HH: I was so jammed up today, that when I got an email from Alexis Levinson at The Daily Caller, asking to talk to me about the presidential race, and what happens if a Mormon ends up in the White House, I said hey, happy to if you want to interview me on the air. And so she joins me now. Alexis Levinson from The Daily Caller, welcome, it’s great to have you on.
AL: Great to be here, thanks.
HH: So you’ve got nine minutes. Fire away.
AL: Well, so I’m working on a piece about what, if anything, would change in kind of the day to day workings of the White House and the presidency if one of the two Mormon candidates were elected president, because obviously there are some perceptions, and I think misperceptions, that the tenants of Mormonism would change how things work. For instance, Mormons don’t drink alcohol or coffee or tea. And thus far, the reporting I’ve done suggests that there wouldn’t be a whole lot that would change. But you wrote a whole book on this, and I was hoping to get your take on, if there is anything.
HH: Well, that’s an interesting question. The first thing that would change is either Jon Huntsman or Mitt Romney are competent. And as a result, that would completely change the presidency, because having an incompetent person there now, replacing him with a competent administrator, would be a remarkable change. Secondly, there would not be the addictive nature of the teleprompter. Both of those guys have been frequent guests on the radio show, and they both can talk easily and with a great deal of foreknowledge about things. So I think big two changes there. We’ve had teetotalers in the White House before, including recently, George W. Bush. So I don’t think a lack of alcohol makes much of a difference. The big…I actually don’t think that their LDS faith would in any way change anything that any American would see, observe, even if they were working in the White House.
AL: Right, and that’s the impression I’ve been getting. And I’m told Mitt Romney, for instance, had coffee and I think alcohol even in the governor’s mansion. Not for himself, obviously, but for guests. But the one thing that has come up that could change is, or not change, but could be a challenge, is whether or not Secret Service, if one of those two were elected, and were to be going to Temple, which is not the normal weekly service, but a more higher religious place, where non-Mormons, and only worth Mormons, are permitted to enter, and whether or not the Secret Service would be permitted to enter with the President, and what kind of arrangement would have to be made to accommodate that, if the Secret Service agents weren’t Mormon.
HH: That’s an interesting question. I hadn’t thought of that before, Alexis, so my guess would be that Temple visits by either Jon Huntsman or Mitt Romney would be made in the company of LDS agents, as it would be in terms of, you know, I’m sure the Secret Service is competent and equipped to handle security. But you know, normally, you just go to a stake, which is the Mormon equivalent to your ordinary parish or church, and that doesn’t require Temple permits. So I don’t think that’ll be a big issue. I do think that Secret Service has got lots more to worry about on their heads today when two shots were fired. Did you see that story? Are you stunned by that, Alexis?
AL: I’m sorry, say again?
HH: By the story that shots were fired on Friday at the White House, that struck the window of the Yellow Room and the wall, and the guy got away?
AL: Yeah, more what’s stunning about it is that I didn’t hear about it until yesterday.
HH: You see, right now, if you call up the Secret Service right now and ask them if they’ve got problems with a Mormon, they’ll say we’ve got much bigger problems than that when someone with a high caliber rifle can pump a couple of shots into the White House.
AL: No, that is absolutely true.
HH: But I don’t think that’s a big issue.
AL: Okay, but you, I haven’t read your book, I’m sorry to say, but you did write a book on that subject. Why did you want to write that book, and…
HH: Well, A Mormon In The White House was primarily written because I’m interested in Article 6, which is the non-discrimination clause of the Constitution. And then I’d covered Mormons for the Public Broadcast System, and had met Neal Maxwell, who was one of their elders, and said there’s an issue, there’ll be an interesting conversation here. And so a whole book came out of it, which is part biographical, but in part an essay on Article 6. And then I got to know Governor Romney. He gave me a bunch of interviews, and that was fine. But what was most interesting to me about the whole exercise is I discovered a great deal of anti-Mormon bigotry on the left. For example, I think probably the highest profile, just pure bigot is Jacob Weisberg of Slate, who said he would never vote for a Mormon, period, for the presidency. And I was surprised by that. There’s some anti-Mormon bigotry on the right as well, but I found most of it on the left. And you’ll find crazy stuff coming from both left and right on stuff like this, but generally speaking, I don’t think Americans care about the religion of the individual in the White House. I think they care about their character, their family, their ethics, and both Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney score off the charts on those issues.
AL: Why do you think that some of these negative perceptions are out there? I mean, there are, I think the last Gallup poll had 22% of Americans saying they wouldn’t vote for a president who was Mormon. What…do you know where that comes from?
HH: Oh, sure. There’s a great, deep tradition of anti-Mormon literature in the United States, which goes back to, of course, to the polygamy years, repudiated by the church more than a hundred years ago. But there’s a, it’s a very distinctive religion. It is not orthodox Christianity by any measure, and as a result, a lot of people within orthodox Christianity reject it with the same kind of emotional expressiveness as they do other non-Evangelical, non-Roman Catholic, non-orthodox traditions. And so that’s out there. But I also think if you get a lot of these crazy bigots like Jacob Weisberg writing nasty stuff about Mormons, that is has in influence. And a lot of that 22% as well is going to simply be lefties who understand that with the exception of Harry Reid, most LDS members are conservative or center-right, and they’re just going to be against them because of their value system.
HH: Ever done an interview on the radio before, Alexis?
AL: I have not.
HH: How do you like it?
AL: I like it.
HH: You feel like you’re in the spotlight? The New York Times never agrees to do this, and I always say why not? If you’re going to ask me questions, people can hear the process. So when’s your article coming out? I’ll interview you a little bit.
AL: It’s probably coming out tomorrow. I’m waiting on a couple of call back, so it could get delayed until Friday.
HH: Did anyone say that there are going to be big changes as a result of a Romney or a Huntsman presidency in the White House?
AL: No, not at all. It’s actually turned out to be a very interesting experience to…I mean, obviously there are these perceptions out there, or I wouldn’t have gotten assigned the article. So it’s been very interesting. I didn’t know a lot about…
HH: You know, I spent a year in the Reagan White House staff. I was in the Old EOB, not the West Wing, but I spent a lot of time in the West Wing. I never knew anybody’s religion.
HH: And I just don’t think, you hold state dinners, and you’ll serve California champagne, or Napa Valley wine. You won’t serve anything from Michigan, because it’s just abysmal wine. But you’ll do that sort of stuff, and no one will care. They won’t notice.
AL: Right, and it certainly doesn’t seem like something that should matter, but I mean obviously, even when Kennedy was elected, there was the whole hubbub over we’re going to have a Catholic in the White House, what’s going to happen then.
HH: Do you want to know what the most interesting thing I discovered when I write A Mormon In The White House, Alexis? And I’m going to give you something here that if you go and write stories on, you’ll own it, and that is this. When George Romney ran in ’68, ’67-’68, beginning ’66, nobody cared. No one…I read everything from that campaign. Nobody cared. So the difference between 1966 and 2006 was incredible, mostly because of the sort of yellow sheet media, and modern controversialists looking for something to write about. And the second thing is George Romney is a fascinating person. And the more you dig into him, the more you’ll understand about Mitt Romney. Do you know anything about George Romney?
AL: Very little.
HH: Here’s the most interesting thing. He started with nothing. He was born in Mexico. And no one raised that issue, by the way. You know, we’ve got President Obama being born in Hawaii, and then all the birthers came along? George Romney was actually born in Mexico, and there were no birthers in 1966. Who’da thunk? But have you ever read anything about George Romney?
AL: Some of the rudimentary, but nothing too in depth.
HH: Yeah, the interesting thing about both Huntsman and Romney is that their fathers are extraordinarily accomplished individuals of great capacity and kindness, and good-heartedness, such that if indeed the sons are like the fathers, you would not worry about their character in the least. And I think fathers have enormous….Ulysses S. Grant once said don’t tell me about a man’s adulthood. Tell me about his childhood, and I think that goes to his parents. And do you think that’s true?
AL: I would agree. I like to think my parents…I turned out okay as a result.
HH: Where are you from?
AL: I’m from Los Angeles.
HH: Oh, are you? You’re a Californian?
AL: I am.
HH: Where’d you go to school?
AL: Harvard Westlake.
HH: Oh wow, very good. And then how about college?
HH: Oh, no. You’re a Tiger. Did you work on the Daily, the Princetonian Daily?
AL: I did work on the Daily for…
HH: Oh, you’re part of the, you’re just part of the East Coast Manhattan-Beltway media elite pipeline.
HH: So what did you do after Princeton? Is the Daily Caller one of your first gigs?
AL: Yeah, I graduated in 2010, so this is my first job.
HH: Oh, wow. You’re working for Tucker. That’s wonderful.
AL: It’s a great place to start. I’m loving it.
HH: Watch out for Mary Katharine Ham. Dangerous person. Dangerous person, Alexis. Thank you for the call. We’re out of time, though.
AL: Thanks so much for having me.
HH: Take care, Alexis from the Daily Caller. And that’s how you do an interview. That’s how you do it. That’s how the news is made. That’s how the news is made, and I wanted to take you inside of the news being made.
End of interview.