The GOP needs more Mormons
With Donald Trump's massive loss in Utah on Tuesday (with 85 percent of precincts reporting, the GOP's national frontrunner has a meager 14 percent of the vote, coming in a distant third to Ted Cruz and John Kasich), Trump has finally met his match — the force in the Republican Party that can stop his populist juggernaut in its tracks.
The secret to bringing the demagogue to his knees? Mormons.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make up nearly 63 percent of Utah's population, while Idaho and Wyoming (where Trump lost by large margins in earlier contests) rank second and third, respectively, for states with highest proportion of Mormons.
That leaves just two problems with the Grand Plan to bring down Trump using Mormon Power: The LDS are a tiny minority in the rest of the country, and these three Mormon-heavy states command a mere 101 delegates among them.
Message: The GOP needs more Mormons!
Which is, of course, impossible on such short notice.
But it's still worth taking a moment to reflect on why it is that of all the demographic segments within the Republican electoral coalition it is Latter-day Saints — and not the young, the old, women, moderates, conservatives, evangelical Protestants, or secularists — who've proven largely immune to Trump's appeal.
Some might attribute it to Mitt Romney's denunciation of Trump in a speech earlier this month and ongoing efforts to ensure that he fails to win his party's nomination prior to the Republican National Convention in July. Romney is a Mormon, his fellow Mormons admire him, and the result is that very few members of the LDS Church are now willing to vote for Trump.
But this gets things backwards. Mormons aren't opposed to Trump because Romney is. Romney and his fellow Mormons are opposed to Trump…because they're Mormons.
The question is why so many members of the LDS Church are so immune to the Donald's demotic charms.
There are at least six distinct reasons.
Mormons aren't angry. Yeah, that's a sweeping generalization. But in comparative socioeconomic terms, it also happens to be true. Trump taps into and channels the anger of many white working-class voters who lack a college education and feel disadvantaged by the globalized economy and abandoned in communities lacking in basic social and communal support. Meanwhile, Mormons on the whole come in at or above the average on a range of indicators (education level, marriage rates, income level), and active members of the church take part in a thick web of social and religious practices that support and sustain fellow Latter-day Saints, very much including when they fall on hard times. Which means that in Trumpian terms, Mormons have less to be angry about than lots of other Americans.
Mormons disapprove of Trump's garish lifestyle. Plenty of conservatives claim to care about the character of those who seek the highest office in the land, but Latter-day Saints really mean it. They admire people like, well, Mitt Romney: clean cut, honest, morally upstanding, committed to charity, devoted to family. They prize modesty, even among the wealthy. Trump exemplifies none of these virtues. From his casinos and beauty pageants to his serial marriages and tendency to brag about his all-around wonderfulness, Trump is a case study in how the vices of gluttony and pride can grotesquely disfigure a life. That in itself would be enough to inspire skepticism about his candidacy in Mormon-heavy precincts of the intermountain west.
Mormons dislike vulgarity. I suspect that Trump definitively lost the LDS vote the moment he declared, "Ted Cruz is a p-ssy." That kind of language is simply unacceptable in Mormon circles — and many church members would certainly consider it to be beneath the dignity of anyone running for the presidency.
Mormons prize law-abidingness. Mormon culture might predispose the LDS toward deference to political and spiritual authorities, but it also presumes that those authorities are following the rule of law. Trump hasn't broken any laws that we know of, but his authoritarian style seems to set himself up as a Putin-like strong man above the rules that apply to everyone else.
Mormons like immigration reform. That's right: The very thing that Marco Rubio spent his entire presidential campaign running away from — his strong support in the months following the 2012 presidential election for creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — is something that LDS church leaders as well as many rank-and-file Mormons approve of. As BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins has noted, "Mormons are more than twice as likely as evangelicals to say they support 'more immigration' to the United States, according to Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell. And a 2012 Pew survey found Mormons were more likely to say immigrants 'strengthen' the country than they were to call immigrants an overall 'burden.'" That makes Mormons a singularly poor audience for Trump's core anti-immigrant message.
Mormons don't hate Muslims. Aside from his draconian stance against undocumented immigrants, Trump's campaign is distinctive in policy terms for pushing an unprecedentedly hard-line position against Islamic terrorism, including the suggestion that Muslims should temporarily be denied entry to the United States. This, too, places Trump out of step with widespread Mormon views. Many members of the LDS Church have sympathy for devout Muslims, whom they respect as adherents of a kindred (Abrahamic) faith. Mormonism's history of persecution at the hands of the U.S. government also tends to make members of the church keenly aware of the danger of demonizing religious minorities.
Put all of it together and we're left with the recent poll that showed Utahns preferring Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in a general election match-up.
Maybe the GOP doesn't need more Mormons after all.