Mitt Romney has emerged as the Lone Ranger Republican, willing to speak out about our corrupt president. When the news of Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky broke, Romney said the situation was not just “troubling” but “appalling.” He insisted we needed to know more and encouraged the impeachment inquiry to go forward.
Not surprisingly, Romney’s rationality called down the wrath of our testy and profane leader, who labeled him “a pompous ass” and suggested that it was the junior senator from Utah who should be impeached (he meant “expelled,” but as usual projected his own issues onto the situation).
When I think of Romney these days it’s hard not to recall a story of our frontier ancestors, both early Mormon settlers in northern Arizona. Our great-grandfathers were friends and bonded over the fact they were both arrested for polygamy at the same time, in 1884. When Mitt’s ancestor, Miles P. Romney, couldn’t afford bail, my paternal great-grandfather, William Jordan Flake, lent him $1,000, but Romney never repaid him. Instead Miles P. lit out for Mexico with his wives and children, while my great-grandfather spent six months in the Yuma Territorial Prison before returning to the families that awaited in the town named after him. Later he became one of the first Arizona state senators, perhaps laying out a political path for his progeny: Former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake is also one of his descendants.
Mitt and I have yet another connection, stranger and even more powerful than polygamist ancestors. It’s something every child growing up in a Mormon household in the 1950s had drilled into their heads.
“One day,” we were told, “the Constitution of the United States will hang by a thread and a Mormon, or group of Mormons, will save the nation.”
This was not a casual statement. It was repeated over and over, year after year, in Mormon congregations across the land; it wasn’t only Mitt and I who heard it. It didn’t matter if you grew up like Mitt, the privileged son of the governor of Michigan; or like me, the daughter of a shoe salesman in Ogden, Utah; or like my friend Rae, the child of ranchers moving sheep around the West. This is what we were all taught — that one day the U.S. Constitution, revered by Mormons as a document inspired by God, would become so deeply endangered and torn asunder that it would also tear the nation apart, and it would be up to Mormons in powerful positions to save us.
This prediction had a name, the White Horse Prophecy, and it was supposedly uttered by the founding prophet of the church, Joseph Smith, in 1843, words he was said to have pronounced while he stood before a copy of the apocalyptic painting “Death on a Pale Horse” by the artist Benjamin West.
While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially distances itself from the prediction, it can’t be disputed that for years it was repeated by bishops, prophets and leading Mormon politicians, including Ezra Taft Benson, Eisenhower’s secretary of Agriculture and later president of the church. Even Utah’s Orrin Hatch, now retired but the longest serving Republican senator in U.S. history, has referred to it in the past.
Mitt Romney’s father, George, said in 1967, when he was a U.S. presidential candidate, that “the question of whether we are going to proceed on the basis of the Constitution would arise and at this point government leaders who were Mormons would be involved in answering the question.”
Mitt Romney must be thinking about Mormons and threads at this extremely dangerous moment in our country’s history. I don’t see how he could help it. The White Horse Prophecy is not the sort of thing you forget, even if, like me, you have long since left the faith. Romney, after all, is the most recognized Mormon on the planet, who also happens to hold a seat in the U.S. Senate where an impeachment trial would be held, a position of power foretold.
What will Mitt do?
Will he cave to the Republican establishment, as he did in the Brett M. Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, after first appearing to be so amenable to pursuing the “facts”? Or, if an impeachment trial commences, will he stand up for the Constitution and urge his fellow Republican senators to do the same?
In 2007, when Romney was a presidential candidate, he was asked by the Salt Lake Tribune about the White Horse Prophecy and he said, “I haven’t heard my name associated with anything of that nature. ... . I don’t put it at the heart of my religious beliefs.”
He was mostly punting on religion then, having decided to downplay his Mormonism in his campaign, and he doesn’t have to talk about it now. But I know that he knows what we were taught, and now you know as well: This could be his moment to step forward, as his father suggested, to answer that question of whether we are going to proceed on the basis of the Constitution.
So much is hanging on that response.
The historian Daniel Herman has observed about Miles P. Romney’s debt to my great-grandfather, “The Romneys, it seems, still owe the Flakes some money.” In today’s money, the $1,000 William Jordan Flake lent to Miles P. would be worth more than $25,000; with interest, it would rise to hundreds of thousands of dollars. I, as one lone Flake descendant (out of so many out there), would consider the debt forever repaid if Mitt would fulfill the prophecy and put the country and the Constitution before all else.
Judith Freeman is the author, most recently, of “The Latter Days,” a memoir.