The Danger of Attacking a Lack of Traditional Families in Mormon Politics

Donald Trump and his surrogates have become rather worried about Evan McMullin’s chances in Utah. In several polls he’s either been tied for first place or is within striking distance. (Most still have Trump ahead) The last week he’s been the talk of the media with many seriously thinking he has a chance. Last week noted Fox News host Lou Dobbs made an unfortunate attack on McMullin saying he’s helping the “Mormon Mafia” affect the election results. This led to a slew of rather hilarious tweets mocking the idea of a Mormon Mafia. Around the same time various stories started spreading innuendo about McMullin both because he’s single but also because his mother apparently married an other woman after getting a divorce.[1] I don’t want to delve too far into McMullin. Just because he’s attacked unfairly doesn’t mean he deserves your vote. Despite being a conservative and thinking a lot about this election, I’m honestly not sure who I’m voting for yet. I just wanted to note how in the past attacking a candidate’s family status has been a very counterproductive strategy within the Mormon community.

This isn’t the first time this strategy has been tried. Way back when I was at BYU there was a race between Republican Karl Snow and Bill Orton for the 3rd congressional district. Now even then the Provo area was one of the more conservative districts in the United States. Snow was well ahead most of the election. Towards the end, partially due to some opposition from the infamous BYU paper The Student Review, Snow started doing some rather distasteful attack ads. Some were the sort expected in campaigns (some unpaid taxes on a car exaggerated somewhat). Still Snow lead handily.

"Values Do Matter" AdFour days before the election things changed. Karl Snow’s financial chairman brought up Orton’s age (then 42) and his never being married. He was quoted in the media saying that “Bill Orton is not fit for life much less Congress” due to his not being married. Two days later an infamous full page ad was placed in the Utah County Journal. It showed a picture of Snow with his family and a picture of Bill Orton alone with the caption “Bill Orton and His Family.” The body text of the ad read, “Some candidates want you to believe that their personal values don t [sic] matter. Most issues facing the United States Congress seriously affect our families. Values do matter! Vote Republican.” At the bottom of the ad is read “Paid for by the Utah Republican Party.”[2]

To say the ad turned things around for Snow would be an understatement. In this heavily GOP district Democrat Orton won with 58% to Snows 37%. It was one of the then largest margins of any non incumbent race in the US.

It’s hard to forget the lesson that while Mormons think family is extremely important they also strongly dislike attacking people for not being marriage. Maybe I remember this story since I ended up marrying quite late. (I married at 36 and recall being perhaps a tad touchy about innuendo about my singleness) There is a certain sense of propriety Mormons seem to associate with such matters especially in a political race.

We’re now seeing many attacks on McMullin that parallel that Orton race from 25 years ago. While not directly from the Trump campaign, there is a robocall that started today “warning” people about McMullin’s personal life and saying McMullin is a “closet homosexual.” Contrary to many reports going around Facebook or Twitter, McMullin has as best I can see been pretty upfront about this. He said in the Salt Lake Tribune, “As far as my mother’s marriage is concerned, I believe in the sanctity of traditional marriage. It is an important part of my faith. My mother has a different view. That is OK. I love her very much, and she is one of my best friends.” Regarding marriage he said he is “hopeful and optimistic that that will happen soon. … My greatest aspiration is to be a husband and father.”

This isn’t the only attack on McMullin that will be distasteful to Mormons. The alt-right fringe had a widely cited tweet threatening an other genocide on Mormons if Trump loses. (They called it the Mormocaust to tie it in with both the Missouri persecutions and extermination order as well as their tendency to bring up Nazi death camps to people critical of Trump)

[1] I first encountered this in a rather disturbing video passed along the Mormon Facebook crowd. The video is more or less arguing for why a Mormon shouldn’t vote for McMullin. But the innuendo in it really bothered me a great deal. The implication seems to be that because of something beyond his control (his mother’s marriage) he is not to be trusted on family issues. His singleness was also hinted at as being a problem. The clear implication is that there was a chance McMullin was gay. It’s quite in keeping with disturbing approaches by many Trump supporters to cast a skeptical and often uncritical eye towards others they are unwilling to do to their own candidate.

[2] I couldn’t find a copy of the original ad. The text in the above comes from “How to Win Friends and Influence Republicans” originally published in 1991 in the Clark Memorandum. It matches my memory of events though. The Student Review at the time was publishing quite a lot on Snow. While I wasn’t associated with the Review I hung out with many of the main figures in the tutorial labs in the basement of the testing center. I also worked with them on a more technical journal a lot of the same figures published. So I heard a lot of this there. The article doesn’t mention the Student Review but I seem to recall it having an impact on the race.

Edit: Marc Bohn noted that Times and Seasons did a story on Orton a few years back. It included the ad which I’m adding to this post.

10 comments for “The Danger of Attacking a Lack of Traditional Families in Mormon Politics

  1. Tim
    November 1, 2016 at 7:07 am

    This reminds me of a recent article in the BYU-I newspaper with the headline “Obama’s family only looks perfect.” In the alt-right tradition, the article goes on to bash the President’s policies, calls him a “boy,” and fails to come up with a single actual criticism of the President’s family.

    The Deseret News actually broke the story about McMullin’s mother being gay. They buried it near the bottom of a long article about McMullin.

  2. Andrew
    November 1, 2016 at 8:43 am

    Well, Mormons must care about these things or they wouldn’t be anti-Trump in the first place. The mere fact that McMullin is a thing kind of undermines your argument in a big way.

    As for what his singleness means. Any who’s a father or husband, or even just a guy, knows it means something. It could mean he’s a weirdo. It could mean he’s not the squeaky clean PP he portrays himself to be. Who knows. I don’t think it’s a huge thing. But it is a data point.

    The bottom line for me is McMullen is a guy that’s never been a leader of any sort. He’s never created a single job. Never managed people or organizations. Never had responsibilities worth noting. Never even held a real job frankly.

    He’s a joke that’s just staging a marketing campaign so he can run for Senate. Under normal circumstances nobody would take him seriously for Senate, but he has a good shot at Hatch’s seat now. He’ll probably get married in 2017. You watch. He’ll get press in UT for it too. Then he’ll take Hatch’s seat with ease.

  3. Clark Goble
    November 1, 2016 at 10:04 am

    I think Mormons are anti-Trump due to Trump’s own actions and not the actions of his mother or his being single. There’s a slew of reasons that Mormons are anti-Trump such as his bragging of sexual assault, his repeated and unrepentant adultery, his ties to the so-called ‘Lolita Express’ of Epstein the convicted pedophile (which includes a lawsuit against Trump going to trial in January for rape of a 13 year old girl connected with Epstein), his repeated vulgarity, his odd connection to white supremacist groups, his being extremely pro-Clinton, donating to her, bringing her to his wedding and repeatedly praising her up until a few years ago, his attacks on NATO, his odd defenses and praising of Putin, his apparent ties to fraudulent business practices like Trump University, his ignorance of most of the issues, and so forth.

    Now people can disagree with elements of those. People might think Clinton is worse. But the reasons why many are turned off in the Mormon community seem pretty straightforward.

    As to leadership, while I think it’s completely valid to criticize McMullin’s lack of experience in politics, that’s doubly true of Trump. (At least McMullin’s demonstrated a knowledge of foreign policy) However McMullin’s hasn’t lacked leadership. Most media accounts of his time in the CIA strongly suggest leadership skills and experience. It is frequently interesting to me that those defending Trump don’t acknowledge that most of the weaknesses of the Clintons (or McMullin) are also held by Trump. He’s unarguably the least qualified candidate Republicans have ever nominated in the last century in terms of experience and knowledge.

    I’ve still not sure who I’ll vote for. To me this is as much about helping conservatism survive. I think that requires a repudiation of how the GOP has been taken over. I’m voting today so I’ll have to finally make up my mind after vacillating between several choices the past weeks.

    To Hatch, I thought Hatch was running for reelection. Is that not true? I’ve not heard any stories about McMullin planning on trying to beat Hatch in the caucuses. That’d be quite hard, although it is interesting Hatch was one of the few in Utah who didn’t break with Trump when that video tape of him bragging about assault came out.

  4. Mary Ann
    November 1, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    Hatch won’t be up for reelection till 2018.

  5. Clark Goble
    November 1, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    I found a few insinuations that he wouldn’t run again. He’s already 82 so it wouldn’t be surprising if he didn’t run. Closest I could find in a story was this Politico one.

  6. November 1, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    Then he’ll take Hatch’s seat with ease.

    Jason Chaffetz would eat him alive. And Mia Love might be able to beat both of them.

  7. Clark Goble
    November 1, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    Mia Love, if she ran, would be a strong candidate. But the aftermath an recriminations after next week’s election will determine a lot of what happens.

  8. Clark Goble
    November 1, 2016 at 10:52 pm

    I should note there are reasons to doubt that rape charge against Trump. Also the trial is much less than it appears at first glance. Which is not to say we know what happened. Both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump had close ties with Epstein and frequented his island. Trump made disturbing comments at times about Epstein. But as with claims against Clinton things are a bit murkier than they appear at first glance.

  9. Jerry Schmidt
    November 2, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    My comment will address this particular topic, but in a kind of round-about way.

    I do not ever remember marriage being something that was specific to religion or the LDS church as I grew up, but rather as a societal and legal construct, something that assured two people could share things as well as life experience with each other. It is in this context that I support the extension of marriage to same-gender couples. I’m not sure I would really oppose polyandry by the same token. I consider marriage to be a kind of “free exercise” of personal feeling, not to be determined by the state or any particular religion except as a matter of property and child custody, as well as medical treatment and similar situations.

    In other words, two or more people should be able to engage in sharing a life without the state attempting to know things that happen in private, without even an assumption by the state of sexual behavior.

    Churches, on the other hand, can talk to their members about sexual behavior, can sanction some behaviors over others, and enforce, within church bounds respected by the state, such policy. In other words, churches like the LDS church can allow certain people who pass worthiness criteria to enter an LDS temple, engaged in the activities of the temple both for themselves and, by proxy, for others, and prohibit people who cannot pass the worthiness criteria from participating in the temple. At some point, a temple sealing was agreed upon by the state to be considered a legal marriage, even if it took place in the temple as opposed to a state facility, just as any other church had been granted similar authority in terms of conducting actual wedding services.

    Now, being single is a personal choice, but it is not as simple as that makes it sound. Getting another person to share life experience and property with you in such a binding manner as marriage is not easy, and certainly must be mutually agreed upon. Stemming from this then, if you are single, I have no business speculating what you are about being single. Your singleness is not an invitation to judge, nor to “set you up,” nor to think that you’re homosexual, etc. And if you are married, while personally having homosexual motivations, it is still none of my business, and any public speculation of anyone’s personal life in this manner is not merely gossip, but false witness.

    Straining at gnats and swallowing camels is unfortunately what a lot of LDS members seem to be doing, worrying excessively about other’s moats while ignoring their own beams. I would hate to think that LDS members would defend this behavior as some kind of “free exercise” of religion, or even as “free speech,” though I acknowledge that such speech is protected. People can and will state their opinions, hateful or note, valid or not, and to suppress this actively would present its own evil.

    I would hope that Trump would be seen for the threat that he is, ultimately pointing the US to a fascist point of view that has shown itself to be a horror. This election, as with any election, should not be about personal choices or lives. It should be about respect for others, respect for the civil liberties of others, and about a method of compromise that allows America to solve its problems in peaceful terms.

  10. Tim
    November 2, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    If, like Romney and many other Mormon thought leaders, you view Trump as a serious threat to our world and the antithesis of the values Mormons hold dear, then you should vote for either Clinton or McMullin. The decision should come down to which one has the greater chance of beating Trump (adjusting for fact that a Clinton victory hurts Trump twice as much as a McMullin victory). Utah’s electoral votes could very well be in play, and could very well make a difference.

    If you care mainly about symbolism — about showing the world that many Utah Mormon conservatives share neither Clinton’s politics nor Trump’s values — a McMullin vote is also a great way to convey that.

    But either way, his marital status is about as relevant as the color of the seats on the Titanic’s lifeboats. Let’s not be distracted by nonsense. This is a real election and it actually matters.

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