Why Evangelicals Can't Forgive Romney

In many ways, it’s baffling that Newt Gingrich is leading the primary race in Iowa: A CBS poll last week showed 31 percent of likely caucus-goers support Gingrich, with only 17 percent behind Romney. Among white evangelical Christians, Gingrich’s support is even higher: 34 percent to a pitiful 10 percent for Romney. How can social conservatives support Gingrich, who’s had at least two extramarital affairs and been divorced twice, over Romney, a man who’s been married for 42 years to the same woman?

It can’t just be their stances — both Romney and Gingrich have a record of flip-flopping. No, I think it’s simpler: Evangelicals can forgive Gingrich’s infidelities. They’re just sins! With recent studies showing that the lifetime rate of infidelity for men is 28 percent, and for women is 15 percent, chances are they know someone who’s committed adultery. And if someone’s asked for forgiveness, it’s only Christian to give it.

Forgiving Romney’s Mormon religion, though, is far more difficult. Several Christian leaders have condemned or questioned Mormonism. At the Values Voter Summit in October, Richard Jeffress, a Baptist pastor who introduced Rick Perry, called the religion a “cult.” When pressed, he defended his remarks:

“[It’s] never been considered a part of mainstream Christianity,” Jeffress told Fox News. “Mormonism was invented 1800 years after Jesus Christ and the founding of Christianity, and it has its own founder, Joseph Smith, its own set of doctrines and its own book, the Book of Mormon. And that, by definition, is a theological cult, that’s all I’m saying.”

Just yesterday, in fact, Gingrich’s political director in Iowa had to resign after it emerged that he, too, had called Mormonism a “cult.”

Romney’s in a tough spot. He can try to give another JFK-style “religion” speech, like he did in 2007. Or, he can just resign himself to the fact that he’s going to have to win over a lot of non-evangelical voters if he wants the nomination.