Did Romney's presidential efforts improve the image of LDS Americans?
Pignanelli: Mixed bag. He diverted the national attention on Mormons, which had been focused on all things polygamous, including Warren Jeffs and the HBO television series "Big Love." Also, through Romney, many Americans were introduced to a famous Mormon who is a successful, attractive businessman who enjoys a good family life. Now the down side: It has been my experience that even the most soft-spoken LDS adherents will defend their faith with zeal when challenged.Romney's dodging and weaving on various church doctrines is not an accurate reflection of his fellow Mormon brothers and sisters. Although I have megabytes of e-mails from readers offering flimsy excuses for his stumbling, there is no reason a man of his intelligence and experience could not provide satisfactory answers to inquiries. His public discomfort led to unease with voters curious about his faith and positions.
Webb: Over the long term, the LDS Church and its members will absolutely benefit from Romney's campaign. The church received more focus, more scrutiny, more attention, more publicity, both nationally and interna- tionally, than any time in its existence. Not all of the publicity was positive, and prejudice and bigotry clearly still exist (especially in the South). But, on balance, it has been a big benefit for the church. All of the "weird" stuff was discussed, scrutinized, vetted, written about and, to some degree, left behind.Romney emerges as the most prominent Mormon political pioneer ever, and the path he forged will make it easier for other Mormons to follow. The whole experience has boosted the maturation and mainstreaming of a global religion with more than 13 million members. The nation confronted the real possibility of having a Mormon president and didn't flinch too much.
What lessons can Utahns learn from Romney's efforts?
Pignanelli: One cannot negotiate with terrorists ... or bigots. The Republican primaries demonstrated that many Southern evangelicals view Mormons as subhuman and unfit for the presidency. Any appeals to a sense of decency were rejected. LDS politicos and friends must end their quiet acceptance of such behavior and openly disparage this intolerance. (Take a cue from Catholic zealots and Christian fundamentalists they scream at anything.) Further, we must all remember that Romney may be Mormon, but he is not a Utahn. Many of our residents may be proud of Romney, but we do act and interact in a different manner. Thus, Utahns should not personalize the rejection of Romney.
Webb: All in all, Romney did better than I expected. He made mistakes, and in hindsight it's easy to second-guess. This was a topsy-turvy, unpredictable campaign in which no one had a perfect strategy. I do think that Romney was running out of character for much of his campaign. His turn to the right wasn't terribly convincing or comfortable. I wish the nation could have been exposed to more of the Mitt Romney we saw running the Olympics.I think an important lesson is that voters this year aren't as concerned about ideological purity as they are about problem solving and results. Voters want leaders who will tackle the practical problems facing them, not ideologues who can spout party slogans. This is a crucial lesson for Utah Republican legislators this year.
What perspective does Romney's departure offer regarding the national political stage?
Pignanelli: I am going out on limb. (There are broken branches and bruises to prove this is not unusual). Notwithstanding his mistakes in articulating changes in position, Romney is the victim of what I believe is the beginnings of a massive realignment of this country's political party structure. Romney's personal, professional and political resume especially when compared to the opposition should have overwhelmed Republican voters. Yet, the formula that had worked so well for GOP nominees in prior years continues to be rejected in 2008. A number of events highlight this: frustration with President Bush, the early willingness to overlook Rudy Giuliani's foibles, Mike Huckabee's success with economic populism, conservatives searching for a champion, Arnold Schwarzenegger's "liberalism" and grudging acceptance of John McCain. (The Democrats are also feeling early pains of transformation.) This new dynamic was unforgiving to Romney, who could not articulate his metamorphosis to a conservative.
Webb: Michael Barone pointed out in an insightful Wall Street Journal essay on Thursday that in this election year "every candidate's strategy has failed," including John McCain's, and both of the Democrats.' Lucky for McCain, his strategy failed early, and the success of the Iraq "surge" reversed his political fortunes.It's clear the formulas and coalitions of the past aren't working this year. One of the first lessons of politics is: Don't fight the last war. But we do it anyway. Romney did what he thought he had to do to win the nomination. But instead of a solid conservative, a political moderate is going to win the GOP nomination. Lessons: Be yourself. Be true to yourself. Don't be too programmed and scripted.
Republican LaVarr Webb a political consultant and lobbyist. He was was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. E-mail: [email protected]. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a Utah state tax commissioner. E-mail: [email protected].