Commentary: Are Mormons the new conscience of the GOP?

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney makes a speech about the state of the 2016 presidential race and Donald Trump at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah on Thursday, March 3, 2016.

“Unfit.” That’s what Mitt Romney said late last week about Roy Moore, the controversial former state judge who’s on the ballot as the GOP Senate nominee for Alabama’s special election Dec. 12. Moore is under fire for allegations that he had sexual and romantic contact with girls as young as 14.

Romney said Moore should step aside, and that he believed the accusers. It wasn’t until Monday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., followed suit by saying that Moore should drop out of the race “if” the accusations are true. On Monday, McConnell took a page from Romney’s playbook, saying he believed the women and that Moore should leave the race.

But Romney said it first. And as I wrote in October, he’s not the only Mormon Republican leader to publicly criticize members of his own party in these unusual times. U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., denounced President Donald Trump’s administration from the Senate floor, saying he could not be complicit in Trump’s irresponsible and vengeful behavior.

And that’s not all.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah and the Senate’s longest-serving member, sharply criticized Trump’s handling of Charlottesville: “We should call evil by its name,” he tweeted. “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”

Hatch did support Trump’s candidacy in 2016 — but plenty of high-profile Mormons did not. Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah; Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah; and others either withdrew their endorsements after Trump’s “grab ’em by the p----” comments became public or never supported him in the first place.

So … are Mormons becoming the new moral conscience of the GOP? Only halfway. Here’s why:

• Do you notice a pattern among most of the LDS GOP politicians who have spoken out against Moore, Trump and other unconscionable members of their party? Many of them are either out of power already (Romney), choosing to relinquish power because re-election would be a challenge (Flake, Chaffetz) or planning to retire (Hatch). The ones who are still in power, like Mia Love – the only black female Republican in all of Congress – have been oddly quiet about Moore and other recent scandals.

• Why do Mormon Republicans seem most apt to speak their minds when it’s concerning a question of sexual ethics? Moore has done some outrageous things in his career, like refusing to follow the law to such an extent that he lost his seat on the Alabama Supreme Court not once but twice. And the news is filled on a near-daily basis with ethical violations of Trump’s administration, including the ongoing and ever-expanding investigation into possible collusion with Russia.

Just last week, several Mormon GOP leaders voted in favor of giving a federal judicial seat to an untested 36-year-old who has never even tried a case. (However, as a blogger, this nominee openly denounced Hillary “Rotten” Clinton and background checks for prospective gun owners, which may be more than enough to qualify him in the mind of Trump.)

Where was the Mormon conscience then?

I don’t expect LDS Republicans to suddenly abandon conservative values and start voting for health care or against tax cuts. They have to vote their principles and represent their constituents.

I do, however, expect them to call out injustice when they see it, even if that injustice is being perpetrated by members of their own political party. And apart from these high-profile reproofs primarily about sex — an issue that Mormons still care about in their politicians, even if evangelicals have rapidly abandoned the idea that politicians’ personal immorality will spill over into unethical behavior in public life — Mormon GOP leaders have kept pretty mum.

(Photo courtesy of Mormon Women for Ethical Government)

Where we can see profound moral leadership right now is less in the cadre of (mostly male) LDS politicians but in the vibrant new group Mormon Women for Ethical Government, a bipartisan organization founded in the wake of Trump’s election. Whether it’s mass shootings or immigration or sexual violence, these women have no shortage of reflections on putting Mormon faith into action.

And in an era when Republicans and Democrats can’t seem to countenance one another, it’s heartening to see on the MWEG Facebook page that it is still possible, in 2017, for passionate members of diverse political persuasions to come together on causes that matter.

The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.

| Courtesy Jana Riess Jana Riess, Mormon writer and editor.