Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Religious Speculation

On Friday, Mitt Romney wrote on his Facebook page

This week, in the Utah nominating caucus, I will vote for Senator Ted Cruz.

Today, there is a contest between Trumpism and Republicanism. Through the calculated statements of its leader, Trumpism has become associated with racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, vulgarity and, most recently, threats and violence. I am repulsed by each and every one of these.

The only path that remains to nominate a Republican rather than Mr. Trump is to have an open convention. At this stage, the only way we can reach an open convention is for Senator Cruz to be successful in as many of the remaining nominating elections as possible.

I like Governor John Kasich. I have campaigned with him. He has a solid record as governor. I would have voted for him in Ohio. But a vote for Governor Kasich in future contests makes it extremely likely that Trumpism would prevail.

I will vote for Senator Cruz and I encourage others to do so as well, so that we can have an open convention and nominate a Republican.

Utah is famously Mormon with 55%-60% of its residents belonging to the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  The devout Mitt Romney is the not only the nation's most famous Mormon, but also evidently eligible to vote in Utah. He is not alone there in his opposition to Donald Trump, for

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has zoomed to a commanding lead in Utah's GOP caucuses, according to a new poll released Saturday. It also gave a glimpse into how frustrated the state's Republicans are with Donald Trump's candidacy.

The Y2 Analytics survey shows Cruz with 53 percent support among likely Republican caucus-goes and if that matches Tuesday's caucus vote, he'd win all of the state's 40 GOP delegates.

Coming in second is Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 29 percent, while Trump, the national front-runner, was a distant third at 11 percent.

Inasmuch as Donald Trump apparently is cruising (pun intended) to nomination in Cleveland this summer, the lack of support for the frontrunner in a state is astounding news. It is not, however, to Buzzfeed's McKay Coppins, who writes

while Mormons make up the most reliably Republican religious group in the country, they differ from the party’s base in key ways that work against Trump.

On immigration, for example, the hard-line proposals that have rallied Trump’s fans — like building a massive wall along the country’s southern border to keep immigrants out — are considerably less likely to fire up conservative Latter-day Saints. The LDS church has spent years lobbying for “compassionate” immigration reform. In 2011, church leaders offered a full-throated endorsement of “the Utah Compact,” a state legislative initiative that discouraged deporting otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants and offered a path to residency for families that would be separated by deportation.

These pro-immigrant attitudes are common among rank-and-file believers, many of whom have served missions in Latin American countries. Mormons are more than twice as likely as evangelicals to say they support “more immigration” to the United States, according to Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell. And a 2012 Pew survey found Mormons were more likely to say immigrants “strengthen” the country than they were to call immigrants an overall “burden.” When Romney ran for president in 2012 on a restrictionist immigration platform, his views were widelynoted in LDS circles for being at odds with his church.

That's all very logical, and such a thoughtful and relatively objective report on the interrelationship of religion and politics is disturbingly uncommon. However, consider that Coppins has been (understandably) antagonistic to Trump. Additionally, he was convinced (understandably) in February 2014 that he would not make become a candidate, at the time maintaining

For a person who has carefully cultivated an image of cartoonish gravitas, his constant courting of the political press seems grindingly small: picking fights with pasty, underpaid reporters, feeding sound bites to niche right-wing political websites, trekking up to frozen New Hampshire in January on the off chance that his antics will flash across a dayside cable news chyron for a few seconds. Why bother?

Coppins also is a Mormon, as he has noted, as well as left-of-center.  His explanation, therefore, may be incomplete.

Utah Republicans are hardly liberal or even moderate. The two main GOP presidential candidates at this time are Trump and Ted Cruz. The latter is inarguably the (even) more conservative candidate and much of the opposition to Trump stems from the belief that he is not a true Republican or true conservative. Clearly, he is not the free-market ideologue that the Texas senator is and Utah Republicans, most of them Mormon, may simply prefer the thoroughly extreme right-winger to the less reliable right-winger.

Further, there may be a direct religous component to the inability of Trump to gain traction among Utah Republicans.   The front-runner has (infamously) and oddly referred to "Two Corinthians" rather than "Second Corinthians."  At an event of Christian right organizations last July, he stated "When I drink my little wine -- which is about the only wine I drink -- and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed,"

It did not escape the attention of Christians that "my little wine" and "my little cracker" are a little patronizing or at least trivialize the act of communion. Some also realize that the purpose of communion is not "asking for forgiveness."

Trump;s response when asked whether he has asked God for forgiveness was even more surprising for a political candidate. "I am not sure I have," he admitted.  "I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don't think so.  I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't."

There are agnostics who have asked God for forgiveness. It's who we are vulnerable and uncertain, as human beings.  Yet while bold enough to leave God out of the equation of forgivenss, Trump did assert "People are so shocked when they find ... out I am Protestant. I am Presbyterian."  Less than 14% of residents of Utah identify as Protestant, compared to almost 48% nationally.

It is unusual, though honest and in this instance appropriate, for a candidate to downplay his faith and pointedly note that he is a Protestant and Presbyeterian. Mormons routinely consider themselves Christian but obviously are not Presbyterian and their relationship to Protestantism is tenuous.  It wouldn't be surprisng if that plays a role in their resistance to Trump, the man while they are repulsed by the nativist and nationalist presentation of Trump, the politician.

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