by William Trollinger
Mitt Romney’s February 05 vote to convict Donald Trump of abuse of power was one of the most remarkable moments in recent American political history. The only Republican to cross party lines – in fact, the first Senator in American history to vote to convict a president of his own party – Romney explained his vote in a dramatic speech on the Senate floor:
The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust. What he did was not “perfect.” No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security interests, and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.
Trump and his followers immediately began an anti-Romney smear campaign: the President put out a video describing Romney as a “Democrat secret asset,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham demanded that Romney resign, and Donald Trump Jr. called Romney a “pussy” on Instagram.
Romney and Trump have been at odds since the 2016 presidential campaign, when Romney referred to Trump as “a fraud” who was “playing the members of the American public for suckers.” But to focus on their mutual animosities would be to minimize Romney’s courage in going against Trump and the breathtakingly compliant Republican Party. More than this, to focus on individuals would be to miss the larger religious dimension of this story (a dimension that helps explain why in Republican Utah Romney may very well not pay a high political price for his vote to convict).
While Mormons are well-known for being overwhelmingly conservative when it comes to politics, and while a Democratic candidate for president has not won the state of Utah since 1964, it turns out that Donald Trump has a Mormon problem. In a recent Voter Study Group article, Daniel Cox notes that “while white evangelical Protestants and Mormons have had nearly identical presidential voting patterns since 2004, their voting patterns diverged sharply in 2016,” with 61 percent of Mormons voting for Trump (20 percent below white evangelicals).Today 55% of Mormons approve and 40% disapprove of Trump’s performance; in contrast, 71% of white evangelicals approve and only 26% disapprove of the president.
In explaining these differences, Cox notes that Mormons are much less inclined than white evangelicals to accept the culture war binary that Republicans are good and Democrats are bad. Mormons are also markedly more accepting of immigrants than white evangelicals, and thus less amenable to Trump’s white nationalism. And despite their history of being persecuted for their religious beliefs, and despite the fact they make up only 2% of the American population, “fewer Mormons than white evangelicals believe there is a great deal or a lot of discrimination against Christians (32 percent vs. 50 percent).”
In his stirring speech explaining his vote to convict Donald Trump of abuse of power, Romney observed that
As a senator-juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice. I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential . . . I support a great deal of what the president has done. I voted with him 80 percent of the time. But my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and political biases aside . . . I’m sure to hear abuse from the president and his supporters. Does anyone seriously believe that I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me?
Is it possible that Mormons are much better than white evangelicals at not conflating support for Donald Trump and the Republican Party with their commitment to God? Put it another way, is it possible that Mormons take their faith more seriously than do white evangelicals?