When Mitt Romney endorsed Ted Cruz on Friday and called Trumpism “repulsive,” the billionaire presidential wannabe responded with a tweetstorm, calling Romney a “mixed up man.” He further declared he intends to win the Utah caucuses on Tuesday despite Romney’s endorsement, because “Mormons don’t like liars.”
As a Mormon, I can affirm that indeed we do not care much for liars—which is precisely why Donald Trump will face an embarrassing loss in the Beehive State.
It is true that Trump has built a wide coalition of supporters, ranging from college graduates in Massachusetts to working-class families in Florida. His appeal to disparate groups is one of the reasons he’s been so formidable in the primaries thus far. Yet Mormons remain the one group that has roundly rejected Trump, and it’s likely to spell trouble for the billionaire in the upcoming contests in Utah, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, and Montana.
Mormons Go Heavily for Cruz Over Trump
Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS) make up a small percentage of the population (only about 2 percent of the entire United States), but their heavy slant towards the Republican Party and high levels of voter turnout give this group an outsized influence on Republican primaries. This is particularly true in the previously mentioned states, where heavier concentrations of Mormons can be found.
In a race where every single delegate counts, it might just be the Mormons who prevent Trump from reaching the 1,237 delegate threshold he needs to secure the nomination.
Mitt Romney, Glenn Beck, and Mike Lee aren’t the only Mormons speaking out against Trump. The church’s rank-and-file members delivered a tough blow to Trump during the primary in Idaho, where roughly 1 in 4 residents is a Mormon. On a night when three other states voted convincingly for Trump, Idaho delivered a 17-point victory for Cruz.
The margin of victory for Cruz was even more pronounced in the heavily Mormon counties of southeast Idaho. Madison County, home of LDS-owned and operated Brigham Young University-Idaho and roughly 90 percent Mormon, placed Trump third with only 7.6 percent of the vote compared to Cruz’s 57 percent and Rubio’s 24 percent. This same pattern played out in nearly every Mormon-majority county in Idaho.
Wyoming and Alaska, the states with the third- and fifth-highest concentrations of Mormons, respectively, also gave Cruz commanding victories. Put another way, if one were to stack all the ballots cast by Mormons for Trump so far, the pile would likely be shorter than Trump’s stubby little fingers. It is possible Cruz would have still won these states without such strong support from the Mormon community, but the results would have been a lot tighter and several of Cruz’s delegates would have ended up in Trump’s column.
Why Mormons Don’t Like Trump
There are a number of reasons Mormons have so overwhelmingly rejected Trump. For one, Mormons go to church. Many pundits were shocked when evangelical Christians in South Carolina (and elsewhere) voted for thrice-divorced philanderer Trump over son-of-a-preacher-man Cruz.
But there’s at least some evidence to suggest that Trump’s support among evangelicals comes largely from the type of Christian who doesn’t go to church all that often. When you look only at those evangelicals who attend church at least weekly, Cruz destroys Trump. There’s no reason this same pattern shouldn’t hold for Mormons. Since Mormons tend to go to church far more frequently than the average American, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Latter-Day Saints aren’t pulling the lever for Trump.
Another significant reason Mormons have rejected Trump has to do with our unique place in American history. Ours was the only major religious group in the nation’s history that suffered government-sanctioned violence. This persecution came to a head in 1838 when the governor of Missouri issued an extermination order legalizing the murder of any Mormon who refused to leave the state.
Needless to say, this history has made Latter-Day Saints sensitive to loud-mouthed politicians who single out religious minorities. Most Mormons were appalled by Trump’s suggestion that we ban all Muslims from entering the United States. The way Trump speaks about minority groups strikes a raw nerve with Mormons. To vote for Trump, Mormons would have to willingly forget their own history as the objects of fear and mistrust.
Finally, Mormons have rejected Trumpism as a natural consequence of the near-canonical respect the church has for the U.S. Constitution. It is accepted as a doctrinal truth in the church that the Constitution was inspired by God, and should thus be defended at all costs. Mormons take this issue very seriously. Cruz has shown the same level of reverence for the Constitution that most Mormons hold, making him a natural fit for many Latter-Day Saint voters. Trump, on the other hand, seems to be as well-versed in the Constitution as he is in “Two Corinthians.”
Mormon Support Gives Cruz an Edge
For these and a number of other reasons, Mormons are firmly planted in the #NeverTrump camp. But what does this all mean moving forward? For one, it means Cruz is likely to secure at least 50 percent of the vote in Utah’s upcoming primary, throwing all of that state’s delegates into his column. It also means Cruz is going to be very competitive in the winner-take-all contest in Arizona, where Mormons made up 14 percent of the primary vote in 2012.
Looking further down the primary calendar, Mormons will also play an important role in Washington, Oregon, and Montana. Only about 4 percent of residents in these states are LDS but, again, Mormons are overwhelmingly Republican and they vote. Mormons can easily make up 10 percent or more of the electorate in blue states with closed primaries, like Washington and Oregon. If Mormons continue to vote the way they have been, it might be enough to give Cruz some unexpected victories in the Pacific Northwest.
These five states with heavy concentrations of Mormon voters carry 197 delegates. If you add in the delegates for American Samoa (which is about 25 percent Mormon), that brings us to 206. Is that enough to help Cruz catch up to Trump in the delegate count? Probably not. But it might be enough to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates he needs, leading us to a contested convention.
At that point, only God knows what could happen.