Utah GOPers slam Bannon for claiming Romney hid behind his religion to avoid serving in Vietnam

Yeah, listen, I realize Bannon’s a veteran but you don’t get to play sidekick to President Bonespurs and then go around mocking other people for not having served, particularly when Trump’s “personal Vietnam” involved trying to kill gonorrhea instead of Charlie. At least Romney was off serving his faith. Does this party not support that now? I speculated last night that many populists don’t actually care about abortion except to the extent the issue can be used to keep right-wing skeptics of populism on the team. Bannon’s sneering contempt for Romney here makes me wonder how important faith is too. If the GOP wants to eliminate deferments on religious grounds as a matter of policy, fine. But for fark’s sake, don’t question the sincerity of Romney’s devotion. He didn’t suspiciously find religion the day before he had to register for the draft. By every account he’s been a devout Mormon for 70 years.

I can’t believe Bannon said the following, either. I realize the point of his stump speeches is to blow smoke up the ass of populists about how much better they are than The Man who looks down on them, but literally no one thinks this is true:

Romney’s most famous interaction with a teenaged girl was shutting down Bain Capital so that employees could help search for an employee’s missing 14-year-old child. A Mitt Romney/Roy Moore character bout wouldn’t last one round.

Bannon pissed off a lot of prominent Utah Republicans by going after Mitt this way, and not just the usual suspects. There are anti-Trumpers among them…

…but Orrin Hatch is a Trump ally whom the White House wants to see reelected to block Romney from joining the Senate:

Boyd Matheson was a Bannon recruit to primary Romney if Hatch ended up retiring and even he’s irritated:


Why’d Bannon do it? The cynical explanation is that he was in the Bible Belt, he knew that evangelicals are skeptical of Mormonism, and he figured it couldn’t hurt to remind Moore fans that Moore critic Mitt Romney is a member of that other faith. Romney did just fine in the south as Republican nominee in 2012, though. Better than fine, even: He matched Bush 43’s share of the white evangelical vote in 2004 and outperformed McCain’s take in 2008.

More likely is that Bannon knows grassroots Republicans recognize Romney as Mr Establishment, the soft, well-heeled, country-club GOPer who thinks it’s ungentlemanly to throw a punch (at Democrats at least) and who failed them where Trump succeeded, taking back the presidency. The essence of populism is identifying the powerful villains who’ve conspired to stop you from getting ahead and Romney, to borrow a favorite Trump phrase, is straight out of central casting. As Mike Huckabee once said, Mitt looks like the guy who laid you off whereas Huck looks like the guy you work with. Romney’s a perfect hate object for Bannon’s demographic and populism requires an endless supply of hate objects. It’s why it’s so easy for voters to forgive Trump and Moore their sins. Every vote for a populist candidate at base is about defeating or blocking the other team’s bad guy, not electing your own good guy. Bad guys on our team are fine, so long as they win. To Bannon that’s Romney’s great sin, not his Mormonism.

Which is why there’s a lot of truth to this:

Gary Herbert, Utah’s Mormon governor, yanked his endorsement of Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged last fall. Mike Lee, one of Utah’s two Mormon senators, campaigned hard at the convention to block Trump as nominee. We all know about Flake’s relationship with Trump. And Romney delivered the single most brutal anti-Trump speech of any Republican during last year’s primaries. Saletan’s point obviously isn’t a universal truth — Orrin Hatch is pretty chill about the president — but it’s close enough to being one that Trump and Bannon *should* see a special threat from Mormon Republicans. They’re one of the few segments of the party anymore that believes serious character deficiencies are disqualifying — certainly much more so than evangelicals do. “Character counts” is an ethic that creates a lot of problems for populists and elites alike.