The press corps following presidential candidate Mitt Romney frequently displayed anti-Mormon bigotry through the election season, according to fellow reporter and BuzzFeed Politics author McKay Coppins.
Coppins, who is also a Mormon, offers several interesting bits of information and even makes Mitt out to be the John Kennedy of Mormonism; like Kennedy did for Catholics, Romney’s candidacy brought his religion out from under the shadows of suspicion and into the mainstream in politics.
Most importantly, the piece reveals the stark and casual anti-Mormon bigotry of fellow members of the Old Media establishment.
Coppins recalls that other reporters following Romney constantly snickered about his “Mormon underwear” and often made jokes about his religion in the privacy of the press plane or on their many bus trips.
The jokes from his fellows made Coppins uncomfortable. At one point he “slid down in his seat” and pretended to look at his phone to avoid eye contact with the guffawing bigots surrounding him.
The underwear question seemed to fascinate Coppins’ Old Media fellows. He reports that one Newsweek correspondent openly wondered if Romney would “actually wear that Mormon underwear in the White House.”
Coppins also points out how odd it felt for him, a life-long Mormon intimately familiar with anti-Mormon sentiment, to be tasked with asking questions about Romney’s faith during the campaign.
Throughout the election, the Romney campaign avoided all talk about the former Governor’s faith. It was not an issue that the candidate wanted to talk about, Coppins says, because of how viciously his religious beliefs were attacked in several of his past campaigns. This time, Mitt decided religion was off the table.
Coppins also says that his media colleagues seemed unable to understand Romney’s faith even when he was openly observing its tenets.
Reporters in his traveling press corps often wondered why, even as the general election kicked into full gear, Romney insisted on dropping off the campaign trail on Sundays… “He actually follows all those rules,” the aide told me. “It’s hard to explain to [press] that, no, he’s not going to eat out on Sunday, or anything else.”
Another interesting tidbit that Coppins reveals is that the Romney campaign had a whole sheaf of opposition research on Obama’s extended family and its history of polygamy, ready to be used if Obama or one of his surrogates launched into an attack on Mormon multiple marriages.
As Election Day neared, the campaign began to gradually include Romney’s faith into its messaging, a move that culminated with fellow Mormons coming to sing Mitt’s praises on stage during the Republican National Convention. Despite all the worries that Romney’s faith would be a major stumbling block for the media and voters alike, the Mormon issue turned out not to be an issue at all.
On the right, the long-feared Evangelical backlash to Romney’s faith never materialized, and there were signs that the religious right was finally accepting conservative Mormons into the fold. In one particularly potent gesture, Billy Graham removed Mormonism from a list of “cults” on his website. That may seem like a low bar to clear, but on election day, Romney ended up winning a larger portion of white evangelicals than John McCain did in 2008.
Coppins ends his piece with one final example of just how comfortable other reporters were in voicing their ignorance about Mormons: one of his colleagues asked him directly about his own “Mormon underwear” as the campaign came to an end.