If Romney is the Mormon church's intended instrument as president, it must be because the church has hatched a sinister plot to bring better management techniques to the federal government and cut wasteful spending, Romney's rather unthreatening campaign pledges. There is zero evidence of the church having ever "controlled" Sens. Harry Reid, Orrin Hatch or Gordon Smith -- all Mormons -- let alone Romney while he served four years as governor of Massachusetts.
The past of the Mormon church -- in the 19th century, it sanctioned polygamy -- and its current tenets will strike many people as passing strange. As the Catholic writer Richard Neuhaus has put it, "the founding stories and doctrines of Mormonism appear to the outsider as a bizarre phantasmagoria of fevered imagination not untouched by perverse genius."
But Mormon theology isn't standing for election. A candidate's religious beliefs could be so noxious that they'd be disqualifying, but Mormonism -- with its generally thriving 6 million members in the U.S. -- falls far short of that line. No less a figure than Martin Luther said, "I'd rather be governed by a wise Turk than a stupid Christian." Romney deserves to be judged as an individual, on his own merits for higher office.
Those are considerable. He is so unlike George W. Bush in his articulate, well-groomed polish that he probably should be hailed as the first-ever metrosexual candidate for president. Indeed, rather than recoiling at his Mormonism, Republican primary voters may conclude that the handsome, "golly"-exclaiming, (newly) down-the-line conservative is simply too good to be true.
That wouldn't necessarily be a "first," but it would certainly be a fairer way to judge Romney than on his religious faith.