Last week, amid buzz over polls showing a remarkably close presidential race in profoundly Republican Utah, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–owned Deseret News published an op-ed from Hillary Clinton. She shrewdly utilized the history of gentile persecution of Mormons in urging LDS folk to reject Trump’s desire to discriminate against Muslims, striking a chord in a community that was already notably hostile to the mogul.
Trump stepped up to the plate and penned his own op-ed in the same paper this week. It is mostly a rehash of his standard campaign message, including elements like his immigration policy and general opposition to globalization that are less than wildly popular in a very globalized and missionary-driven LDS community. But it was Trump’s more specific effort to appeal to people of faith that showed how clumsy he is in dealing with Mormons. He emphasized his proposal to free tax-exempt organizations (including churches) from a 1950s-vintage ban on endorsing political candidates and outright electioneering. As the Washington Post’s Stephen Stromberg explained, that exhibited some pretty serious ignorance about how the LDS is organized:
To an evangelical Christian, this reads fine. To a Mormon, it reads as though Trump is talking to someone else. Mormons do not have pastors — or even a professional clergy at most levels of the hierarchy. Moreover, local Mormon leaders do not have independent control over individual churches. The LDS organization is highly centralized, and its leaders in Salt Lake City strongly profess their desire to keep the institution out of nakedly partisan politics.
The recitation of this campaign promise beloved of conservative Evangelical leaders also drew fresh attention to Trump’s snide reference to Mormons as “different” in a speech to a Christian-right summit in Florida last week, a remark that annoyed LDS members because of the tycoon’s long history of snide references to Mormons. Indeed, says Stromberg, Trump keeps digging himself into deeper trouble with Mormons:
In a month in which Evan McMullin, a conservative graduate of Brigham Young University, has emerged as a ballot-eligible non-Trump alternative to Clinton, a reasonable candidate would have had someone on his campaign spend a few minutes figuring out how to talk to Mormons, or at least refrained from insulting them. Trump didn’t bother. Instead, he highlighted one of his core attributes: a carelessness that is so obvious it reeks of disrespect.
If Trump manages to lose Utah, he will have no one to blame but himself.