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Tribal Politics

Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.

I’m writing this as Mitt wins big in Nevada, and there are some press reports to suggest Newt might be considering getting out of the race. I don’t think those are accurate, but the writing is on the wall, and Mitt Romney is well on his way to being the Republican nominee.

I have very, very mixed feelings about this.

During the 2010 election cycle, my guy lost early, and the Republican standardbearer was a lunatic. Quietly and behind the scenes, therefore, I decided to help the only reasonable person who remained in the race.

The problem was that he was a Democrat.

He was a pro-life, fiscally conservative Democrat, to be sure, but there was no escaping the D by his name. Due to my own party affiliation, I was very reluctant to publicly assert my support, but I was “outed” by a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune, and soon I was getting as much press as my candidate, along with hefty criticism from party stalwarts who saw my betrayal as the height of treason.

It was then that I discovered firsthand how tribal politics really is.

With few exceptions, my Republican friends privately and quietly let me know that they agreed with me that the GOP guy was a loon, and that the Democrat was the only reasonable guy left. But just as often, they told me they couldn’t vote for him, let alone publicly associate themselves with him.

Why? Because he was a Democrat, of course.

The tribal identification is very powerful, and it’s impossible to recognize just how powerful it is until you dare to step out of bounds. I could write thousands of words about this, like how many who are disgusted with the Clintonian sleaze of the other tribe but are willing to overlook Gingrichian sleaze in their own, or how the first instinct of the tribal partisan is to justify the political sins of one of their own by citing similar behavior in someone from the rival tribe. (“Obama’s a big spender, huh? What about Bush’s unfunded wars? And remember a guy named Ronald Reagan?”)

But, alas, such a piece does not interest me, mainly because I have no love lost for my own political tribe. The Utah State GOP has made it clear that I’m really no longer welcome, and the national GOP has made it clear that their largest voting bloc despises my faith, which leads me to my real point, a point which I have tried to avoid and is painful for me to make.

I’m concerned that my support for Mitt Romney, and the support of many members of my faith, is based largely on tribalism. This time, however, the tribalism is religious, not political.

Indeed, if Mitt Romney were not a Mormon, I wonder if I would be supporting him.

His asinine comment about “not being concerned about the very poor” is all kinds of terrible, even in context with the idea of the “safety net” that takes care of them. All the so-called safety net does is keep people poor. The goal should not be to strengthen the net keeping them poor; the goal should be to make them unpoor.

Then there’s this crap about indexing the minimum wage to inflation. And don’t get me started on immigration, where Mitt is way out of line with the public statements of his/my church.

He is, in many ways, a truly crappy candidate.

But he’s very much a Mormon. And for a good chunk of us Mormons, it’s very hard not to look at Mitt and see our faith on the ballot.

Evangelicals who hate my faith recognize the same thing, and, in South Carolina particularly, they voted “no” the minute Newt gave them a credible reason to do so. Nevadans, on the other hand, came pouring out to vote “yes.” Although Mormons make up less than 10% of the Nevada populace, they made up 25% of caucus goers tonight. And of that 25%, 95% voted for Mitt.

So how is voting for someone because of their faith any better – or any different – than rejecting someone on the same basis?

I don’t have an answer, although I still feel like I can make a case that Mitt, Mormon or no, is the best Republican running. Newt is nothing but baggage; Santorum seems whiny and petulant, and Paul’s nuts.

I just think, however, that it might be helpful if more of us were willing to question whether our support for any candidate, any position, or any party is a tribal reaction and not a reasonable one. That doesn’t make the two mutually exclusive, but it should be enough to get us to view things with a broader perspective.

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14 Comments

  1. it’s apples/oranges, since (as you know) I have no faith of any sort, but I do know that when Gore tapped Lieberman, I had no conflict at all. He was contrary to so many things that I find good in the world and supported so many of the things that I can’t stand, that his being a Jew had no bearing at all.

    • Except you’re kinda making my point, because your leftism is far omre important to you than your Judaism. You feel no real tribal affinity to people who nominally share your same faith, so it’s not a problem to ignore his other tribal affiliation.

      For the record, I’m a big Joe Lieberman fan for the very reasons you are not.

      • Right (hence apples/oranges caveat). was trying to draw contrast to shine light on which seem to be our strongest affiliations)

  2. I respect your candor here, Jim. I had similar feelings when Obama was running, but I never quite bit down on the bit. I had many issues with him as a candidate and I have even more now that he is President. Like you, I was able to at least ignore my doubts for a time and enjoy the historic nature of what was happening. It does make me wonder whether there will ever be a candidate that I truly support wholeheartedly.

  3. I hear you about the public opinion deal and personal opinion being tied to peer pressure. But there are times when my hate is already way across the borderline like Madonna `s Super Sexy Love. And I wasn `t pushed, I ran across to reside in Camp Hate. I broke two radios when NPR repeated a series of three or four angles of Newt in positive context and flattering light.

    And then I felt stupid for a minute buying a new radio as obviously I overreacted and didn’t get the joke.

    But then the clip got repeated, they even used a wholenuther picture to paint him pretty in a second blurb, AGAIN in a positive light. I cried for 36 hours straight, sobbing. I hope my counselor doesn’t read this because because I had to lie by omission and not reveal the second radio I smashed as that would likely not be considered successful completion of probation. And if that happened I don’t know what I ` do. It `s bad enough that the District of Columbia can stipulate and enforce rules that single me out to prohibit me from wearing women `s shoes and woman `s underwear

  4. Interesting analysis. Most of us who belong feel that the mormon tribe is a small one – it may or may not be, but we feel that way. Likewise, many of us would also say that it is the most important tribe we belong to, overriding feelings of attachment to the “R” tribe or “D” tribe. And I cannot deny that there is a certain amount of pride that a member of my own small, important, tribe may be one of two contestants for the most important secular position on Planet Earth. Probably similar to the pride that African Americans felt with Pres. Obama.

    But for me, tribalism is the not the driving force for voting. Romney over Ging/Sant/Paul/Perry/Bach/Obama for very clear ideological reasons, but if Chris Christie were running now, I’d be voting for him over Romney in a New Jersey minute. And if Paul or Bachmann were the nominee, I’d have a very serious internal debate come November. Doubly, had I lived in Utahnia in 2010, I would also have voted for Sam over General Lee.

    So which tribe is more important, M or R? Probably neither when it comes to politics. On moral matters, it’s no contest. Sometimes they overlap, but probably not as much as we like to say they do. Hence, Harry Reid.

  5. Three comments:

    (1) I’ve also asked myself if I support Romney because we share the same faith. But it’s a difficult question to definitively answer because all the alternatives to Romney are, and always have been, laughable. Cain? Perry? Bachmann? Newt? Paul? Obama? All these are clearly worse options than Romney, even if Romney were atheist.

    I have a hard time evaluating Romney vs. Christie (and others like him) because Christie’s warts and flaws are still largely unknown because he never entered the race and never got formally vetted the way Romney has been vetted and exposed.

    (2) How did you feel about Huntsman’s candidacy? Was he your second-favorite GOP candidate? If so, it’s further evidence of tribalism on your part. But I suspect the answer is that you weren’t too keen on the prospect of a President Huntsman, which would suggest you may not be as tribal as you fear.

    I could ask the same question with regard to Harry Reid, but that confounds things because then it’s a contest between your LDS tribe and your GOP tribe.

    (3) Which public statements about immigration are you referring to when you say “Mitt is way out of line with the public statements of his/my church”? Can you send a link?

    And if you expect Romney to make sure his positions mirror his church’s positions aren’t you reinforcing the (unfounded) concern that a President Romney would be beholden to his ecclesiastical leaders in SLC?

      • Is the LDS church proposing amnesty as something the federal government should do? Or has the church simply said it will not make legal status a condition of church worthiness? Those are two very different positions.

        • They use mush-speak to basically call for amnesty. They’ll fill their pronunciamentoes and bulls full of weasel words, like “compassionate reform”, and some lip-service to the rule of law, but what they really mean is amnesty, pure and simple.

  6. Of course there’s some tribalism involved. When you’re looking at a possible historical first, it would be impossible to put aside those feelings. But, even putting that aside, looking at the field, including Obama, Romney’s the best choice.

    As for bad candidates, sometimes it depends on the office. You can tolerate a loon in a legislative office, since he’s one among many, and usually can be corralled to do the party’s bidding. Partisan wagon-circling makes some sense there. The executive and judicial offices are a different matter, though.