Donald Trump is scheduled to speak tonight in Salt Lake City, in advance of the Utah caucuses on Tuesday.
He faces an uphill battle ahead.
And that’s not just because protesters have said they will be there, and that they plan to have chants and strike at “a piñata that looks like Donald Trump.”
It’s because Mormon voters, who constitute a majority of the electorate, have never warmed to the Republican frontrunner. An excellent article in the Salt Lake Tribune this week laid out the problem:
The reason for the Mormon iciness? Likely everything from Trump’s tabloid-ready personal life to his exclusionary policies on immigration and Islam. Mormons also see him as an unsavory candidate who doesn’t respect other religions, according to Matt Miles, a political scientist at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University-Idaho.
“You have a group who cares more about politics than the church, those Mormons tend to be Trump supporters,” Miles said. “For those religion-first Mormons, they won’t support Trump. They’ll say he had too many divorces, and they don’t see him as a strong moral leader.”
The proof is in the election results. While Trump came in second to Ted Cruz in Idaho as a whole (45.4% for Cruz to 28.1% for Trump), in the Mormon-heavy counties of southeastern Idaho, Trump lost by huge margins, like taking home just 17.8% of the vote in Oneida County behind Cruz’s 59.9%. About three quarters of Oneida County residents are LDS.
The story was even worse in Wyoming, where Trump only received 7.2% of the overall vote to Cruz’s 66.3% and Rubio’s 19.5%. Wyoming is America’s third-most Mormon state.
The Trib article does a fine job of summarizing some reasons for Trump’s failure to connect with Mormons, despite the fact that Mormons are now the most reliably Republican religious group in the United States.
Here is my take on some of the reasons why, expanding on what was in the Trib and adding some thoughts of my own.
1. Trump hates women.
Let’s just put it out there, shall we? And unlike the soft-spoken “chicken patriarchy” practiced by the LDS Church (in which women are held on pedestals as sweet and wonderful), Trump’s misogyny is hate-filled and obvious, like Trump himself.
“For a man to be successful he needs support at home, not someone who is always griping and bitching. When a man has to endure a woman who is not supportive and complains constantly about his not being home enough or not being attentive enough, he will not be very successful unless he is able to cut the cord.”
In the same book Trump advises a friend whose wife said he was working long hours and not paying attention to the family to divorce her straightaway. “If he doesn’t lose the ballbreaker, his career will go nowhere,” Trump explained. (Trump is now on his third wife. He committed adultery with the woman who became the second while still married to the first.)
And that’s to say nothing of his excessive focus on women’s physical attractiveness, whether it’s in insulting the appearance of CEO and fellow presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, calling a nursing mother “disgusting,” or insinuating that professional journalist Megyn Kelly should be discounted because she was probably having her period. Unbelievable.
2. Trump is crude and profane.
Profanity might not matter to many voters anymore, but it definitely matters to Mormons. Mormons don’t stomach presidential candidates who say they would “bomb the shit out of” ISIS. “I would just bomb those suckers.” And that’s not just because bombing anyone might be an ethically bankrupt course of action or at the very least something that we should all stop and consider first; it’s the vitriolic and incendiary language he used.
Mormons don’t take kindly to presidential candidates who appear to brag about their penis size in a national debate.
And speaking of penises, Mormons also don’t cotton to a man who uses slang words for that appendage when referring to other political candidates.
3. Trump is a loose cannon.
Contemporary Mormon rhetoric is typically understated. Mormon leaders are incredibly careful—some would say too careful—about what they say in public. They do not have temper tantrums. They behave like adults. They do not typically insult others or air private grievances in public.
So when someone like Donald Trump appears who is so clearly antithetical to the temperament of almost every Mormon leader since the days of Brigham Young (God bless his outspoken, tantrumy soul), it’s a problem. It’s not hard for Mormons to wonder just what it would be like if someone whose ego is so easily bruised that he harasses satirists who have poked fun at him were elected president. The world could be a dangerous place if Donald Trump, famous for his grudges and personal vendettas, had his hand on the proverbial red button.
4. Trump is not a believing Christian.
Trump’s lack of genuine religious faith is offputting to Mormons and others. He is a person who collects Bibles, as RNS has reported, but who doesn’t seem to actually read them, as evidenced by his well-publicized gaffe in saying “Two Corinthians” when he was trying to pass among evangelicals at Liberty University.
He attends church now and again and calls himself a Presbyterian, but he has also had negative things to say about believers, making fun of Ben Carson’s Seventh Day Adventist faith and asserting his own mainline Protestant hegemony by way of contrast.
Mormons might be prone to forgive Trump’s comments about Carson, but they’re less likely to give a pass to what he told Buzzfeed journalist McKay Coppins about the LDS Church itself. In 2014 he called Mormonism an “alien” religion, which suggests he sees Mormons as being in the same “other” category in which he placed Carson. He made this comment before he knew that Coppins himself was a Mormon, and quickly backpedaled, but the damage to Mormon confidence in Trump has been real (see here and here).
5. Mormons don’t hate immigrants.
Trump’s idea of building a wall to keep out immigrants is at odds with the LDS Church’s more loving and charitable stance on immigration, which you can read about here.
Politically, Mormons’ views on immigration actually differ from other Republicans’ overall. As David Campbell shows in the new book Mormonism and American Politics, Mormons are more than twice as likely as evangelicals to favor “more immigration” to the U.S., and they are far less likely than others to advocate “less immigration.” In fact, among American religious groups surveyed, only Jews are more welcoming of immigrants.
Trump’s statements about denying entrance to political refugees contradicts the approach we’ve seen in the LDS Church, which issued an official statement last year about the need for church members to reach out to refugees and support them financially if possible, and sent Elder M. Russell Ballard to visit with Syrian refugees in November.
Trump is not going to win Utah’s caucuses, where he has been polling in third. However, at this point he looks likely to win the Republican nomination and head to the general election.
At that point Mormons across the country will have to make a choice about whether their loyalty to the Republican Party is going to win out over their loyalty to a moral code that Donald Trump has never lived by.
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