Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid was often referred to as “the Mormon moment.” That meant different things for different people. But Romney is not merely a reflection of Mormon culture. His approach is also an outgrowth of Mormon history.
In looking back, we see that Romney’s lifelong struggle to stand firmly on one side of an issue is not unique to him in the story of our faith. Hopefully, our past can guide us forward.
Joseph Smith, not Mitt Romney, was the first Mormon to run for president. As part of his platform, he even created a plan to abolish slavery calling for the removal of “the shackles of the poor black man.”
As progressive as Smith was for his day, we — as a faith — had the potential to take a stand against slavery, the effects of which would have rippled through generations. But early saints often wavered on the issue of slavery when trying to get along with anti-abolitionist neighbors.
Certain anti-slavery language was sometimes even retracted in church publications, and other statements were made speaking against people in favor of the immediate abolishment of slavery. As the historian Newell Bringhurst wrote, “Such hostility towards abolitionists reflected a Mormon desire to preserve their settlements.”
For some of those Mormons, as with Romney, it was all about finding favor with the people whose approval they most needed. But is it worth appeasing our neighbors at the expense of our principles?
The wishy-washy nature in which many Mormons approached slavery is unfortunate. Now, we cannot fail to learn from our history. We must stand up to Trump.
Romney has done so on occasion. But his lack of consistency in that regard is yet another example of how he — and Mormons years before him — have struggled to demonstrate sound resolve in defining moments. As much as people have often looked at Romney through the lens of Mormonism, we can more clearly see Mormonism through the lens of Romney.
Certainly, Romney also gives us insight into many of the positive aspects of Mormonism, both doctrinally and culturally. But as he speaks of overcoming extreme partisanship and standing up to Trump, his words will only carry weight if he follows through on them himself — and not just partially.
Although he rightfully calls out the “hate-filled morass” in our country, he is yet to truly cross party lines like John Kasich, Cindy McCain and others. And his opposition to Trump — while at times blistering in style and honorable in nature — has amounted to what? Another write-in vote for his wife, Ann? His influence can only be as strong as his backbone.
Meanwhile, the LDS electorate has increasingly garnered national attention. Major news outlets and pundits all have the same question: What will the Mormons do on Nov. 3? The Trump campaign also has that question, which is why they send Mike Pence and Don Jr. to court Mormon voters.
Romney’s presidential bid in 2012 was not the Mormon moment. This is the Mormon moment. It is Donald Trump — not Joseph Smith or Mitt Romney — whose candidacy will have the greatest impact on defining who we are as a people. With history as a backdrop and Romney as a guide, this is no time to be wishy-washy.
Addison Graham, Kansas City, Mo., is a former student at Jordan High School and a student at Brigham Young University.