In Arizona, Mormons now a worry for Trump
Many in the pivotal state are disturbed
by some of the president’s behavior and policies.
Now the lifelong Republican finds himself in the surprising position of supporting Biden — repelled from his party, he says, by President Trump.
“We’re taught to be steady, to be basically the opposite of the way he’s lived his life,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez’s view isn’t as unusual as the Trump campaign would like.
While many conservative-leaning religious voters warmed to him long ago, Trump has struggled to win over Latter-day Saints. His penchant for foul language clashes with the church’s culture teaching modesty and self-restraint, and his isolationist foreign policy is anathema to a faith spreading rapidly around the world.
It hasn’t helped that Trump has made a show of feuding with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), among the best-known members of the church.
Once just a headache for the White House, Trump’s relative weakness with Latter-day Saints is now a growing political liability. His standing has slumped in several pivotal states, including Arizona, where members of the faith make up 6% of the population. Many are clustered around Phoenix, where Republicans have struggled to hold their ground in the Trump era.
Last week, the Trump campaign launched its Latter-day Saints for Trump Coalition, sending Vice President Mike Pence to Mesa, a Phoenix suburb, for the kickoff. Pence, who often serves as Trump’s emissary to religious conservatives, appealed to church members’ opposition to abortion rights and concerns over religious liberty.
Trump “has stood for the religious freedom of every American of every faith every day of this administration,” Pence told the group of about 200 people.
Last month, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. hosted a conference call with reporters to commemorate Pioneer Day, a church holiday celebrating the arrival of the first church settlers in Utah’s Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Trump Jr. said he was in Utah at the time for a fishing trip.
Still, signs of discontent were clear. More than 200 people identifying themselves as Republicans who belong to the church published an open letter Wednesday declaring their opposition to Trump and calling him “the antithesis of so much the Latter-day Saints community believes.”
To be sure, Latter-day Saints have traditionally voted Republican and are likely to remain part of the GOP coalition. Clustered in solidly Republican states, they have long been a major force in GOP primaries and local politics across the West.
Trump won Arizona in 2016 by 91,000 votes. There are about 436,000 Latter-day Saints in Arizona, according to church statistics. Many live in Phoenix’s East Valley suburbs popular with young families, including Gilbert, Chandler and Mesa.
In recent elections, political consultants have considered these areas a barometer of swing voters, including women and college-educated white voters who have recently shifted Democratic. In 2018, several neighborhoods east of Phoenix popular with church members voted for Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
“From the time we’re young we’re taught — as are all Christians — that we’re supposed to love God and love our neighbor,” said Kathy Varga, a 39-year-old speech therapist from Mesa. “I don’t see that happening right now. I just see the country becoming more divided.”
Varga reluctantly voted for Trump in 2016 because she was worried about Democrat Hillary Clinton putting liberal justices on the Supreme Court. Now Varga says he believes Trump is threatening government institutions and the Constitution. She plans to vote for Biden, even though she disagrees with many of his policies, because “the most important thing right now is to unify the country.”