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What Happens If We Wake Up With a Mormon in the White House? What Joseph Smith's Run for President Suggests About Mitt Romney

The truth about the man with 33 wives -- and what that tells us about Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

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The lack of grassy knoll or programmed patsy seems not to matter to Christing and others who believe. “Absolutely, absolutely,” the filmmaker said, when I asked him if Smith was the victim of a conspiracy. “With the J.F.K. thing, the speculation gets pretty wild. I think it’s a little simpler with Joseph Smith.”

Almost everyone within a 100 mile radius of Smith wanted this frontier Charlie Manson dead. Not because he wanted to bring about world peace (as J.F.K. conspiracy theorists like Oliver Stone allege), but rather because he seduced their wives and fucked their sense of normalcy. An assassination-by-conspiracy, however, renders the death more significant and less mundane.

While Mormon historical revisionism attempts to turn Smith’s embarrassing Last Act into the stuff of historical tragedy, two generations of Romneys have been revising and refining his run for the presidency, undoing Smith’s “mistakes.” Before the rise of the current presumptive Republican nominee, the closest LDS member to finish what the first Mormon had started was probably Mitt’s dad, Gov. George W. Romney, who ran as the moderate Rockefeller Republican candidate, to the left of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, in 1968.

Back then, the surface reality in America had become so weird and violent that nothing in Mormonism really shocked anyone. If it turned out that George W. Romney wore “Mormon underwear” (the subject of quips made by satirists-in-chief Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), it might even have won him a few votes. Another difference: In '68, the Republicans had yet to mold and fired up the Christian Right bloc. The Evangelicals, after all, are the ones most put off by Mormonism. They take its polytheism to heart, although they’ve learned to keep quiet about it, except in online forums like Free Republic.

The Romneys are to Mormons as Mayflower families are to America as a whole: After his great-great grandfather helped erect the Nauvoo Temple, where Smith held his military parade in 1841, Mitt's great-grandfather was born among this original LDS band. After Smith’s murder, the church split. Most followed Smith's pro-polygamy-wingman, Brigham Young, to the Utah Territory; a small number stayed with Smith’s widow, Emma Smith, and founded the breakaway Reorganized Church of Latter-Day Saints, the anti-polygamy branch that Christing was later born into.

The Romneys went with the polygamists. And they stayed with the polygamists. In fact, you couldn’t pry polygamy from the Romney clan with a crowbar if you tried. Abraham Lincoln, father of the Republican Party, certainly did his best, when he signed the 1862 Anti-Bigamy Act, which outlawed plural marriage in U.S. territories. But that didn’t stop Miles P. Romney, Mitt’s great-grandfather, from racking up five wives.

Another notable Republican, Sen. George Edmunds, made life even harder for frontier swingers with the Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882, which pushed Mitt's great-granddad deep into the hinterlands, wives in tow. By the time the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself renounced polygamy in 1890, Miles P. Romney and his brood hightailed it to Mexico, feds on their tail, crossing the Rio Grande as voluntarily as an illegal Mexican immigrant might under President Romney in years to come.

Folks didn't take kindly to Mitt's great-grandpa, as this editorial in the  Apache Chief  more than suggests: “Hang a few of their polygamist leaders such as... Romney,” the newspaper wrote. The piece went on to single out Miles P. Romney as “a mass of putrid pus and rotten goose pimples; a skunk, with the face of a baboon, the character of a louse, the breath of a buzzard, and the record of a perjurer and common drunkard.”

 
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