Latter-day Saints have a complicated relationship with Donald Trump.
Some hate him, others love him, and quite a few love and hate him at the same time.
With Trump’s announcement Tuesday night that he is seeking a return to the White House, some reliably Republican members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may wonder if it’s time to break up with the former president altogether.
State Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross and, like nearly all Utah legislators, a Latter-day Saint, signed a letter with more than 80 other elected Utah officials, encouraging Florida’s resoundingly reelected governor, Ron DeSantis, to pursue the Oval Office.
“For me, at least, I am trying to signal that we don’t want all the other candidates for president to stand down,” Weiler said Tuesday. “Just because we have a former president doesn’t mean we should defer to him.”
The Utah conservative worries that by making his declaration, Trump is trying to clear the GOP field.
“I want to see a spirited primary and debate,” Weiler said, “about how to lead the nation forward out of our turbulent time.”
Although he had “serious reservations” about Trump in 2016, Weiler said, the former president did some “really good things.”
The Utah senator just didn’t like Trump’s “personal attributes,’ Weiler said. “He’s not someone I want my kids to pattern their life after.”
In 2016, Sen. Mike Lee was no Trump fan and even voted for the man who would become the Utah Republican’s competitor this year, independent Evan McMullin.
By 2020, Lee had morphed into such a Trump cheerleader that he compared the then-president to Captain Moroni, a military leader in the faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon.
During Lee’s just finished bruising battle for reelection in which he defeated McMullin, Trump endorsed the Utahn, but Lee never acknowledged it once.
Religious versus political identity
The Utah-based faith does not endorse candidates or speak about partisan politics, but after an “Access Hollywood” tape revealed Trump’s lewd comments about women in October 2016, the church-owned newspaper, the Deseret News, made the nearly unprecedented move of urging the Republican nominee to bow out.
“Today we call on Donald Trump to step down from his pursuit of the American presidency,” the paper wrote in a stern editorial. “In democratic elections, ideas have consequences, leadership matters and character counts.”
He didn’t quit and went on to win the presidency.
In rock-red Utah, however, he carried the state by a shockingly small margin, failing to muster even 50%.
At the time, Lee and Mitt Romney, who would later become Utah’s junior senator, both bucked Trump. They were joined by a fellow Latter-day Saint senator, Arizona’s Jeff Flake.
“For lots of members, being Republican and a Latter-day Saint was in perfect harmony,” Brigham Young University political scientist Quin Monson said this week. “That was thrown into disarray with Donald Trump.”
And, Monson said, for many, the “tension between these identities has not been resolved.”
Some Latter-day Saint Republicans have settled that inner conflict “by going against their party identity,” the BYU professor said. “Others have been uncomfortable but voted for him.”
If Trump stays around, Monson said, or if his GOP successor continues the same “combative, anti-immigrant rhetoric” — it could “push young Latter-day Saints against the Republican Party.”
And that, he said, would have “lasting consequences.”
2020 election and Jan. 6
While the LDS Church maintains strict neutrality on partisan politics, its leaders strongly denounced any post-election unrest.
“We peacefully accept the results of elections. We will not participate in the violence threatened by those disappointed with the outcome,” Dallin H. Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice and next in line to assume the church’s reins, said in October 2020, even before the election and the Capitol siege. “In a democratic society, we always have the opportunity and the duty to persist peacefully until the next election.”
Church spokespersons pointed to that statement in response to the riotous crowd that marched in Washington on Jan. 6.
Now Trump has ventured back into the ring, which may raise all the same kinds of issues for Latter-day Saints.
“Regardless of who is running for president, our position is going to be the same. We will always work to highlight what good government and ethical leadership look like,” said Jennifer Walker Thomas, co-executive director of Mormon Women for Ethical Government. " The American people deserve candidates that represent our highest moral values and are willing to sustain the rule of law. We all need to be involved to ensure that happens.”
For her part, Linda Hoffman Kimball, an artist and writer living in Woodland, Utah, is not looking forward to another Trump run.
“I still haven’t recovered from the chaos, mean-spiritedness and violence of his administration,” said Kimball, who was among the MWEG founders but who does not speak in any official capacity for that group. “As an LDS Christian, I am called to love everyone.”
For everyone’s sake, she said, “including [Trump’s] own, he and his turbulent soul should be kept to his private circle of friends, and not imposed on the entire country and the planet as a whole.”
After Tuesday’s news from Mar-a-Lago, it doesn’t look like Trump will be taking that advice.
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