Sen. Orrin Hatch has denied his Republican presidential campaign is motivated by a longing to fulfill an obscure Mormon myth. But during an interview with a Mormon Church-owned radio station this week, he borrowed the exact phrasing of the apocalyptic belief.
According to the so-called "White Horse Prophecy," the U.S. Constitution will be hanging by a thread and a church elder from Zion will ride in on a metaphorical white horse and save it.
Utah's senior senator, in a 45-minute interview Tuesday on KSL Radio's "The Doug Wright Show," complained that Democrats' political correctness will be the ruin of the country.
"They tolerate everything that's bad, and they're intolerant of everything that's good. Religious freedom is going to go down the drain, too," Hatch said. "I've never seen it worse than this, where the Constitution literally is hanging by a thread."
Hatch, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, repeated his belief that the main issue in the 2000 election is who will get to pick the next several Supreme Court justices and half the nation's federal judges, and that he is the only presidential contender qualified to make the selections. "I'd like to be in the position of being president so we can get the best judges, bar none," he told KSL from Washington. "Because it's been the judiciary that has saved this country and the Constitution year after year."
Hatch is a member of Utah's dominant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. KSL Radio is an LDS Church-owned station that caters to a largely conservative church audience in GOP-controlled Utah.
Wright, also a Mormon, said Hatch clearly was "talking to his folks" in the church audience and his use of the phrase was the buzz of the station afterward.
"It just caught me by surprise. It was worded carefully," Wright said Wednesday. "I'm not sure he saw himself as the one who would fulfill the prophecy, but I thought it walked a fine line. It's such a well-recognized phrase."
Asked to clarify his remarks, Hatch would not respond. His spokeswoman, Heather Barney, said the senator's use of a common phrase "doesn't mean he spends one iota of time" thinking about the Mormon belief-or that it influences him in any way.
"Just because he chose these words that anybody would say when talking about the Constitution-it would be inaccurate to interpret what he said in that way," she said Wednesday.
The 19th-century LDS "prophecy" derives from a statement by LDS Church founder Joseph Smith that Mormons would be "the staff upon which the nation shall lean" when the Constitution "is on the brink of ruin." Smith first spoke of Mormons saving the nation in 1840, four years before he unsuccessfully ran for president.
The church has since tried to clarify the statement to The Salt Lake Tribune. It acknowledges Smith's teachings have been interpreted by others who used terms such as "hang by a brittle thread" or "by a single hair." Yet the church now says it views all church members as representing the white horse that will rescue constitutional government.
Hatch's use of the phrase raises the question of "whether he's speaking to the brethren or for the brethren," said Jan Shipps, professor emeritus of history and religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.
"His use of it might indicate a belief that God called him to run," she said. "But all it indicates for certain is that, in his understanding, the Constitution is threatened."
In July, Hatch called The Tribune to deny talk among GOP political insiders that he may have felt divinely inspired to seek the presidency. "If I had a revelation, I'd tell you," he said at the time. "I've never spoken to God."
Radio listeners who heard Hatch use the prophetic phrase contacted The Tribune, which obtained a tape-recording of the show. "I just thought it was odd he actually believes this," said Bryan Larsen, a freelance writer in Murray. "I've lived in Utah all my life so I'm aware of the prophecy . . . That must be why he's running."
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