Max Perry Mueller: Mormons reach a tipping point on Trump

(RNS) We asked Max Perry Mueller, author of "Race and the Making of the Mormon People," to consider what 2018 will mean for religion.

Max Perry Mueller

RNS asked some of the country’s top faith leaders, scholars and activists to consider what changes the religion landscape will see in 2018. Find all their predictions here.

(RNS) — My 2018 prediction is that the Mormons break en masse from Trump and, to a larger extent, from the GOP.

As I, and others, have written before, the Mormons have never liked Trump. As the most famous Mormon anti-Trumper, Mitt Romney put it, Mormons generally view Trump as  a “phony, a fraud.” Trump only got 14 percent of the Republican primary vote in Mormon-dominated Utah. And, for that brief window last October when a Trump presidency seemed impossible after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, Mormon politicians led the initial “all out revolt” against Trump’s candidacy.

Yes, 61 percent of Mormons nationally voted for Trump (the Mormons have long been the most reliably Republican voters of any religious group). And yes, Trump won Utah handily, though he only got 45 percent of the vote (Hillary Clinton and the conservative (and Mormon) independent candidate Evan McMullin combined for 49 percent). Finally, yes, Trump’s favorability rating in Utah — which has hovered around 50 percent—has outperformed other red states.

Nevertheless, there are several signs that the Mormon disdain for Trump has reached a tipping point.

First, there are Mormon (and Republican) politicians, like Arizona Jeff Flake, who are naming Trump for what he is: a threat to our democracy.

Second, while Trump was graciously received by LDS Church officials when he visited Utah early in the month, these same church leaders have consistently denounced Trump’s Islamophobic policies and rhetoric, and without explicitly naming the president, have called Trumpism’s “racism, sexism, and nationalism” bigoted and unchristian.

And third, there are everyday Mormons and other Utahns, many of who took to the streets of Salt Lake during Trump’s recent visit to protest the president in general, and his decision to shrink national monuments in Utah specifically.

Watch this last group. Not only are they souring on Trump, they are souring on the GOP. To be sure, the presence of the Mormon Evan McMullin on the ticket had a large impact, but starting with the 2016 election, the GOP share of the vote in Utah plummeted from 72.6 percent in 2012 to 45.9 percent in 2016. Just as the rest of the country is moving toward favoring the Democrats ahead of the 2018 midterms, so will Utahns.

For a significant number of Mormons whom I know, the election of the widely popular mayor of Provo, John Curtis, to replace Jason Chaffetz in the House has proven that, in the era of Trump there are no good Republicans — not even Republican Mormons.

Republican Curtis enjoyed the backing of some liberal Democrats who admired him as effective, integrity-filled public servant. But with a 100 percent pro-Trump voting record, Curtis has shown that anti-Trump Mormons can’t count on any Republican to check Trump. In 2018, Mormons in Utah might help turn the ruby red congressional districts in Utah blu(ish). Perhaps more importantly, the lasting effect for young Mormon voters coming of age in the Trump era could be a generational fissure between the GOP and their most loyal religious voting bloc. 

It’s also worth it to note that Utah’s senior Senator Orrin Hatch’s strange love affair with Trump, rekindled after the tax vote this very week, might reinforce or nullify these predictions.

(Max Perry Mueller is the author of “Race and the Making of the Mormon People” and is an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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