"Could Mitt Romney be the first Jewish president?" That’s the question posed by the headline of this Atlantic article by historian Timothy Stanley.
My quick answer: Well, not if Newt Gingrich has anything to say about it. The Michigan-born Mormon by way of Massachusetts still has to get past the surging former House speaker before he can claim the Republican nomination and hope to become any type of president, let alone a Jewish one.
But, let’s hear Stanley out.
While Stanley never goes quite as far as his article’s provocative headline in arguing for Romney’s Jewishness, he does suggest that there may be a feeling of kinship that will lead at least “a substantial minority” of Jews to be attracted to Romney.
Stanley writes that it is “possible that — consciously or subconsciously — Jewish voters feel more of a kinship with a man whose ethnic and religious experience in American has a surprising number of parallels their own.”
Here’s what his argument boils down to:
1) Mormons and Jews are both outsiders:
As journalist Benjamin Wallace-Wells observes of Romney’s early career as a management consultant at Bain Capital: “Romney wasn’t a Wasp. He never really talked to his co-workers about his Mormonism, but he sometimes joked with Jewish colleagues about how their religions made them all outsiders.”
2) Despite their religions’ many differences, Mormonism and Judaism also have some “intriguing similarities”:
Both groups theologically define themselves as "chosen" by God to fulfill certain prophesies. Mormons believe that they are descended through biblical Israel (usually through the tribe of Ephraim), making the Jews their "cousins". Like their "cousins," they refer to outsiders as "gentiles." Both cultures value education, oppose marriage outside the community, have strict dietary rules, and place an emphasis upon observing the Sabbath. They even share a sartorial tie: the devout in both faiths wear special undergarments.
3) They’ve both had a history of suffering:
Of course, the Mormon experience comes nowhere close to the Jewish history of persecution. But what’s more important is that the average Mormon thinks it does. There is scattered evidence of anti-Semitism in LDS history, but the sense of a shared theology and history has translated into a genuine fondness on the part of Mormons for all things Jewish.
Okay, so let’s assume that all this would make Mitt Romney a Jewish-ish president. And let’s assume that he can get past Gingrich beat Obama come November? Would Romney be the first Jewish president?