Utah Rejects Donald Trump’s Advances, as Evan McMullin Emerges as the Conservative Alternative
Utah’s Mormon majority has never taken kindly to Donald Trump’s bombastic style, and an insurgent independent candidate appears poised to take his place as the state’s chosen candidate.
Donald Trump’s misogyny has sent him—and the Republican Party—to unfathomable depths of unpopularity. And nowhere is it more pronounced than the state of Utah, which has voted Republican for over 50 years.
Both Clinton and Trump are running behind their party’s traditional support in the state, and in a remarkable turn of events, former Congressional aide and CIA operative Evan McMullin is mounting a credible, independent challenge to beat them both in the state.
Clinton and Trump both received 26 percent support in Utah, while independent candidate Evan McMullin moved into a statistical tie, with 22 percent, according to Salt Lake City polling firm Y2 Analytics. The survey was taken after news of a leaked tape showing Trump bragging about sexual assault.
“People in Utah are really conflicted because they believe that Trump is bad, but Hillary is worse. And there is also righteous indignation that [Republicans] have been aligned with such a terrible person,” said an aide for a Republican member of Congress from Utah.
For comparison, in 2008 Sen. John McCain beat Barack Obama in the state, 62 percent to 35 percent. Romney, a popular Mormon presidential candidate, beat Obama here, 73 percent to 25 percent. The state hasn’t supported a non-Republican for president since 1964.
“Both Trump and Clinton are under-performing historical trends here,” said a source working on a Republican campaign in the state. “We were definitely surprised by the poll results… This is a wide-open race.”
Trump has acknowledged his unpopularity there, telling a Florida audience in August that he was having a “tremendous problem in Utah.” Even among Republicans, he is deeply disliked: 86 percent voted for Ted Cruz or John Kasich in the March GOP caucuses.
That McMullin, who has no traditional base or party apparatus to rely on, has been able to tie Clinton and Trump in the polls is a testament to just how much voters in the state, dominated by socially conservative Mormons, are shunning both parties.
McMullin strategist Rick Wilson believes that the McMullin campaign has nowhere to go but up, estimating that seven to eight percentage points of Clinton’s support is from disgusted Republicans who don’t think they have other options.
Trump is “dressing himself up in a suicide vest in this campaign,” Wilson quipped.
“It comes down to the idea that both Clinton and Trump are embarrassingly bad as candidates. Trump is so over the top crazy, so crude and vulgarian; and the folks that are flocking to us are conservatives that feel that there’s nowhere else to turn to in this campaign,” Wilson said. “In Utah you’re seeing that a lot of the [congressional] delegation is saying, ‘enough—I’m not going to be playing this game anymore.’”
Many Republicans in the Utah Congressional delegation have disavowed Trump—and some have never endorsed.
“It’s just [Trump’s] style—in Utah, generally what is regarded as the proper style for politicians is that they should be thoughtful, kind and generous, attentive—even if you’re very conservative,” said Matthew Burbank, a politics professor at the University of Utah. Voters in Utah are also repulsed, he said, by “Trump’s backstory: the multiple marriages, the womanizing—and this tape just fits into that.”
Sen. Mike Lee stood against Trump during the Republican convention and tried to prevent him nomination, while lawmakers like Reps. Mia Love and Jason Chaffetz said they could no longer support Trump after the leaked tape. GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch, meanwhile, continues to support the nominee.
Moving forward, whether Utah’s GOP congressional delegation endorses McMullin or takes no action at all will be a joint decision, said a source working on a Republican campaign in Utah, who added that discussions on how to proceed were ongoing.
But it’s not only the congressional delegation that has qualms with Trump: the state’s governor, Gary Herbert, said he would support neither Clinton nor Trump, describing the leaked tape comments as “despicable.” Jon Huntsman, a former governor and GOP presidential candidate, went even further by calling on Trump to drop out of the race.
Utah’s Mormon population, which makes up approximately 60 percent of the state, will have significant sway over what happens next. Deseret News, a news outlet owned by the Mormon church, recently put out an editorial calling upon Trump to resign.
“We are neutral on matters of partisan politics. We do, however, feel a duty to speak clearly on issues that affect the well-being and morals of the nation,” the editorial board wrote. “Considering his conduct and comportment, we do not believe Trump holds the ideals and values of this community or this paper.”
The Mormon community has long been alienated by Trump’s politics—in particular when the politician called for banning all Muslims from the United States, a ban which for them brought flashbacks of when Mormons were persecuted as a group for their religion.
It was the same sentiment that led a dying Mormon politician from Utah to renounce Trump from his deathbed back in May.
“Are there any Muslims in the hospital?” former Sen. Bob Bennett asked, as he was passing away from pancreatic cancer. “I’d love to go up to every single one of them to thank them for being in this country, and apologize to them on behalf of the Republican Party for Donald Trump.”