever it’s discussed it only ever adds to the sense of difference. A flap this week over the policy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to baptise all dead people, regardless of professed faith, is a good example.
It seems that the Mormons are so darn nice that they want everyone to go to Heaven, so they baptise us whether we asked for it or not. As a Roman Catholic, I’m cool with this. If I’m right and they’re wrong, it doesn’t affect me because I wasn’t complicit in my false baptism. But if they’re right and I’m wrong – I get to go to Mormon heaven. (Of course, the Wahhabi Muslims might be right – in which case we’re all screwed.)
Understandably, however, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel finds it deeply offensive. Jews died in the Second World War because of their religion, so to convert them without consent after their death is an incredibly insensitive thing to do. Officially, the Mormons stopped doing it for Jews in 1995, but the names of some of Wiesel’s relatives recently appeared on a proxy baptism list. Wiesel denounced the practice and extended his criticism to Mitt Romney. Why hadn’t Romney said anything? “I'm sure he's not involved in that,” Wiesel said, “but nevertheless, the moment he heard about this, he should have spoken up, because he is running for the presidency of the United States, which means it's too serious of an issue for him not to speak up.”
Wiesel’s remarks are important because the man is a living saint. His name is revered in neoconservative circles, among exactly the kind of people who Romney needs to court. But this story is damaging mostly because it reminds the public of how “odd” Mormonism can seem. On top of the aggressing evangelising, the refusal to drink coffee and the exotic underwear, we now learn that they carry out proxy baptisms.
Click source to read FULL report from Tim Stanley