There’s been so much attention recently on how Utah and members of the LDS Church feel about politics that we may in fact be experiencing a smaller-scale "Mormon Moment.”
Back during the 2012 presidential campaign, Time magazine asked whether or not Mitt Romney’s nomination to run for president signaled the beginning of a Mormon moment in pop culture. Romney’s time in the national spotlight came as “The Book of Mormon” musical rose to popularity on Broadway.
With so much Mormonism in the news back then, national media began to wonder if LDS Church members were experiencing a moment in which mainstream America “reexamines its prejudices, learns more about a foreign faith, and realizes that its adherents are not so different after all,” according to Time.
Though talk of the Mormon Moment faded and Romney lost his bid for the presidency, recent national media attention has focused on how Utah and Mormons are approaching the 2016 election.
And if it’s not another Mormon moment, it may in fact be a Utah political moment.
Let’s take a brief look at the developments.
This is a real ad in Utah. pic.twitter.com/1EzTly3g8U— Herb Scribner (@HerbScribner) August 23, 2016
Mainly, you have the GOP nominee Donald Trump’s odd relationship with the Mormon crowd. As The Washington Examiner pointed out, Trump, though the Republican Party’s nominee, has struggled to win the hearts and minds of Utah, specifically the Mormon base. His leadership style isn’t as presidential as Mormons would want it to be, and he’s had some strong opinions about Muslims and immigration, something that could affect Mormons because of their history, Talking Points Memo reported.
Former New York City Mayor Rudi Guliani, a big Trump supporter, also brought Mormonism into the mainstream during a recent interview with “Fox & Friends.” It was an odd moment, but showed audiences that the religion is on the minds of the Trump campaign.
Rudy Giuliani: You know the "Book of Mormon"? Well, next year the, "Book of Clinton Lies" will be the new playhttps://t.co/niTFxeq82M— FOX & Friends (@foxandfriends) August 22, 2016
The issue reached new heights recently after Tom Tancredo wrote an opinion piece for Breitbart — whose executive chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, is also Trump’s campaign chairman — that condemned Mormons for not supporting Trump.
The Mormons are a bedrock GOP constituency, and the Trumpists want them to leave. https://t.co/txT0SXnsPB— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) August 21, 2016
Some in the national media stood up for Mormons after the column came out.
Actual question: How can anyone hate Mormons? They're legit the nicest people https://t.co/dHMcbhAqkW— Shoshana Weissmann (@senatorshoshana) August 21, 2016
And there's been an increased focus on Mormons. Newsmax recently published a list of the top 50 most influential Mormons in America today. Mitt Romney tops the list.
Trump's also faced backlash from Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Mormon congressman who's often spoken out against the GOP nominee, according to The Washington Post.
Flake, a BYU grad who hails from a town called Snowflake, "which his great-great-great grandfather helped found as a Mormon settler," said that Trump's campaign is mostly a "joke."
This odd relationship between Trump and Mormons has for months led to speculation whether Utah could vote blue for the first time since 1964.
“Utah is one of the most Republican states in the country, and usually one a GOP presidential candidate can take for granted,” Vox’s Andrew Prokop wrote recently. “Mitt Romney won it by 48 points in 2012, and John McCain won it by 28 in 2008. And most observers expect Trump to come out on top there in the end. Yet the race does look a good deal closer this time around.”
Realizing that there’s a potential for the deep-red Utah to be in play during the national election, other presidential candidates have made a play for the Beehive State. Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton not only penned an opinion piece for the Deseret News — referencing Mormon leaders and lexicon in her piece — but she also recently set up a campaign headquarters in Salt Lake City.
That’s not unlike another presidential candidate, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, who was the first of the three candidates to write an opinion piece for the Deseret News and has his campaign headquarters in Salt Lake City. Johnson, whose campaign manager is Mormon, has pushed for voters to support him as he represents a third option for the presidency who embraces purple politics.
"If Bill Weld were at the top of the ticket, it would be very easy for me to vote for Bill Weld for president," Romney said, according to CNN. "So I'll get to know Gary Johnson better and see if he's someone who I could end up voting for. That's something which I'll evaluate over the coming weeks and months."
But even as Romney hasn’t endorsed anyone, the media have continued to look for who the former Massachusetts governor will support. Some reports indicate that Romney probably would have endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for president. Rubio, who belonged to the LDS Church when he was younger, recently held a fundraising event where Romney celebrated the former Republican candidate.
"The unfortunate truth about this election is that nobody's really happy — I shouldn't say nobody — most Americans are not really happy with either outcome, either the Republican or Democrat outcome. But right now, Hillary's in the lead," Romney said, according to CNN. "And if she were to win by too large a margin it would be very, very hard for us to be able to maintain the principles to keep America the nation that it is. It's important that regardless of what happens on the presidential level, that we have Sen. Rubio able to be successful and win in Florida so we can maintain our majority in the Senate."
Romney has another option in Evan McMullin, a former member of the CIA and a BYU graduate. A Washington Post profile suggested that McMullin’s Mormon family upbringing may be a big reason why he’s decided to run for the nomination.
"McMullin grew up poor on a small farm in Auburn, Wash., in a religious Mormon family," Josh Rogin wrote. "His mother bought groceries in bulk and sold them out of their garage to make ends meet. She later married a woman, whom she now lives with. (McMullin’s family gave me permission to reveal that here for the first time.) He has never had a drink or done any drugs. His upbringing taught him conservatism, discipline and tolerance."
McMullin’s moment in the spotlight may soon fade, however. He didn’t register enough votes to make it onto the Tennessee ballot — he got 129 of the 275 signatures needed, according to Politico. He recently made it onto the Iowa and Louisiana ballots, though, and signs look good for Idaho, which also has a significant Mormon population. Still, McMullin polls worse than a McMuffin, so his chances at success may not be too high.
We don’t know where all of this is heading. Though the national media may have put an intense focus on Utah and Mormonism, it may be much ado about nothing, given that new polls released Tuesday show Trump with a 15-point lead over Clinton when Utahns can vote for Johnson, McMullin and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. And in a poll where it’s just Clinton vs. Trump, that gap widens to 20 points.
New Utah poll (from PPP): Trump 39%Clinton 24%Johnson 12%McMullin 9%https://t.co/zMTGTMll64— McKay Coppins (@mckaycoppins) August 23, 2016
At the end of the 2016 election, the latest Mormon moment — or the Utah moment — may just be a thing of the past if the state votes Trump, falling back on its traditional ideals.
Or, as Time magazine put it back in 2012 during the first Mormon moment:
“Although we see a glimmer of it now, the Mormon moment is likely many years off.”
Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.