This morning, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton took the significant (unprecedented?) step of penning an op-ed in the LDS Church-owned Deseret News. Clinton has been polling competitively in Utah (though the most recent polls show Donald Trump with a widening lead), and the Clinton camp clearly thinks they have a real shot in the Beehive State.
The Democratic nominee’s competitiveness in Utah is due almost entirely to Trump’s well-chronicled problems with Mormon voters (and the candidacy of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who also recently wrote a Deseret News op-ed attempting to clarify (read: fix the fallout from) his unbelievably stupid comments suggesting that religious freedom might allow Mormons “to shoot somebody else” because “God has spoken to them,” to say nothing of the recent announcement of Washington D.C.-based Mormon and former CIA agent Evan McMullin’s independent candidacy for President). But in her op-ed today, Clinton (clearly aided by a staffer very much in-the-know about Mormonism) attempted to make the case for why Utah voters (read: Mormons) should vote for her (and not just why they shouldn’t vote for Trump).
That case is summed up in the final words of the op-ed’s title: “religious freedom and the Constitution.” Clinton provides a brief rundown of the ways in which she has “been fighting to defend religious freedom for years,” including especially during her time as Secretary of State, and promises to “fight every day to carry out [the] sacred responsibility” of defending the Constitution. These are obviously hot-button issues with Utah and Mormon voters, and Clinton is smart to highlight them.
But her editorial goes beyond broad references to issues Mormons care about. It includes several references to Mormon history, quotes or references at least eight Mormons, including (quite notably, I think) Primary General President “Sister Rosemary M. Wixom,” and speaks in common Mormon idiom. Here is a brief rundown of those references:
- Clinton connects Donald Trump’s proposed policies banning all Muslim immigrants to earlier eras of religious persecution in America, including “when Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs singled out Mormons in his infamous extermination order of 1838” and “President Rutherford B. Hayes’ attempt to limit Mormon immigration to America in 1879.” Not only is this reference significant; the timing is too: Today marks 137 years to the day of Hayes’s proposed policy.
- After praising Utah Governor Gary Herbert for “setting a compassionate example and welcoming Syrian refugees fleeing religious persecution and terrorism,” Clinton riffs on the title of her 1996 book, It Takes a Village, noting that “when it comes to religion, we strive to be accepting of everyone around us. That’s because we need each other. And we know that it so often takes a village — or a ward — working together to build the change we hope to see.” Her passing reference to a ward—the Mormon word for a congregation—is subtle but smart. Wards, defined by geographical boundaries that ensure the same people are attending the same congregation each and every week, serve as the center of Mormon religious life, providing regular opportunities for service.
- In making her case for “an economy that works for everyone,” Clinton actually makes a case for family friendly policies in the workplace and community: “That means passing comprehensive immigration reform to bring families out of the shadows and keep kids and parents together; ensuring equal pay for women; finally joining every other advanced country in the world in guaranteeing paid family leave; and providing early childhood education, so every child can reach his or her God-given potential.” In 1995, LDS Church leaders wrote “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which enjoy a quasi-canonical status in Mormonism today. While the document’s language regarding gender and sexuality has received the most attention, its concluding paragraph called on “responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” While that charge is most often interpreted as a call to oppose same-sex marriage, LDS leaders in recent years have interpreted it to include, among other things, family-friendly workplace policies and legislation supporting it. In 2005, M. Russell Ballard “call[ed] upon government and political leaders to put the needs of children and parents first and to think in terms of family impact in all legislation and policy making.” Six years later, Quentin L. Cook pleaded for Latter-day Saints to “be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.” And in 2014, President Barack Obama’s “family-friendly workplace” summit received positive press from the Deseret News.
- Clinton concludes by quoting Rosemary Wixom’s 2014 General Conference address: “As individuals we are strong. Together, with God, we are unstoppable.” Beyond the reference to God, the op-ed calls Wixom, who served as the LDS Primary General President from 2010 until earlier this year, “Sister Rosemary M. Wixom.”
- The penultimate paragraph of Clinton’s appeal to Utah voters doubles down, praising four LDS Church presidents—Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Gordon Hinckley, and Thomas Monson—for recognizing “the infinite blessings we have received from the Constitution of the United States.” Mormon scripture enshrines the U.S. Constitution as sacred writ, divinely inspired and established by the Lord himself. Latter-day Saint leaders often speak of the blessings the Constitution provides. Clinton is tapping directly into that discourse here.
Whether or not any of this works remains to be seen. Many Mormon voters remain very suspicious of Hillary Clinton, put off by both her husband’s infidelity and concerns over her own track record of honesty and integrity. But if she somehow manages to squeak out a victory in Utah (she would be the first Democrat to achieve that feat since Lyndon Johnson), it will be not only because of Mormonism’s strong #NeverTrump stance, but because she convinced voters that some of her policies—and the Democratic Party’s policies—strengthen those issues about which Mormon voters care most deeply.