Trump’s Western Problem

Mitt Romney won 72% of the vote in Utah in 2012.  It was his strongest state. That’s not, perhaps, surprising, given that Romney was the first mainstream presidential candidate who is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) and Utah is a majority LDS state. But that result is not out of line for Utah. It was John McCain’s third best state in 2008, after Oklahoma and Wyoming. It gave George W Bush his strongest result in 2004 and his third strongest, after neighboring Wyoming and Idaho, in 2000. We could go back further. It was not exactly a good state for Bill Clinton: it was the only state in which he came third in 1992, after George H W Bush and Ross Perot.

So why have polls conducted this year shown Donald Trump tying in Utah with Hillary Clinton? That’s not all polls, but his best result showed him only 13 points ahead and his worst result around two points behind. An internal poll for Rep Mia Love (R. UT) reportedly showed Trump, Clinton and Libertarian, Gary Johnson all within the margin of error: on 29%, 27% and 26%.

Well, let’s start with the fact that Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney, was born in Mexico. The history of the LDS Church leaving the US in order to maintain plural marriage, and then returning, is a complex one. George Romney was not Latino, and probably never met anyone engaged in plural marriage, but the LDS Church has strong historical ties with Mexico, the country that Trump so loves to hate.

The LDS Church is the only major religion founded in North America – founded anywhere other than Asia, actually. But it is not an inward looking church at all. The strongly religious Brigham Young University likes to boast that it has more American students who speak a foreign language than any other university in the country. Mitt Romney, like many of his co-religionists, spent two years abroad on mission. This is a perfectly ordinary rite of passage for young LDS men. In many other states, especially in the interior, travel abroad is unusual, and many Americans don’t even possess passports, but not in Utah.

Trump’s ugly nativism and hostility to foreigners, grates with members of the LDS Church. The Utah primary was quite late in the season, when Trump was winning almost all the states, but he came third in Utah.

That Trump is in a statistical tie, and could realistically lose or even come third in a state where Republican presidential candidates usually rack up 40 or 50 point margins is astonishing.

The LDS Church does not stop at the state line. Only Utah has an LDS majority, but there are substantial minorities in Wyoming, Arizona, Nevade, Idaho and Colorado. The church strongly encourages civic engagement and its members are conservative. They turn up to vote, and are loyal Republicans. Even in states where they are a minority, they are often the backbone of the GOP.

Johnson and Clinton do not pretend to share the social conservatism of the LDS, but Trump’s whole manner and lifestyle is a vulgar gesture aimed at the decent, polite, families of the beehive states.

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Quentin Langley lives in New York and London and teaches at the University of Bedfordshire Business School

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