Trump’s immigration stance expected to help in Arizona, but hurt in Utah
Donald Trump’s hard-line position on immigration is the main reason he is favored to win the Arizona Republican primary Tuesday— and lose the Utah caucuses.
The chasm between the neighboring states on this issue is extraordinary.
In Arizona, Trump has the strong support of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former governor Jan Brewer (R), who signed the controversial SB1070 lawin 2010. Last summer, during a rally in Phoenix, Trump said illegal immigrants “flow in like water.” His best-known promise is to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it. Nine months after he started talking about it, crowds still went wild when he brought it up across the state last weekend.
But just to the north, in Utah, nearly two-thirds of the population is Mormon. Many served on mission trips overseas, including to Latin America, when they were young. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settled there to escape persecution in the East. As a result, religious tolerance and inclusiveness are central tenets of the faith. That makes many Mormons acutely uncomfortable with Trump’s call for banning Muslims from entering the United States.
When 26 Republican governors announced that Syrian refugees were not welcome in their states last fall, Utah’s Gary Herbert, who is Mormon, was the lone Republican governor to declare that his state would accept them.
“The LDS church has spent years lobbying for ‘compassionate’ immigration reform,” McKay Coppins, himself a Mormon, wrote on BuzzFeed. “In 2011, church leaders offered a full-throated endorsement of ‘ the Utah Compact,’ a state legislative initiative that discouraged deporting otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants and offered a path to residency for families that would be separated by deportation. These proimmigrant attitudes are common among rank-and-file believers.”
Trump has fared terribly in areas where Mormons concentrate— Nevada, Wyoming and Idaho.
His controversial call for a ban on Muslims entering the country has been popular among majorities of Republican primary voters in exit polls. Not so in Utah. Matt Miles, a political scientist at a satellite campus of Brigham Young University, which is controlled by the Mormon Church, told the Salt Lake Tribune that Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims is a huge issue and stirs fear among the faithful. The newspaper notes that a Trump spokeswoman made the problem worse when, defending the policy, she mistakenly referred to the federal government shutting down “Mormon churches,” when she actually meant the Fundamentalist-Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a breakaway sect that practices polygamy.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has momentum in Utah. Mitt Romney announced Friday that he will caucus for Cruz and called on his supporters to vote for the senator in forthcoming contests.
The challenge for Cruz in the Beehive State is getting past 50 percent, which would entitle him to all 40 available delegates. Otherwise, the delegates are divided proportionally.
The Trump campaign has basically written off Utah; the goal is just to prevent Cruz from getting past 50 percent.
How bad is Trump’s Mormon problem? The Deseret News, owned by the Mormon Church, ran a story on the front page of its Sunday newspaper saying that Hillary Clinton would probably carry Utah if Trump wins the Republican nomination. “I believe Trump could lose Utah. If you lose Utah as a Republican, there is no hope,” former Utah governor Mike Leavitt (R) told the paper.
It’s more than immigration. Mormons, while not monolithic, also resent Trump’s lack of decorum and manners. “His blatant religious illiteracy, his penchant for onstage cursing, his habit of flinging crude insults at women, his less-than-virtuous personal life and widely chronicled marital failures— all of this is anathema to the wholesome, family-first lifestyle that Mormonism promotes,” Coppins notes in his Buzz Feed piece.
What’s more, Cruz could score an upset in Arizona. Polls this month have Trump ahead by 12 to 14 points, but the samples were small.
Here are five factors that keep Arizona in reach for Cruz:
It’s become essentially a twoman race. Because it’s winner-take-all, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has not really campaigned in the state. So we’ve got the closest thing to a head-to-head matchup of any primary this year.
Cruz has a superior ground game. Neutral observers say his team is a lot more organized than Trump. His state director elected many Republican members of the legislature.
It’s a closed primary, meaning only Republicans can vote. Trump has struggled in those primaries.
Cruz has scored late endorsements. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) announced his support Sunday.
Cruz is perceived as strong on border security. He visited the Mexican border Friday and pledged to secure it as president. But early voting and high turnout are a problem for Cruz. Trump probably locked in a sizable lead when Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and others were still in the race.
The stakes: A Cruz sweep, with all the delegates from Arizona and Utah, would make it much harder for Trump to secure the Republican nomination before the convention in July. It would also give the senator from Texas meaningful momentum going into Wisconsin on April 5 and then a relatively quiet period on the calendar after that.