Utah remains the beating heart of GOP Trump skepticism

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Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is still a Republican, much as Donald Trump and his allies would like to imply he is not. He released a statement in support of the Supreme Court’s decision to overthrow Roe v. calf. He criticizes President Biden’s decision-making and political positions.

But unlike most Republicans, Romney has long been deeply critical of Trump himself. That’s why Trump calls him “RINO,” a “Republican in name only”: For Trump, being a Republican means, above all, being for Trump.

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In an essay published for The Atlantic on July 4, Romney renewed his criticism of the former president’s concerns about the country’s future.

The play is broadly conceived as a critique of both the political left and the right. “The left thinks the right is to blame for ignoring climate change and the attacks on our political system,” writes Romney. “The right sees the left as the problem because they ignore illegal immigration and the national debt.” He adds that “wishful thinking is happening across the political spectrum.”

But he later makes it clear that one set of concerns is worse than the other. In what is probably the essay’s most quoted sentence, Romney writes that “a return of Donald Trump would feed the disease and make it likely to be incurable.”

What struck me about this framework — that Trump’s re-election completely jeopardizes the health of the country — is how it overlaps with what happened in last month’s primary in the state Romney represents. Trump has been vicious in lashing out at those he believes have wronged him, including lawmakers who voted to set up the House of Representatives to investigate the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. Yet two Republican lawmakers from Utah who did so, Rep. John Curtis and Blake D. Moore, easily won re-election.

Trump backed Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) re-election bid, which will advance to the general election. (Unlike Romney, Lee worked to support Trump’s efforts to topple Biden’s victory in 2020.) There he will be running not against a Democrat but against an independent: Evan McMullin, who received a fifth of Utah’s presidential vote in 2016 – almost one vote for every two that Trump got.

It’s a reminder that not only is Romney skeptical of Trump, but so are many Utahns.

In 2000 and 2004, Utah had the largest lead for Republican presidential candidates of any state. That fell in 2008 — not coincidentally, when Romney’s bid for the Republican nomination fell short — but bounced back in 2012 when he was leading the ticket. Utah voted more than 50 points more Republicans than the national rim this year.

Then came the Trump era. In 2016, Utah voted just about 20 points more Republican than the national majority, below the average for Republican-voting states. In 2020, she voted just above the Republican average.

What happened? It’s certainly complicated, but a significant part of the skepticism seen in the state stems from religion.

Utah has a high percentage of residents who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the name the Church prefers to “Mormon”). Of the 10 counties with the highest density of adherents to the religion, nine are in Utah, according to PRRI’s 2020 Religion Census. (The 10th is in Idaho.)

From 2000 to 2012, these 10 counties voted Republican by larger majorities than the 10 counties with the highest percentage of white Evangelical Protestants. But that changed in 2016. Those 10 districts still vote more Republican than Republican districts overall, including the 2020 surge. But as the most evangelical districts shifted dramatically to the right in 2016, the most LDS districts shifted left again .

In 2016, BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins examined why Mormons were skeptical of Trump. There were the expected reasons: his propensity for swearing, his, uh, complicated romantic history. But there is also the history of the Church itself.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is nonpartisan and campaign neutral. However, it is not neutral on religious freedom,” the church said in a statement in response to Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States. After all, the LDS Church has been the target of violent discrimination for decades, a history that lingers.

During his presidency, Trump and his allies worked to develop better relationships with LDS voters, including sending Donald Trump Jr. to Utah so many times that some prominent Republicans “got the impression he wanted to convert,” as Coppins put it in 2020 reported. Maybe he made ideas. But it’s also true that after McMullin gobbled up 21 percent of the vote in 2016, Biden outperformed Hillary Clinton by about 10 points in 2020, and Trump finished just 12 points better than four years earlier.

After speaking out against Trump’s possible return to power in his new Atlantic essay, Romney slammed congressional leaders for not showing “backbone” in difficult political moments. He’s also dismayed at how DC often “demonstrates the maxim that good men need do nothing for evil to thrive.”

It’s a reminder that one of those who chose to see Trump the other way is Republican Party leader Ronna McDaniel. Speaking to Politico in 2020, she expressed confidence that “Mormons are especially starting to look [Trump] as a different kind of candidate than he had in 2016 because he has a record now.” After Trump’s loss, she did little to thwart his efforts to retain his position.

However, McDaniel could be speaking about how LDS voters view Trump: She is a member of the church. And she might feel a little more than others of Mitt Romney’s criticism of weak leaders: she’s his niece.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/07/05/utah-remains-beating-heart-gop-trump-skepticism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_politics Utah remains the beating heart of GOP Trump skepticism

James Brien

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