Mormons Uneasy With Trump Make A Question Of Reliably Red Utah
You'd be hard pressed to find a more deeply red county within a deeply red state than Cache County in the mountains of northern Utah.
Eighty-three percent of voters in this heavily Mormon enclave went for Mitt Romney in 2012. So heads turned when Jonathan Choate and a colleague abruptly resigned from the Cache County GOP's Executive Committee after the party refused to publicly condemn Donald Trump.
"He is a charismatic leader who I think is clinically narcissistic," says Choate, "and his core is whatever he wants it to be at any given moment, whatever's going to give him the power and attention."
Choate is a friendly, 40-year-old man with a booming voice. His bushy red beard extends to his chest. Apart from a two-year Latter Day Saints mission in Arkansas, he's lived his life in the college town of Logan, Utah, where he runs an information technology business.
He was already leaning Libertarian but says his decision to resign and leave the GOP altogether can be blamed on what he calls Trump's divisive rhetoric on race and religion.
"The LDS church has a recent memory of being divided out based on religion, and being driven from the United States," Choate says. "At the time the LDS Church came to Utah, it was not the United States; they literally had to flee the country."
From Red To Purple?
Choate's opinions on Trump are shared by enough Utah Mormons that recent polls have shown Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in a dead heat there.
That's remarkable given the last time a Democratic presidential candidate won Utah it was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
Chris Karpowitz, political science professor at Brigham Young University, says if Utah is truly competitive come November, it likely won't be because Mormon voters cross over to Clinton.
"I think the question is ... who will vote for [Libertarian Party candidate] Gary Johnson, and who will choose not to come out to the polls at all and just sit this one out saying they're dissatisfied with all of the alternatives in front of them?" Karpowitz says.
"The [Mormon] church has a recent memory of being divided out based on religion, and being driven from the United States... they literally had to flee the country."
For sure, there are many undecided voters like Gina Worthen. A stay-at-home mom, she's also the vice chair of the Cache County Republican Party and doesn't fault her two colleagues for speaking out.
"I agree with what they said about Trump," Worthen says. "He's at the bottom of my favorite people list."
But Worthen stopped short of resigning or leaving the party. There are just too many good candidates down ticket, she says, and she's trying to convince fellow Republicans that they can still turn out to vote and just leave the presidential box blank.
After all, she may.
"I think that people in Utah really do look at character, it's the Mormon culture," Worthen says. "We don't like lying, we don't like cheating, we want people of good character."
This rift over Trump is a complicated one. Many Mormon Republicans say they want to be loyal to their party but for the first time in generations, politics and faith are colliding.
A Proud 'Trump Mormon'
There are still conservative Mormons who caution against reading too much into early polls or what happened in Cache County.
"By them resigning and saying they're going to vote for a third party, they're traitors," says Janalee Tobias.
Just inside the door of her house in the Salt Lake City suburb of South Jordan is a wrought iron sculpture of two revolvers and the sign "We Don't Dial 911." Tobias recently described herself on Facebook as a Trump Mormon for "Time and All Eternity," a reference to Mormon marriage rites in the Temple.
"Donald Trump wants to make America great again," she says. "Think about what made America great in the beginning: There were laws and people came here legally and didn't have their hand out."
Tobias thinks Mormons will come around to Trump after the Republican National Convention next week. She points out that he's a family man who doesn't drink.
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