A Vanderbilt study suggests voters who are bigoted against Mormons are more likely to believe that Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper.
According to Vanderbilt political scientist John Geer, a co-author of the study,
There is no question that Romney has changed his positions on some issues, but so have some of the other candidates. Why does the label stick to Romney but not his opponents? At least some of the answer lies in Romneyâ€™s Mormon beliefs.
Romney certainly has changed his opinion on several issues in his transition from Massachussetts politics to national politics. And he has certainly been less adroit (or more forthright, depending on who you ask) about his position changes than some of his opponents have. But what he isn’t is unique. Thompson is a very recent arrival to the immigration issue, has backed away from the McCain-Feingold legislation that he once sponsored, and has tried to conceal his shift on abortion post-2000. McCain has backed down on immigration after taking a beating on it, and has reversed himself on the Bush tax cuts. Huckabee has gone from being a fairly open borders governor to advocating perhaps the strictest immigration plan of all the candidates (including attacks on birthright citizenship). Giuliani has backed away from gay marriage, public abortion funding, and support for partial birth abortion, all within the last year or so.
So while I think Romney deserves quite a bit of the flack he’s catching for “flip-flopping,” I think the sustained ferocity of the attacks, and the pass his opponents get, probably need some explanation. I’m willing to believe that for at least some people, the flip-flopping charge seems more probable because they don’t like Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, or is a more acceptable way to express animus against Romney for his Mormonism. I have noticed that commenters like Rod Dreher, Daniel Larison, and Ross Douthat who are the most persuaded that Mormonism isn’t Christian or otherwise respectable are also the most persuaded that Romney is willing to say or do anything to win the election. I have also noticed, as a coblogger has pointed out, that the attacks on Romney are interestingly parallel to the modern anti-Mormon charge that Mormons are slippery, use words deceptively, try to cover up their past and change it to be more appealing to the mainstream, etc.
On the other hand, no one should think that the flip-flopping charge is merely underground anti-Mormonism. Romney has changed his opinion on abortion, immigration, and other issues, and he has done so extra-ordinarily forthrightly and maladroitly. I personally believe the flip-flopping charge is over-rated but its a little part of the reason I have become more or less a Thompson supporter in the (increasingly unlikely) hope that he’d at least be able to make a stand in South Carolina, if nowhere else.
And, really, no one should get too exercised about this sort of muted prejudice. Even the fact that bigots would have to conceal their bigotry, perhaps even to themselves, is a sign of progress.
I’m not interested in arguments about whether Romney or the others really flip-flopped. I’ll happily delete those comments. There are already a million just like them already on the web. Have at it. Don’t have time to police comments today.