Does It Matter That Rubio Was A Mormon?

Politics isn’t fair.

Rubio addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month. JONATHAN ERNST / Reuters

BuzzFeed’s report this morning that Marco Rubio was baptized and raised for a time as a Mormon produced a quick reaction — that Mitt Romney now can’t choose him as vice president — and a quick revulsion at that conclusion, which just doesn’t seem fair.

“The revelation … muddies the prospects of Rubio’s getting the VP nod from Romney,” wrote ABC’s Matt Negrin. “Though many conservatives love Rubio — he overwhelmingly won a straw poll for vice presidential nominee at an annual gathering of conservatives in Washington this month — the bottom of the ticket is often used for balancing a variety of attributes.”

“I have to think it’s actually disqualifying,” lamented the conservative blogger Ace of Spades. “And I like Rubio. I’ve been saying for two years that we don’t know who the presidential candidate will be but we know exactly who the vice presidential candidate will be. Alas. Not that it’s a crime. Just that it precludes one particularly-strong ticket. Probably our strongest.”

Univision’s Jordan Fabian chimed in with a different concern: “Today’s revelation is by no means disqualifying, but it goes to show that Rubio’s personal background still has not been completely vetted, which is one potential hold back for him when considering the vice presidential nod.”

And those political calculations – which our McKay Coppins anticipated in his piece – provoked an appropriate moral reaction: There’s nothing wrong with being a Mormon, and anyway, Rubio was a child.

“Eight-year-olds might be right around the Catholic Church’s ‘age of reason,’ but does what Rubio believed from the time he was eight to 12 matter as much as what he has believed as an adult? Hardly,” wrote Hot Air’s Tina Korbe.

“[T]o leave him off the ticket because he was once a member of the Mormon Church is insane, and to me, represents acquiescing to religious bigotry,” wrote National Review’s Jim Geraghty.

The moral reaction is of course justified, and any suggestion that Rubio has done something wrong is ludicrous.

And yet politics is fundamentally unfair. Politicians have no rights of their own — no right to be elected to the statehouse or the Naval Observatory, no right to be considered on their merits by a rational and fair-minded electorate.

And politics has always been deeply tied to identity. And ticket-balancing is an ancient art, and pathbreaking minorities have traditionally practiced it with particular care. That’s because they are eager to appeal not just to voters without a shred of bias, but also to voters with just a shred, who will be reassured by a more familiar identity on the ticket. John F. Kennedy wasn’t going to choose running mate who’d been baptized Catholic, and not because he had a problem with Catholics; Barack Obama wasn’t going to choose someone whose narrative, like his, had some roots in Africa.

As Mitt Romney, who doesn’t particularly want to talk about his faith or to make the election about Mormonism, chooses a running mate, Rubio’s religious history is unlikely to be decisive. But it’s hard to see how it’s anything but a modest tip of the scale away from the Florida Senator.

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