Over the months of Mitt Romney's campaign for the presidency, I've heard a few Mormons grumble that it was awfully selfish of Brother Romney to bring all the anti-Mormon bigots out of the woodwork, solely to satisfy his political ambitions.
All that anti-Mormon stuff could only hurt the missionary work!
I heard just as many people whispering hints about how his candidacy might be fulfilment of the prophecy about the Constitution hanging by a thread and the Elders of Israel saving it.
The first attitude bothered me because it implied that no Mormon should ever run for public office outside of the Mormon corridor, because political opponents from the right and the left always will exploit anti-Mormon attitudes and ideas.
In the real world, there is no bad publicity for the church. Here's why: Hate-filled attacks on the church, as well as ridicule of our doctrines, actually provide opportunities for the Spirit to touch people's hearts.
I've known converts who were first drawn to the church because of anti-Mormon propaganda. Their attitude? "If clowns like this are attacking the Mormon Church so angrily, there must be something to their doctrines!"
As a church and a people, we've endured far worse and thrived anyway.
As to seeing the fulfilment of prophecy in Mitt Romney's candidacy, I can't deny the possibility. But I can also tell you that just because a candidate is LDS does not imply that his policies will save anything.
If a Mormon candidate has positions on the most important issues that I consider to be wrong, and his non-Mormon opponent is right on those issues, then maybe I'll be one of those "elders of Israel" saving the Constitution by voting for the non-Mormon candidate!
There were things I liked about Romney's candidacy, and things I hated but they all had to do with his own actions and decisions, and had little to do with the fact that he and I are both Mormons.
Of course, as a Mormon, I actively worked to dispel negative myths about the church and to confront and, I hoped, allay the fears of evangelical Christians who have been exposed to anti-Mormon propaganda for decades.
At the same time, I loathed his decision to exploit the bigotry that drives the anti-illegal-immigrant movement. Here's the sad thing: It didn't even work.
Even in states where Republican anti-immigrant feeling runs high, the polls showed that of those voters who thought illegal immigration was the No. 1 issue, Romney got only about half.
What? He was the only candidate pushing that issue!
Well, duh: The anti-immigrant fanatics tend to include the most bigoted of Republican voters, so the same people are likely to be among those who most hate the idea of a Mormon candidate!
He bet on the wrong horse. And I think he was morally wrong on that issue, as well as being completely impractical.
Still, in withdrawing from the presidential race, he gave as his reason the only one that makes sense: "In this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror."
I agree with him that it is more important for our nation's future that the we-must-lose-at-any-price Democratic candidates be defeated. And I say that as a Democrat!
What does Romney do now? John McCain, a vain, unforgiving grudge-holder, never will be Romney's friend and probably will not welcome his help on the campaign. McCain will instead reach out to Mike Huckabee to help him keep the right wing of the party involved and engaged.
(Huckabee is actually a better choice for that role anyway, because if Romney could actually motivate that group, McCain would not be the probable nominee today Romney would.)
But Romney's political future is not dead. On the contrary, there is a specific plan Romney can follow that will make him a much more powerful and viable candidate next time.
After all, Richard Nixon seemed politically dead after he lost the California governor's race in 1962 ("You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore"), and when Ronald Reagan gave it his best shot in 1976 and unelected, Nixon-pardoning Gerald Ford still beat him for the Republican nomination, there were those who counted him out.
Learn from Nixon and Reagan, Brother Romney, and do this:
Go everywhere and campaign for every local Republican.
Concentrate on two groups:
1. Moderate Republicans campaigning in traditionally Democratic congressional districts, governors' races and Senate contests.
2. Christian evangelical candidates who need your advertising dollars. You'll run ads in their media area, but only if they also share a platform with you and let you speak alongside them.
Put Republicans in your debt all over this country. Nurture your relationship with state and local Republican leaders. Make yourself Mr. Republican by supporting even candidates whose positions you actually oppose.
Be open and honest about the fact that you don't agree on every point, but stress party loyalty and the importance of Republicans controlling both houses of Congress.
Set yourself up, in other words, for 2012 (if Republicans lose this year) or later (if Republicans win this year). You'll turn 69 in 2016. As McCain and Reagan both have proved, age is not necessarily a barrier if you're still healthy and vigorous.
Meanwhile, with your money and the political action committee you will form and fund, you can offer generic "we must win this war" ads in markets where you might make a real difference.
The ads would be nonpartisan and need not mention any candidate in particular. But this is the single most powerful issue the Republican Party has, and by also appearing personally on the same platform with Republican candidates
and delivering that win-the-war, keep-America-safe message everywhere, you will be pushing the issue likeliest to lead to Republican victory. Because inside the Democratic Party right now, being anti-war is the only way to be nominated.
But in the nation at large, being in favor of an unnecessary and stupid surrender to our enemies will not play, and a pro-victory campaign will probably lead to a Republican landslide.
The polls that show America being against the war are the result of our being pounded for years by anti-Bush news media.
But Americans don't like to lose wars. Ever.
Mitt Romney, your campaign is just beginning. Even if McCain treats you badly no, especially if McCain treats you badly a highly visible Romney effort in support of Republican candidates will overcome most of the anti-Mormon bias that killed your chances for the presidency this year.
Make yourself Mr. Republican, Mitt Romney. Because that's something that McCain, Rudy Giuliani or Huckabee cannot ever plausibly do.
Spread your tent and show your loyalty to all Republicans, not just the doctrinaire far right.
It will be good for your political ambitions. It will be good for the LDS Church and later Mormon politicians who follow you.
Editor's note: The views expressed by all Deseret Morning News columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the newspaper's owner.
Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. "In the Village" appears weekly in the Deseret Morning News. Leave feedback for Card online at www.nauvoo.com/contact_desnews.html.