There are lots of good reasons for Mormons to vote against Donald Trump in November. For one thing, he doesn’t seem to value the Mormon vote much. His recent Op-Ed in the Deseret News was just a cut-and-paste job from his standard stump speech with no attempt to consider how Mormons, or Utah voters, might see the world in unique ways. Unlike Hillary Clinton, he could not be bothered even to pay a staffer to get the Mormon stuff right.
Or there is the fact that Trump has built his campaign by stoking resentment towards both minority religion, as Mormons once were, and immigrants from Hispanic countries, who are quickly becoming the most important constituency in the International Church.
And let’s not forget that a Trump surrogate recently ridiculed Mormons by referring to the moderate pro-immigration stance that LDS leaders have taken as an instance of “moral incoherence.”
But I am not going to talk about any of that (well, except for the fact that I just talked about all of it, but I’m done now). Instead, I want to talk about another reason that Mormon voters should reject Donald Trump and his brand of conservatism decisively. This is a purely self-interested, cynical, Machiavellian reason to vote for Hillary Clinton (or even a third-party candidate). If Trump is defeated in Utah, Mormons will actually start to matter in the world of politics.
Let me state as emphatically as I can that, since the 1960s, neither Mormons nor Utahns have mattered to either of the two major political parties. As the most reliably Republican state in the nation, Utah can be safely ignored by both Democrats, who know that they will never win no matter what they do, and by Republicans, who know that they will never lose. The only place they ever have to take us is for granted.
Even in other states with large Mormon populations, the Mormon vote itself is rarely at play. Everybody knows how we will vote. If there are issues of particular importance to Latter-day Saints, too bad. Being a safe bet means that nobody ever needs to care enough to impress you or worry about losing your affections. If Mormons want to be taken seriously in national conversations, our best bet is to move to Iowa and plant corn.
Compare this to the way that the Mormons in Nauvoo were initially treated. Both Whigs and Democrats courted the Mormon vote because both parties saw Mormons as ss a potentially powerful swing vote in the closely contested state of Illinois. Yeah, things turned ugly after a while, but at first Mormons were granted extraordinary powers in the Nauvoo Charter because, politically, they mattered. Their vote was up for grabs, which meant that everyone in Illinois politics had to try to grab it.
This is how voting blocks get treated when they are unpredictable—and when they regularly give their vote to different parties and points of view. It is not how Mormons get treated, in Utah or anywhere else. Until now.
The fact that some early Utah polls had Clinton ahead of Trump caught the attention of the entire political class. Both Democrats and Libertarians started campaigning heavily in Utah, and Republicans, worried that they might lose in the reddest state in the Union, had to follow suit. If this goes on for a few election cycles, people might start talking about “the Mormon vote” the way that they talk about “the Catholic vote” today: something contested, or at least contestable, that needs to be carefully cultivated and taken seriously. If Hillary Clinton becomes the first Democrat in three generations to win the presidential vote in Utah, both parties will have to re-examine their current electoral calculus, which for the last fifty years has been, “ignore Mormons and focus on swing voters.”
But wait, there’s more. This is not just the normal choice between a Republican and a Democrat (and a few third-party contenders who don’t really have a chance). Donald Trump is the most unqualified, outrageous, and fundamentally dangerous presidential candidate nominated by a major party in modern history. He stokes fears and resentments for fun and profit, and he thrives on pitting his supporters against other Americans. As a Democrat myself, I fear a Trump presidency greatly, but I do not blame him or his supporters. Fish gotta swim, Trumps gotta Trump.
But if I were a Republican I would be furious at Trump and his supporters for wrecking the party. Trump has destroyed the Republican brand for a generation and dragged the Party of Lincoln into the bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic sewer of his campaign, where it has been wallowing for more than a year. Many senior Republicans do feel this way, in fact, and in the (extraordinarily likely) event of a disastrous Trump loss that costs the GOP the Senate, the party that emerges from the ashes will not be kind to the forces that drove them into the fire.
So even if Mormons want to remain loyal Republicans—and despite my efforts I a pretty sure that most of them will—it is to their advantage to rebuff Trump the way that Mormon Republicans like Mitt Romney and Jeff Flake have already done. This will strengthen the position of the Mormon vote within the Republican party and sever the unfortunate association between Mormons and the Tea Party before the latter becomes partida non grata in the Republican world.
This is the time to make it happen. Mormons will never have a Republican candidate as obnoxious and hostile to our values as Donald Trump. The fact that Clinton is even close in Utah has made the state more politically important than it has been in my lifetime, but most of the chattering classes are betting that Mormons will turn back to Trump out of political loyalty and distaste for the alternatives. But what if we don’t? What if we actually go through with it and reject the devil we know precisely because he is a devil. We just might find that, by rejecting him, we start mattering–and that we could have mattered all along.