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Joseph A. Palermo Headshot

Mitt Romney and the "Narcissism of Minor Differences"

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I just heard the news that Mitt Romney announced at the big conservative confab that he's cutting his losses and pulling out of the 2008 presidential race. That's too bad because all along I thought Romney was actually the least odious of the Republican presidential contenders.

Romney is not 110 years old like John McCain and not from Arizona, a state where a significant contingent of the Republican Party would love be able to shoot Mexicans for sport.

And unlike Mike Huckabee, Romney believes in evolution, isn't a NASCAR aficionado or a former clergyman, and doesn't roam with Chuck Norris when he's not playing the bass at cracker rallies.

Romney at least heralded from Massachusetts, a state where he had to work inside a political milieu that didn't see gays and lesbians as "abominations," and there's a disproportionate number of people who actually went to college.

But as with the case of trying to explain George W. Bush's irrational hatred of his father's failed presidency, or the Republican Right's obsession with bashing gays and lesbians even while its own ranks team with closeted gay people, we have to turn to Sigmund Freud to really understand Mitt Romney's downfall. When people who have much in common culturally or ethnically butcher each other in bitter disputes like Hutus against Tutsis, or Shias against Sunnis, or Israelis against Palestinians, Freud called this tendency the "narcissism of minor differences." Mitt Romney ran up against this with the right-wing Christian evangelical base of the Republican Party.

To secularists, right-wing Mormons (think Orrin Hatch) and right-wing evangelicals (think James Dobson) appear to be almost identical. They're homophobic, fiercely anti-abortion, wish to eliminate the line between church and state, and are as generally militaristic as they are misogynistic. But 39 percent of Christian evangelicals inside the Republican Party have told pollsters pretty consistently this election season that they would never -- ever -- in a million years vote for a Mormon to be their party's candidate. It's pretty weird, but right-wing Christian home-schoolers and their ilk really have it in for Mormons. Call it the "narcissism of minor differences."

You see, I saw this tendency first hand when I visited Lander, Wyoming last summer. Some members of my wife's family are straight up home-schooling right-wing Christian evangelicals. They're great people, they love their children, and they want to see the society embrace moral values. They subscribe to World magazine. They will always vote Republican based on a single issue: abortion. To them the Democrats are the party of baby killers and that's the end of it. I think the gay issue doesn't even register either way with them. But they save their greatest contempt for the Mormons in their community and the Mormon Church in general. The see it as an aberration, as heretical, they see Mormons as apostates the same way some Sunnis view Shias. It's a divide that can never be crossed no matter how many issues they might agree on. It's a doctrinal and cultural schism. They particularly don't like the fact that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young bogarted so many young maidens back in the day to father over 50 children each. There's just something unnatural and weird about one man, and a "man of God" to boot, siring over 50 kids. And they have "saints" and "elders" and rituals and "garments" in the Mormon Church that most right-wing Christian evangelicals just can't deal with.

So no matter how much Mitt Romney tried to pander to the base of the party and move away from his Mormonism as an issue, using JFK as a model, it was all to no avail. So Mitt Romney, probably the most capable and least horrible of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates, was done in by the intolerance of the evangelical base of the Republican Party. Praise Da Lord!