My Take: GOP presidential field at odds with Americans' self-image
Mitt Romney in Michigan last week.
May 16th, 2011
10:05 AM ET

My Take: GOP presidential field at odds with Americans' self-image

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

All presidential candidates have flaws. But American voters want their presidents to seem presidential. What that means is that they want their presidents to look like them. Or, to be more precise, to look like they imagine themselves to be.

On this score, at least, the emerging GOP presidential field has three strikes against it.

Likely contender Mitt Romney may be tall, dark and handsome, but he didn’t do himself any favors by equivocating last week about the Massachusetts health care plan he signed into law as governor—a plan some are now referring to as Romneycare. Moreover, he is vulnerable for his resume as a moderate Republican.

But the real challenge for Romney, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, continues to be his religion.

Yes, the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom, and there is no religious test in the Constitution. But many on the Religious Right think that Mormons aren't really Christians and many on the secular left think Mormons are too conservative.

According to a 2007 Gallup poll, 24% of Americans would not vote for an otherwise qualified Mormon nominated by their party for president. And that is bad news not only for Mitt Romney but also for President Barack Obama's former Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, who is another Mormon mulling a presidential bid.

In this same 2007 Gallup poll, Americans were asked whether they would vote for an otherwise qualified candidate who was married for the third time. Thirty percent said no.

The question was designed to address the potential candidacy of Newt Gingrich, who has been divorced twice and married three times, and who officially launched his presidential campaign last week. Now it now applies as well to Donald Trump, who is also working on marriage number three.

Although the divorce rate in the United States is approaching 50%, Americans have elected only one divorced president: Ronald Reagan. That's bad news as well for Indiana governor and potential 2012 candidate Mitch Daniels, who was divorced from his first wife in 1994 before reconciling with and remarrying her in 1997.

Speaking of Daniels, there is that pesky problem of his height, which is officially 5 foot, 8 inches.

Study after study has shown that tall people make more money and rise higher in the corporate ranks than short people do. This bias is so clear, and so palpably unfair, that a Harvard economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw has argued for a tax on tall people.

But this heightism, if you will, is also clear in the Oval Office. Many of America’s greatest presidents — John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt — have stood 6 feet or taller. And Abraham Lincoln towered above his fellow citizens at 6-foot-4.

Short men, by contrast, don’t usually get elected president. The last president who was substantially below average in height was Benjamin Harrison, elected in 1888. Short men who have managed to sneak into office have not fared as well as their taller colleagues (Jimmy Carter stands a bit over 5-foot-9).

Mitch Daniels, through no fault of his own, is a lesser man. President Obama, for the record, is 6-foot-1.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Health care • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Newt Gingrich • Politics • Polls • Uncategorized • United States

soundoff (249 Responses)
  1. Welcome to Reality

    Well this article got one thing right – "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero".

    May 16, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Roger

      Really? You think that Romney isn't hurt by being a Morman?

      May 16, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Another Larry

      Actually, that's not right. The article is spot on.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  2. Robert from Canada

    My wish is that for America to elect the best person for President. It seems their entire life hisory is disected by people, media, political opponents looking for flaws or weaknesses. The world awaits your choice.

    May 16, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  3. Sam

    I think Mr. Prothero hit the nail almost on the head. I certainly have no problem with Mitt Romney but I've recogized for a long time that the evangelicals that currently hold the Republican party hostage are very close-minded when it comes to his religious faith. That's too bad because Romney strikes me as a fairly reasonable person for a Republican...a rare commodity these days. I likewise have no problem with the fact that Mitch Daniels was once divorced. The fact the reconciled with and remarried his wife speaks very well of him in my opinion. Who cares, by the way, if he's short of stature? Trump is just an egotistical blowhard and Newt Gingrich, however bright he may be intellectually, carries a ton of personal baggage, not so much for the extramarital affairs so much as for being sanctimonious about it during the Clinton impeachment. Most voters do not suffer hypocrites gladly. Daniels and Romney strike me as the best choices in an otherwise poor field but as I said earlier the religious right who controls the GOP are in reality a bunch of bigots who will never support Romney because he is a Mormon. That's too bad.

    May 16, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  4. Dave

    The Mormons I know are the best people I've ever met. Mitt would be a great candidate, and it's too bad even this pathetic journalist points out there is still religious bigotry in our country. Sad. Anyone who knows anything about the Mormons know Jesus Christ is their cornerstone. Wake up people.

    May 16, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Sam

      Why are you calling the journalist who wrote the article "pathetic"? Even you seem to be acknowledging that he is correct about the religious right and their bigotry against Romney. He seems more prescient than pathetic to me.

      May 16, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Another Larry

      Yeah, but they're different, and you know you just can't trust different. Different is threatening. Different is dangerous. Different is suspect. Historically your chances of being elected president are best if you're a Presbyterian or Episcopalian, two moderately conservative religions with nothing in them than can be considered even remotely radical. Although that may not be quite as true now that Presbyterians have decided to ordain gays to the ministry.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  5. indy

    I encourage republicans and democrats alike to google, Us debt by presidential term, maybe someone can explain to me why our debt increases so dramatically under the leadership of "fiscally responsible" republicans starting with Reagan who nearly tripled the national debt

    May 16, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • excitizen

      Republicans are too deeply in denial to do this – they will argue that these are false figures, etc. and that its all Obama's fault! LOL Just one of the reasons why the two sides will never come together for the sake of the country and the people that put them in office – you cannot argue with someone who will not admit the truth. I just wish Obama would get this through his head and stop bending over backwards to appease the unappeasable!

      May 16, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Ex and Indy, that is because the Republicans have been telling themselves for the last thirty years that the only way to improve our economy is to decrease taxes (income) and increase spending (outlay). Reagen was sold in the mid-70s on Supply Side economics (also known as trickle-down, and my personal favorite "Voodoo Economics" as quoted by his 80 opponent George H. W. Bush). Because St. Ronald of Reagan preached this, it has become the mantra of the Conservative movement, even though about 90% of the country's economists have proven the numbers the originator came up with must have been developed while popping peyote buttons!

      May 16, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  6. squealy

    It is sometimes easier to blame the ones calling attention to a problem rather than it is to place blame on the problem itself. To say to citizens of this country that it is un-patriotic to complain and point out problems is doing just that. That can be extrapolated to the problems in the church as well.

    May 16, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  7. excitizen

    Funny how the christians are soooooo selective in their "beliefs" – just a reminder THOU SHALL NOT JUDGE – forever the forgotten commandment.
    Why do you care what a woman does with her body? Why do you care who your neighbour sleeps with? It is NOT your place to judge – it is your god's place only, supposedly!
    The same people are on here damning to death anyone who is accussed of a serious crime – again – hyporicy!
    If you're so darn religous – why do you pick and choose which part of your religion to follow????
    Judge not lest you be judged – I think there are going to be a WHOLE bunch of very surprised chrisians come the judgment day (fairy tale in my mind) when you're sent packing in the other direction.
    If Jesus himself walked into most churches today in the US – he'd walk right back out again shaking his head in disgust and dispair!

    May 16, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • StoopidIzAzStoopidDuz

      Hey, I am 100% in agreement and I am a Christian. Believe what you want to believe, do what you want to do. I'm not the final Judge, I just choose to live my own life right and have faith that I'll be rewarded for it. Just practice love and tolerance, and let people do their thing. The golden rule is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." NOBODY gets that! Just treat people with respect, and let them be. Quit trying to control everyone or convert them to your own way of thinking!!!

      May 16, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • excitizen

      Thanks Stoopid... it's nice to hear this from a religous person's point of view as well. It just boggles the mind!

      May 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  8. GrammarNazi

    Holy flaming cow dung CNN, hire a decent copy editor.

    "now it now applies"
    "but on the religious right think Mormons"

    May 16, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  9. Blaise Pascal

    To blame Jimmy Carter's failure on height is ridiculous.

    May 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  10. f

    Huckabee was the ONE for the GOP in my book. Now what.... Romneycare?? Newt?? No man named Newt with 3 wives will be taken seriously. All the others (Pawlenty, Huntsman, Daniels) are also rans who may be considered for VP only. GOP is in big trouble.
    FYI- I am a GOP white male and I like both Palin and Bachman, but they are too polarizing to get elected.

    May 16, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Blaise Pascal

      I wouldn't count out Mitt just because he attempted to tackle healthcare in his state. As far as baggage goes, that's manageable.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • StoopidIzAzStoopidDuz

      What is to like about Palin and Bachmann? All they do is repeat nonsensical catch phrases (i.e "take America back"...what the heck does that even mean?) with ZERO ideas on how to fix anything. This ain't a high school student council election, you have to say SOMETHING with substanance. They are the epitomy of talking heads. Glorified parrots, at best.

      May 16, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • StoopidIzAzStoopidDuz

      @Blaise, of course it is. He just needs to make the argument that its fine on a state level, and that he wants the states to make descisions about things likethese. Isn't that what GOPers want? States' rights?

      May 16, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • ScottK

      I've got it! You guys should choose Joe the Plumber for your candidate! Add the Donald as VP and youv'e got a winner! The Plumber Trump ticket!

      May 16, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  11. BlackDynamiteNYC

    The GOP doesn't have a "presidential field"
    More like a filthy gutter

    May 16, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • redragon


      May 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  12. Hitch


    ‘I LOVE the United States of America.’

    Why do you, or what do you love about it, given that you’re not a US citizen. Honestly I find it a little odd you’d gush over a country which you do not belong to.

    ‘And we are seeing women's leadership over men within church destroying the church itself with liberal theology, immorality and disobedience’

    Nonsense. The only thing killing the church are its utter hypocrisy, outright corruptness (molesting boys), it’s appeal for people to not require evidence for claims, but rather faith, but then hides behind supposed ‘pious authority’ which itself gets things wrong & later appeals for understanding. Sorry, but claims for decades that limbo for babies is the way it goes & then later asserting babies defacto go to heaven, all the while providing no evidence one way or the other shows what a joke it has become.

    Adopting a more liberal view of theology has been keeping religion in general & Christianity in particular in America still going. If they were only allowed to stick with the original interpretations & not deviate from it at all the concept of snake handling, drinking poison & chanting in tongues would be more prevalent. Look how many sects & denominations exist in US?
    Nothing screams barbarism & inequality like ‘men only’ for preaching from the pulpit & demanding that woman not rise to challenge authority of interpretation said texts.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  13. Eric G

    I just do not see any GOP candidate that can beat Obama in an election.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Eric G.



      May 16, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  14. jeff

    I don't think it should matter if our president wears magic underwear, as long as he puts his pants on one leg at a time.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • StoopidIzAzStoopidDuz

      I put my pants on with both feet going in at the same time, then I pull them up both legs at the same time. Does that mean I am not fit to be President? Dang.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Hey -jeff...

      You Said: "I don't think it should matter if our president wears '(magic)' underwear, as long as he puts his pants on one leg at a time."

      On one level, while i have a tendency to agree with you in 'general,' and... specifically... I would argue that we should pay attention to what someone, ...especially someone running for arguably the most powerful and influential job in the world...what they say and -do- which in this case is wearing (magic) underwear, which reflects a certain set of worldviews and beliefs.

      For me, we can see and hear that from a person's beliefs their 'actions' will flow.

      So, should it 'really' not matter 'at all' that someone 'literally wears...therefore believes' in (magic) underwear...? I'm not so sure about that...



      May 16, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Peace2All: I'm inclined to agree with you... as always. Except I don't really see any harm in believing in harmless things. As long as he doesn't start consulting the underpants to get us into wars, prohibit scientific study or balance the budget, I might be just fine with that. Part of me wonders what exactly does it matter to me if someone believes in fairies so long as his judgement in other areas is spot on.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Hello, my good friend -Frogist...I mean -CK... 🙂

      Yes, hence my point... I just don't think we 'should' (whole-heartedly) not take in what someone believes, as actions -do- flow from said beliefs. We don't 'really' know what the ramifications of believing in (magic) underwear...or (magic) anything is, yes...?

      So, in reality... it may 'not' in fact be harmless. We don't know that he isn't consulting the underpants in private, correct...? And, of course... It may be harmless. That is why in my point to -jeff, I said (in general) I agree with him.

      Again, my point however was that, IMHO, we 'should' be very careful in our evaluations of people and their beliefs, even more so about someone who is going to be making life and death decisions and having basically the most powerful job on the planet, yes...?

      Even 'if' we see that -beliefs- will somehow remain totally and completely 'compartmentalized'...i.e... believing in -magic- underpants, while showing quote "judgement in other areas that is spot on" is something that I truly believe we need to very seriously consider in our evaluations of people in general, and again...especially the President of the United States.

      Hope that you are well, @Frogist...!



      May 16, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Frogist

      Hi P2A!
      I get what you're saying. And I agree that there are dangers whenever we elect someone who declares their religion as a qualification. We all saw with Dubya how badly things can turn out when reality is less of a concern than consultation of one's religion. The unfortunate thing is that everyone is clambering to show off their religious credentials moreso than their practical qualifications. Does that make it harder or easier to determine who is talking to the magic undies and who is just showing them off? I suppose it depends on who is more fervently waving them.
      I hope you're well too, SM. 🙂

      May 17, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Glad we are in agreement.

      And as to your comment regarding "who is fervently waving their magic undies" etc... yikes ! I hope that none do quite honestly. LOL...!!!


      May 18, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  15. Eric

    Can't vote for a Mormon or a Catholic, i can barely vote for a religious person at all. Their in ability to apply critical thinking and evaluate evidence is questionable. Not the type of person II want running the country.

    May 16, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Another Larry

      Romney's pretty sharp and has a proven track record of getting things done. He's by far the best option the Republicans have in my opinion.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  16. Ron

    We're not to have a 'test' for leadership but for most conservative Christians, if you don't fit 'their' understanding of Christian, they don't think you should be able to lead. Sad really, but there it is in a nut shell.
    Mitt Romney is Mormon. More conservative than I personally like but I still remember the last presidential election when the various members of the GOP ran. Huckabee alluded to the fact that Romney wasn't Christian, (his interpretation) and it was echoed by many conservative Christians all over the news and various reports. The country could go to h=ell in a handbasket so long as it's a conservative Christian as president, they'd be content.

    May 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • Sam

      Well said. Look what happened the last time we had an evangelical (George W. Bush) in the White House. The country almost did go to hell in a handbasket and President Obama has spent the last two years trying to get us out of it.

      May 16, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  17. Reality

    "There's actually quite a lot to like about Romney if you're a republican by temperment......and in fact, he does oppose abortion."

    And that is exactly why Romney or any other "respect for human lifer in any form" has no chance in 2012 i.e. the Immoral Majority rules the country and will do so in the years to come. The 78+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" (in 2012) of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year.

    2008 Presidential popular vote count 69,456,897 for BO 59,934,814 for JM
    (there were an estimated 70 million members of the Immoral Majority in 2008)

    May 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • ScottK

      "the Immoral Majority rules the country and will do so in the years to come." It's called democracy, you know, majority rules. Just because you apparently believe you are the "moral authority" does not make it so. Those 70 mill voted according to their own morality, not your's.

      May 16, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Reality

      A "morality" driven by a lack of responsibility as noted below:

      Bottom Line #1: The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the pill or condoms properly and/or use other methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.

      Bottom line #2-
      Currently, a perfect birth control/STD barrier system does not exist. Time to develop one! In the meantime, mono-ma-sturbation or mutual ma-sturbation are highly recommended for hete-rose-xuals who need a contraceptive. Abstinence is another best-solution but obviously the se-x drive typically vitiates this option although being biological would it not be able to develop a drug to temporarily eliminate said drive?

      May 16, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Another Larry

      Terms like "Immoral Majority" have a kind of hateful tone to them. Are you one of those prideful, judgmental Christians who likes to look down on people who done share your belief in an imaginary friend?

      May 16, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • StoopidIzAzStoopidDuz

      "Currently, a perfect birth control/STD barrier system does not exist."

      Sure it does – abstinence. Just saying....

      May 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Sam

      There's nothing very moral abouit being a judgmental tool either, pal. Have you considered the possibility that you're wrong and the majority of the country is right or are you just too arrgant to ponder it?

      May 16, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Matt-N-Austin

      If the republicans stand for what is moral, then I take great pride in being immoral bc while I am not a supporter of abortion, greed and corruption are worse for the greater good than abortion IMO!

      May 16, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  18. Free

    I know that there are other factors, like better diet and medical treatment, that help account for the general tendency of people getting taller in America, but isn't the tendency to pick taller individuals as mates, or presidents, a pretty obvious example of natural selection?

    May 16, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Reality

      Did you also notice, that in a majority of cases, it is the tall guys who win on Jeopardy? Not a joke!!!

      May 16, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Free

      Shorter guys may be as smart, but perhaps more taller guys have the self-confidence to go on national TV with their knowledge?

      May 16, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Roger

      Tall guys rule! They rule!

      May 16, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Peace2All


      LOL... Yeah, until we start getting "taxed" for being taller, as the economics professor from Harvard is suggesting !


      May 16, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  19. Adelina

    CNN, if this article could be listed in religion section, I really believe the news of natural wonders can be here.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Frogist

      You got a point there, Adelina.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  20. Adelina

    Americans should less care about self-image but be ready to fight for justice for all just like their forefathers were. Where are real men?

    May 16, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Free

      Would you vote for a woman as president, or do you share Paul's opinion that they aren't fit for leadership?

      May 16, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Adelina

      Free, it's spiritual authority that woman does not have over man. I'd vote for anyone who's stop immorality and infanticide, but I can't vote in USA. I wish American men would consider the issues of righteousness in society more than the money matters. Why do you guys talk about economy all the time? You fathers weren't like that. You always have a better use of your own life than money.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • SeanNJ

      @Adelina: I'm fairly certain you don't live here, so why are you so terribly interested in what happens here?

      May 16, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Adelina

      Sean, this article is in religion section, and I LOVE the United States of America. Can't I care for a nation that I don't belong? And it seems only Americans come to this section and talk. I'm glad I don't have to defend USA here;-P Most of you still lack patriotism, though.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • SeanNJ

      Don't confuse patriotism with nationalism. I love my country, but I don't do it blindly.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Adelina

      Sean, how do you love your country? What is best for her?

      May 16, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Free

      "it's spiritual authority that woman does not have over man."
      In Paul's opinion, but did Jesus ever say that? In fact, don't the women surrounding Jesus not give the exact opposite impression; that he welcomed them into his inner circle, and that they were the equals of his other companions?

      May 16, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Adelina

      Free, Jesus entrusted His Word with Paul. Paul's opinion recorded in NT is God's opinion. Jesus never appointed women as His apostles. And we are seeing women's leadership over men within church destroying the church itself with liberal theology, immorality and disobedience.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • ScottK

      "Paul's opinion recorded in NT is God's opinion." which we know because a group of male ex-pagan's collected many old recopied letters together 350 years after Paul's death, many of which were not even written by Paul, and voted on which ones should be included in their new book which would be used to control the masses under the Roman Emperor. Yup, exactly how God would want his opinions to get out.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Free

      "Jesus entrusted His Word with Paul."
      Or Paul took Jesus' teaching and spun it for non-Jews against it's original intention. Wasn't Jesus' message itself not a liberal theology as compared to the rigid Pharisee Jewish adherence to the letter of the Law? According to your reasoning then conservative fundamental Christians are today's Pharisees which would make moderate, liberal Christians the ones following Jesus' example. Ironic, isn't it?

      May 16, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Wrong!

      Paul didn't write the book of Paul.........He was illiterate Most of the apostles were.... Half the new testament are scriptures forged by someone. So your teachings of Paul are a LIE!!!!!!!

      May 16, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Fab 4 Fan

      That Paul McCartney...always writing stuff.

      May 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Free

      You may be wrong, Wrong! Paul was a Pharisee, taught by the great teacher Gamaliel, and a citizen of Rome, thus likely to be a learned man. The issue here with him is that 7 out of the 13 letters with his name on them were most likely not actually written by him.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Adelina

      Someone told me some Americans still believe the Holocaust never happened. Your intelligence is that level because you never investigate, not even reading the text. @Free: It's the liberals who dislike and disobey the teaching of Jesus today. History doesn't repeat the same way your folly functions. Read Revelation chapters 2 and 3 to find out who are good or bad ones.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:50 am |
    • Free

      I think it's pretty easy to see who the Pharisees are these days and who Jesus would be sided with if he were around now. All conservative Christians have done is establish the Bible as the new Law, and themselves as the new hypocrites to that Law.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • Adelina

      @Free, you are ignorant on the Bible, Christian history and Christian churches. The reason you will never find the mind of Jesus. Study before you talk about any subject.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
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