It’s official: it is no longer acceptable to call the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the fourth largest religious institution in the United States, a church with 7 million members in the US and 14 million members around the world, a “cult.”
That’s the message Newt Gingrich sent when he fired his newly-hired Iowa political director Craig Bergman after it was revealed that Bergman had proposed a national crusade against the “cult of Mormon” in an Iowa focus group last week.
Last Wednesday,The Iowa Republican reported on the focus group it organized:
“There is a national pastor who is very much on the anti-Mitt Romney bandwagon,” Craig Bergman said. “A lot of the evangelicals believe God would give us four more years of Obama just for the opportunity to expose the cult of Mormon…There’s a thousand pastors ready to do that.”
Gingrich’s campaign hired him the very next day.
Of course, Gingrich did the right thing asking Bergman to resign. But this “cult of Mormon” debacle revives persistent questions about his campaign’s organization, discipline, and judgment.
Gingrich’s recent surge into frontrunner position seems to have taken the candidate by surprise, leaving his organization scrambling to meet filing deadlines in states like Ohio and Missouri.
And this is not the first time carelessness has cost Gingrich key staff members in Iowa. In May 2011, Iowa political director Will Rogers resigned—along with the entire Iowa staff—out of sheer frustration with Gingrich’s lack of organization.
Is it possible that Gingrich could have saved himself this embarrassment by vetting Bergman a little more closely? Bergman’s track record as a political consultant in Iowa includes ties to the campaigns of Alan Keyes and a failed Tea Party rally for Sarah Palin last September. He also served as Iowa political director for Ron Paul in 2008 but was apparently not rehired.
A self-described “Rock N Roll Cowboy,” Bergman identifies as a Christian “dispensationalist,” a politically theocratic and end-times focused strand of Protestantism.
His religious beliefs may have influenced Bergman’s suggestion that the Gingrich campaign could benefit from enlisting conservative Christian pastors as surrogates to lead a crusade against Mormonism. That such a strategy was even considered worthy of discussion reflects both the continuing acceptability of anti-Mormon sentiment among the GOP grassroots and a jarring disconnect between the worldviews of conservative Christian voters and mainstream national opinion. After all, most Americans don’t want “national pastors” leading the national conversation about our next president.
But most revealing is the fact that Gingrich entrusted a key position in an important and volatile primary contest to Bergman—a passed-over political operative who talks like a tobacco-chewing member of a nineteenth century midwestern anti-Mormon mob.
[Pic below from Bergman’s FB page. –Eds]