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. gravis

    Trump's not running for President. Too bad. I hear there's an opening for court jester.

    May 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  2. Matt

    Dont know how this could be any clearer... we do not need more religious zonkwads in office. we have enough, thanks.

    May 16, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  3. Matt

    Religion SHOULD be a factor!!! Indeed any President who likes to advertise his or her religion on their sleeve needs to be shunned. I dont care what religion you are, I care that you're out there for ALL AMERICANS, religious or not!! We are NOT all the same! If you believe some John Smith character looked into a hat, had silver and gold tablets which were NEVER seen by anyone but him... and you believe it, you are a gullible sucker and I dont want you as president. If you believe in the invisible man with invisible plans, and invisible hands, you do not belong in politics.

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

      Maybe your argument could be taken seriously if anything you just said about Mormon history was correct (you apparently don't even know the actual name of the church's founder), or if you didn't come across as so rabidly anti-religion that you promote excluding religous people from politics.

      May 16, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  4. GreenieInPA

    Romney won't be elected, but not because of his religion. He won't be elected because he is a moneybag elitist. The average American has had it with elitists and wants the rich knocked down a peg or two.

    May 16, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Frogist

      @GreenieinPA: I sure hope that Americans are tired of the catering for the rich. Except that is exactly what the GOP has decided to do. If there was truth in what you say, the GOP would have no power at all.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  5. OrgReligionIsFALSE

    NO MORMONS SHOULD BE ELECTED !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    They are HATE

    May 16, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Lin

      Sounds like more than a little hate is coming from you.

      May 16, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  6. Pacific View

    The Republican Party is a Jurassic Park for mental dinosaurs.

    May 16, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  7. Bob

    So now they are going to question Romney being a Morman huh? If he was a Muslim everyone would be afraid to bring it up!

    May 16, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  8. John

    romney will get the nomination. pawlenty will most likely be his VP. the romney / pawlenty ticket will fail hard.

    Strong Pimp Hand / Biden 2012

    May 16, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  9. John

    This is the most bigoted article I have ever read on CNN. The author, Mr. Prothero, should be ashamed that he is casting Mitt Romney's religion in a negative light. Why is he going out of his way to criticize Mormons and their beliefs?

    May 16, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Frogist

      @John: The article says people have taken Romney's Mormonism as a negative. It's not treating being a mormon negatively. There is a huge difference.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  10. Nurse Lisa

    Mitt cannot overcome the obstacles of his religion, his Romneycare proposal, his failed track record so far. Yet, with Huckabee and Trump out, he seems to be leading by being more trustworthy than that lying cheatin' slithering newt. The dearth of respectable candidates who have brains, money and no baggage, is good news for Dems.

    May 16, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  11. Aaron

    Any person capable of believing the fairy-tale that is Mormonism won't be getting my vote.

    May 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • cch


      May 16, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  12. cch

    "Many of America’s greatest presidents—John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt" since when did JFK step into the ranks of Reagan, Washington, and FDR? I must have missed that one!

    May 16, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Volfan

      For that matter, when did Regan? I realize he has benefited from a cult-like following of late but unemployment was higher in his first term than it is now, his policies led to things like the banking and loan crisis of the mid-80s not to mention his embarrassing performance during the Iran-Contra hearings ("I don't recall"). The only major "achievement" he had was the fall of the Soviet system and there is plenty of evidence that the Soviets were doomed regardless of Regan's unprecedented defense spending.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Edwin

      Reagan DID do something pretty significant - he avoided sending us into a nuclear war. Sure, other presidents have avoided it, too, but Reagan pushed the Soviets a LOT, and still managed to avoid world war. Arguably, his policies brought down TWO superpowers (the Soviets and the USA) - a fairly significant testament to his time in office...

      May 16, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Frogist

      I'd put JFK up there just for the space program.

      May 16, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Roger

      JFK died in office, kept us out of nuclear war when we were closest (and the army wanted it bad) My dad was working in the pentagon at the time and gives JFK a lot of credit. I think the guy deserves credit as a good president in a short presidency!

      May 16, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  13. Roger

    The problem is that the only candidate that has a chance at getting the independents votes is getting battered by his own party (Romney) The GOP has no chance with Newt or any of those clowns.

    May 16, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Todd (another one)

      Romney is battering himself quite thoroughly. He was for Romneycare before he was against it. He was also pro gay rights, pro choice, accepted evolution as fact, accepted global warming as fact all before he was against it.

      What will do Romney in isn't his Mormon religion, it's that he wont even stick to his own principles if it becomes expediant not to.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Paul

      You're telling me Ron Paul can't get independent votes? Why is it that poll after poll show that he has the best chance of beating Obama?

      May 16, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • george

      @ Paul. Ron Paul is toooooooooooooooo old. We need someone who can stay up past 7:00 in the evening.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Roger

      I like Ron Paul, but he won't get the GOP ticket, so he will mostly get independent votes stripping the GOP even further from their base.

      May 16, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  14. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Republicans have nobody to blame but themselves as they take a look at their pitiful selections. It started with their support for Sarah Palin and it went all down hill after that. Palin destroyed McCain and then she came right back and finished off the Republicans and got paid.

    May 16, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Todd (another one)

      Have to disagree with you there, Claudia. When the GOP embraced Palin, they hit rock bottom right there. Now they are just wallowing in the muck there.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  15. blake

    Don't put much stock in any CNN sizing up of the GOP. Too much of a far left bias with CNN.

    May 16, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Roger

      Too bad that the polls show the same view. Jokers like Newt getting GOP headlines..gimme a break Blake

      May 16, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  16. sam99999

    A half-white half-black blue-lipped one-time Muslim of African descent got eleted last time; I think all of these predispositions and labels that we try to assign to the office have been blown out of the water.

    May 16, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Todd (another one)

      you listen to fox alot, don't you? Obama isn't Muslim. Do try to learn facts.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Edwin

      What does blue-lipped mean? I assume it is a rude insult with no substance, but I have not heard it before.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • george

      Try some of the kool-aide. It goes great with tea.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Andy

      It means that the person who wrote it is a racist. I wonder if he knows...

      May 16, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  17. REG in AZ

    They say keep taxes down .... always when it is for the very wealthy .... they say to reduce government spending and the deficit .... never their policy under Bush-Cheney or when benefiting Special Interests.  They say resolve the problems .... but only fault and block every effort.  They want the average American vote .... but arrogantly cater to Special Interests and the few and together they aggressively spend unlimited effort and money to con and manipulate public opinion.    The total middle-class seeks government effort to create jobs and to bring the economy back to the 2000 level .... but the Republicans offer only giving more to the wealthy .... even when Bush-Cheney proved that the ‘trickle down’ theory is a total fraud.  The bottom-line is their loyalty is to the few, not to Social Security, not to Medicare, and not to the majority who they give only rhetoric to deceive and con.  They use creative and even bazaar appeals to fears, biases, prejudices and emotions ... including with well sponsored and creative efforts to manipulate the Christian block, with the Swift-boat propaganda and now with the Tea Party extremes ... always highly emotional, with little truth and without any solutions.  What can the people expect from the Republicans .... the decision should be to reject their deceptive efforts, to be insulted by and to refuse to be duped and manipulated.

    May 16, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  18. SurelyUjest

    Religion, height, marriages? I have been aware of each of these statistics for many years. I pray to the god/gods/goddesses of my choosing that American's can spend more time on evaluating the facts, the voting history, the words and ideas of a candidate prior to voting rather than these silly shallow issues seemingly (based on the poll) controlling opinion.

    May 16, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • j

      considering how freaked out the wingnuts were when Mitch Daniels put forth the very reasonable suggestion that a truce be called on social issues for the next cycle in order to focus on the much more pressing economic trouble, I think you'll be very disappointed.

      May 16, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • d

      They can't. George W. Bush "beat" Al Gore because he's more charismatic. Then in 2004 the Democrats managed to find an even more unlikeable candidate.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Eric

      They 'swift boated' John Kerry, decorated war hero. America let them, or enough of us did.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • GreenieInPA

      Social Issues = Religious Wingnut Issues
      Why do we even consider these schizophreniacs anyway? Why is it considered sane to believe there's a voice telling you what to do? That nuttiness is excused in the name of religion. I would LOVE to see an agnostic or athiest run! There would be no social issues for them.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Frogist

      @GreenieinPA: I think you might be disappointed. Besides the fact that atheists and agnostics vary widely in their political and social positions, they would be looked upon with a great deal of unfortunate distrust. Maybe when the movement has gained some more social acceptance that might be a possibility. But until then religious voters will long have eliminated them from the field.

      May 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  19. Daveusa

    Romney is an idiot and half liberal democrat anyway the way he votes. The only candidate for republicans at this point is Ron Paul. I hope Romney doesn't get more than one vote, his own. I hope his wife doesn't even vote for him.

    May 16, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      Ron Paul is appealing even to me as a libertarian socially liberal voter. Too bad he has opened his mouth and inserted foot on several key social issues I hold dearly.

      May 16, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Sam

      Eh, I think his wife will vote for him.

      May 16, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Roger

      Ron Paul has a lot of good ideas but he is no more electable than Donald Trump. He lacks a filter!

      May 16, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Welcome to Reality

      Joe Biden is far worse than all the other politicians in America combined in terms of needing a "filter", yet that didn't prevent him from being elected VP. Then again, you probably never heard of anything he said if you only read CNN, MSNBC, NBC, NY Times, .....

      May 16, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • CW

      Welcome to Reality... How about a dose of some. EVERYONE is aware of Biden's gaffes. Most are also aware that HE wasn't elected as VP. Dolt.

      May 16, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Roger

      I won't argue about Biden. No filter at all. He did not run for President however, and who really cares about the VP anyhow? (Dan Quayle)

      May 16, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Edwin

      Biden DID run for President, but lost in the primary. America's standards for Vice President are much different than those for President, and Biden was sufficient for that purpose. I am uncertain Quayle really was sufficient, which may be one reason Bush Sr. lost...

      May 16, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Smitty

      Biden wasn't elected – Obama was. He is indeed a lightweight. He will never get elected in 2016.
      Ron Paul has strange Libertarian concepts – like any form of universal medicine makes slaves out of doctors. Huh?
      Romney is busy disavowing anything he did that a Democrat might like. As for his Mormonism, I can't imagine any inteligent person buying in, but hey, if his head is screwed on straight otherwise, why not? He's the best of a very weak field of candiates.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • GreenieInPA

      I'm with you. Ron Paul is the man for the job.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  20. Roger

    Romney is clearly the most electable member of the Republican field. Religion should not be an important factor if you want to fix the country. Everybody has their own idea of what a Christian is. The GOP will throw away any chance at the presidency if they cannot overcome the fact that he is an LDS Christian.
    The 2 party system will completely fail if the Republican's can't adapt to some change!

    May 16, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      My mother in law and family are all LDS my wife had her name stricken from the temple records. LDS in my opinion is about 150-yrs behind America but they have a great PR group. If you want to look in to LDS look in to Joseph Smith and his actions then look in to the Mountain Meadow masacre and how it was handled legally and morally and how really Brigham Young and the other top members basically condoned murder of innocents. This church has such a dark history it is a wonder it is the fastest growing religion in America.

      May 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Bryan

      It's the fastest growing only because LDS reproduce in litters.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Whld

      While the breeding in litters comment was funny ... we don't have any broad reporting on religious trending across the national spectrum. I think the best we can do is gain insight from Europe which suggest that the Athiest / Agnostics are the most rapidly growing "sector of religion".

      May 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.