ABC’s Harris: Will ‘Uncomfortable Questions’ Torpedo Romney?
On Tuesday’s "Good Morning America," the ABC program used an attack by an aide to presidential candidate Sam Brownback on fellow contender Mitt Romney to delve into the former Massachusetts governor’s religious beliefs and whether bigotry will derail his campaign.
Comparing the treatment of Romney’s religion to past campaigns, Dan Harris asserted that this sort of thing "happened for orthodox Jews when Joe Lieberman ran for vice president in 2000."
But unlike in 2000, when Joe Lieberman ran for vice president on a liberal Democratic ticket, Mitt Romney is running a social conservative. And thus, Harris alternated from wondering if "a resurgence of the type of bigotry the church has faced since it was founded 177 years ago" might torpedo Romney’s bid, to speculating on the "uncomfortable questions" about Mormon beliefs:
Dan Harris: "There are other Mormon beliefs that may provoke uncomfortable questions for Mitt Romney. For example, Mormons believe God was once a human being. Mormons also believe in symbolically baptizing the dead, even if they're members of other religions. And, up until 1978, including a time during which Romney was prominent in the church, black people had second-class status. Mormons used to teach that blacks have dark skin due to a curse from God."
This is not the first time that GMA has reported on the Romney campaign with a skeptical, almost suspicious tone . In early April, co-host Robin Roberts repeatedly grilled the candidate about the source of his fund-raising and a Mormon connection to the money:
Robin Roberts: "So, where is the money coming from, Governor?"
Roberts: "You say the money is coming from all the states. The ‘New York Times’ this morning is reporting that 15 percent of the money raised in your campaign is coming from the state of Utah. Many speculate that it has something to do, of course, with your being a Mormon. Does your, does your religion factor in at all in your campaign and in your fund-raising?"
While discussing the subject with Diane Sawyer in a second segment, "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos asserted that coverage of Romney’s religion is fair due to the fact that he would be the first Mormon president. He then referenced the fact that Harry Reid, the Senate Majority leader is a Mormon. However, would someone like Reid, who holds mostly liberal positions, face such scrutiny as a presidential candidate?
A transcript of the segments, which aired at 7:11am on June 19, follows:
ABC Graphic: "Keeping the Faith? Romney’s Religion Raises Questions"
Diane Sawyer: "And we turn now back here to the race to ‘08. Out on the campaign trail, religion and politics, a combustible mix for the front-runner, Mitt Romney. He is accepting apologies this morning from not one, but two of his Republican rivals. First, Rudy Giuliani and now Senator Sam Brownback, each one of them raising questions about some of the specifics of Romney’s Mormon beliefs. And our Dan Harris leads us off with this story. Dan?"
Dan Harris: "Diane, good morning. It happened for Catholics when John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960. It happened for orthodox Jews when Joe Lieberman ran for vice president in 2000. And now Mormonism is having its moment and it's creating a mixture of both pride and anxiety for members of the Mormon church. On Monday, Mitt Romney accepted the apology of his Republican rival Sam Brownback, whose staffer sent out an e-mail questioning basic tenets of Mormonism."
Kansas Senator Sam Brownback: "This doesn't belong in a political discussion. There’s no religious test to be president. There shouldn’t be one."
Harris: "Fairly on unfairly, however, Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is coming in for increasing scrutiny. This has some Mormon’s nervous about a resurgence of the type of bigotry the church has faced since it was founded 177 years ago by Joseph Smith, later killed by an angry mob. Perhaps the biggest misconception about Mormons is that they’re polygamists, like in the HBO show ‘Big love.’ In fact, the church gave up polygamy in 1890. It’s now only practiced by a small group of so-called Mormon fundamentalists. Nonetheless, some Mormons were offended when Romney said this on ‘60 Minutes.’"
Mitt Romney: "I must admit, I can't imagine anything more awful than polygamy."
John Dehlin (Mormon Stories website): "There are many Mormons who, while they don’t practice polygamy, are very proud of their ancestry. So, to hear him so summarily dismiss or disparage the practice of polygamy is hurtful."
Harris: "There are other Mormon beliefs that may provoke uncomfortable questions for Mitt Romney. For example, Mormons believe God was once a human being. Mormons also believe in symbolically baptizing the dead, even if they're members of other religions. And, up until 1978, including a time during which Romney was prominent in the church, black people had second-class status. Mormons used to teach that blacks have dark skin due to a curse from God."
Dehlin: "These past statements haunt our people and they'll haunt Mitt Romney."
Harris: "But John Dehlin, a Mormon businessman and journalist who is sometimes critical of the church points out that Christian politicians aren't often asked, for example, about the Old Testament condoning slavery."
Dehlin: "Every religion has skeletons in its historical closet. The only difference is that Mormonism is less familiar."
Harris: "There are those who argue it is unfair for Mitt Romney to be forced, essentially, to become a spokesman for his faith. Others argue that since Romney is running for the highest office in the land and openly advertising himself as a man of faith, well, then scrutiny comes with the territory. Diane, back to you."
Sawyer: "All right, Dan. Thanks. Let's turn now to Washington and George Stephanopoulos, our chief Washington correspondent, host of ‘This Week.’ George, what about this fairness question and what about the fact that he was the governor of a major state and yet now, as he goes nationwide, one third of the people, Republicans, polled say they may be less likely to vote for a Mormon? What is different nationally?"
George Stephanopoulos: "Well, because he would be the first Mormon president. There have been other Mormon governors and senators. In fact, the Democratic leader of the Senate Harry Reid is a Mormon. But Mitt Romney would be breaking a barrier. And his campaign knows that he's going to get more questions on this, the better he does in the campaign. But they have a strategy to deal with it. Number one, he is aggressively reaching out to Christian and evangelical leaders saying I'm a Christian and from my faith, I get values we all share, particularly a belief in family. Secondly, that he does abhor some parts of the Mormon past, polygamy, racial separation. And then finally, and probably most importantly, that he believes in this bedrock separation of church and state, that church leads are not going to be the power behind the thrown at the White House."
Sawyer: "But as he moves, in a sense, to distance himself from some previous practices of the church publicly, he does get criticism from inside the church. So he's sort of getting it from both sides here. And I note that there is the article of faith, recognized as scripture by the Mormon church, which says Zion will be built upon the American continent. And I remember your asking him about the question of the second coming being in America. I want to play this and let you tell us what happened here."
Romney: "That doesn't happen to be a doctrine of my church. Our belief is just what it says in the Bible that the Messiah will come to Jerusalem, stand on the Mount of Olives and the Mount of Olives will be a place where there is a great gathering and so forth. It is the same as the other Christian tradition."
Sawyer: "So does he get criticized inside the church for those statements?"
Stephanopoulos: "He did. Because one of the doctrines of the church is actually that God will return to both Jerusalem and the new Jerusalem, which they teach is actually in Missouri. And he did get criticism for walking away from the tenets of the faith there. But his much bigger problem is with other Christians, other evangelicals. What voters, bottom line, I think, Diane, are looking for is they want a candidate who believes in God. Being an atheist is an absolute political killer. But they also want to be assured that whoever gets that office is not going to try to impose their beliefs on the rest of the country."
Sawyer: "All right. Religion emerging this early in the campaign. Thanks so much, George."