I recently sat down with Craig L. Foster via email and we discussed topics relating to two of his recently published works. The first book, which he co-authored with Newell G. Bringhurst, is The Mormon Quest for the Presidency, which concerns ten people associated with Mormonism who have run for president of the United States. Craig describes these individuals as “nine men and one woman representing both ends of the political spectrum and everything in between, as well as representing not only the two major political parties but also a number of third parties.”
The second book, of which he is the soul author, A Different God? Mitt Romney, The Religious Right and The Mormon Question (Note that this book is available at Mormon Bookstores – Kofford has had trouble with amazon), “looks at the religious issues facing the Romney campaign during his failed presidential bid and places it within the historical context of the rise and power of the religious right and their political interaction with the LDS Church. The book also analyzes anti-Mormonism expressed against Mitt Romney and his campaign by those from the left, right, and even among his fellow candidates.”
Previous to the publication of these two books, Foster wrote Penny Tracts and Polemics: A Critical Analysis of Anti-Mormon Pamphleteering in Great Britain, 1837-1860. He also has an essay in the recently published Scattering of the Saints: Schism Within Mormonism. Foster is published in virtually all the Mormon scholarly journals and many non-Mormon ones as well. I’m pleased to have him aboard.
Stapley: First off, thank you for discussing with us your recent publications on Mitt Romney. How is it that you came to author these two works?
Foster: There are many aspects of Mormonism that interest me. The works of anti-Mormons and other critics of the Church is obviously one such subject. Another is the church and politics. Political Science was my minor when I earned my BA and I have followed the political activities of the Church for about twenty-five years. Because of Romney’s unique position and experience, I have followed his political career since his failed run for the Senate against Ted Kennedy.
So, I had been collecting articles about Romney’s presidential run for over a year when my good friend Newell Bringhurst called me to tell me he was thinking of writing a book about Romney and asked me to look for articles for him concerning Romney’s presidential bid. I said to him, “I’m way ahead of you. I already have a folder that about two inches thick.” He was surprised. The more we talked the more we realized we should go in together on this proposed book.
At first, the book was going to be a biography of George and Mitt Romney and was going to focus on the Romney family and the two men’s presidential campaigns. With that in mind, we began writing and I hammered out several chapters, as did Newell. It was then we realized we had a more interesting topic in looking at the various Mormons who had run for president. So, we went that direction.
Now, from the very beginning, I had made it clear that my main interest in Romney was to look at the so-called “Mormon Question” and anti-Mormon bigotry that had already arisen as a result of Romney’s campaign. While a short discussion of that appeared in The Quest for the Mormon Presidency, most of it appeared in A Different God? because I wrote so much about Romney and his campaign, placing it within a historical and political context, that did not go into the first book, both Newell and John Hamer, the John Whitmer Books editor, encouraged me to expand and publish what became A Different God?.
Stapley: With Romney as a potential VP candidate and the Religious Right’s continued attacks, it appears that your most recent book is well timed. I think it is widely understood that many members of the Religious Right hate Mormons – as in “I won’t have dinner with a Mormon because they are spawn of Satan” loathing. What does your book tell us beyond that?
Foster: First of all, I give a number of examples of that intense dislike on the part of evangelicals in the Religious Right and analyze some of the anti-Mormon themes that were prevalent during Romney’s failed presidential campaign. I also give examples of anti-Mormonism from the left on the part of people like Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Robert Redford.
I also discuss anti-Mormon bigotry encouraged by fellow presidential candidates like Mike Huckabee. His blatant use of the Mormon Question to further his political aims was insidious, to say the least, and that is spelled out in the book. But even more significantly, I demonstrate the subtle but apparent encouragement by the media of not only anti-Romney but also anti-Mormon stereotyping and bigotry. I also discuss what seemed to be, if not actual encouragement, at least allowance of anti-Mormon bigotry by some Republican Party leaders.
Stapley: Is there anything about Romney that invoked this hatred more and any other Mormon?
Foster: I would say yes and no. Yes, in that the combination of Romney’s good looks, almost unbelievable happy family and home-life, personal business successes, relative newness to the national political scene, and great wealth seemed to have really bothered a number of people. Furthermore, Romney seemed too perfect and also seemed too willing to say what people wanted to hear.
No, because the situation was different for Mitt Romney. When his father ran in 1968, the Religious Right was not a powerful factor within the Republican Party and so the Mormon Question was not as much of a factor. That and George Romney’s early withdrawal from the race meant he did not face the anti-Mormon bigotry that his son faced. While Orrin Hatch ran after the Religious Right had gained significant political power, his presidential bid was also short-lived and did not have the potential as either George or Mitt Romney. Nevertheless, he too experienced anti-Mormonism, just not to the extent as Mitt Romney. Romney was a greater target because he went further than any other Latter-day Saint.
Stapley: It seems to me, as one who isn’t a super political junkie, that the Democratic party lost a lot of pull with Mormons during the McGovern era on social issues. Do you think that the rise of anti-Mormonism within the Republican party could have any real potential to shake the party’s obvious success at attracting Mormon voters?
Foster: Latter-day Saints and the Republican Party have had an interesting relationship over the years. In my book I discuss how the Republican Party was founded on the goal of getting rid of “The Twin Relics of Barbarism” – slavery and polygamy. Republican administrations during the latter half of the nineteenth-century passed anti-polygamy and anti-Mormon legislation. When the church disbanded its political party (The People’s Party), they had to really work to get members to join the Republican Party because of the past problems. Over the years, however, a large number of Latter-day Saints felt the Republican Party better represented their values. Apparent anti-Mormon biases on the part of some Republicans, notwithstanding, most Republican Latter-day Saints will probably remain with the party as they probably feel there is nowhere else to go and they also recognize that the animosity is from only a small part of the party.
Stapley: Going back to your books, were there any surprises along the way?
Foster: Having studied aspects of anti-Mormonism, I was not surprised at the levels of animosity expressed by avowed anti-Mormons. What did surprise me was not the prevalence as much as the acceptance of such attitudes by a media that is supposed to be professional and unbiased. I was also dismayed that people in Republican Party leadership (state parties) openly expressed their animosity and did not appear to receive any reprimand.
Stapley: Do you want to speculate on Romney’s chances for the VP slot?
Foster: It all depends upon which day (and even what hour of the day) whether or not I think Romney will be selected as the VP running mate. Originally, I did not believe there was any chance whatsoever that Romney would ever be picked by John McCain. Romney’s stock, however, has risen over the past half year and he has proven himself to be an excellent spokesman, campaigner, and fundraiser. Moreover, Romney’s business acumen and reputation as a turnaround expert have helped position him as a front runner on McCain’s short list. Unfortunately, I am afraid McCain will listen to the Huckabee loyalists and other anti-Mormon evangelicals and will go with Governor Pawlenty or someone like him.
Stapley:Thanks again, for chatting.