Now that the third and final presidential debate is in the books, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will turn to television, Internet, and radio advertisements to sway remaining undecided voters. If the past two weeks are any indication, the final homestretch should be a brutal cage-fight death match for the ages, with each side hurling ugly truths, uglier half-truths, and completely untrue accusations until the final election results come rolling in.
While most in the media will be (understandably) fixated on the Trump-Clinton bloodbath, the most interesting and important race could end up occurring in the most unlikely of places, Utah, involving the most unlikely of candidates, Evan McMullin. McMullin is a former CIA officer who served as the chief policy director at the House Republican Conference and worked briefly for Goldman Sachs after attending the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Since announcing his candidacy in August, McMullin has been largely ignored by pundits, major media outlets, and the Republican establishment. McMullin can be fairly described as a traditional constitutionalist. He favors limited government; states’ rights; reforming entitlement programs; lower, fairer taxes; and a strong national defense.
McMullin’s emphasis on individual liberty and limiting the role of the national government would ordinarily make him an attractive candidate to the millions of conservative constitutionalists who remain skeptical of Trump’s many populist, big government policy positions. McMullin’s calm demeanor and tendency to present careful, reasonable answers to questions has also drawn the attention of many traditional conservatives who feel uncomfortable with Mr. Trump’s many controversial comments, especially in regards to women.
If Republicans were given the option today to choose between keeping Trump at the top of the ticket or replacing him with Mr. McMullin, I have no doubt a majority of the GOP, including those who favor the establishment, moderates, constitutionalists, Millennials, and evangelicals, would choose McMullin.
Unfortunately, that’s not an option, and for many conservatives, the election is a binary choice between Mrs. Clinton, a wholly unqualified, morally depraved, habitually lying, socialistic candidate and Mr. Trump, who could potentially provide conservatives with a few good Supreme Court justices and several positive policy improvements. For most Republicans, Trump offers some hope for the future, while Clinton offers none. Thus, many are choosing the “lesser of two evils.”
For the people of Utah, however, choosing any “evil” appears to be something many are unwilling to live with. According to a recent Emerson College survey,McMullin, who has steadily been gaining support in the state since announcing his run for office, now leads both Trump and Clinton at 31 percent. Trump is polling at 27 percent and Clinton is down to 24 percent. The Emerson college poll marks the first time in the race McMullin has led in any state.
Utah, despite its strong Republican voting record, is a bad fit for Mr. Trump. By virtually all measures, it’s one of the most religious and socially conservative states in the nation, but unlike in many parts of the South, where Trump is doing quite well, Utah is composed primarily of Mormons. Mormons, as a matter of religious conviction, believe the Constitution, in its originally understood form, is a divinely inspired document, making Trump’s brand of anti-constitutional populism unattractive. Further, the general culture of the state (extreme politeness and an emphasis on self-sacrifice) is totally at odds with what Mr. Trump has said and done over the course of his life and since declaring his candidacy more than one year ago.
Many prominent Mormon figures have also come out in opposition to Trump, including popular radio talk show host and conservative media mogul Glenn Beck and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who won Utah by an astounding 48 percentage points.
McMullin, a native of Provo, Utah and graduate of Utah-based Brigham Young University, has been able to gain significant ground in Utah, in part, because Trump and Clinton have paid very little attention to the voters there. Republican presidential candidates have won Utah in every election since 1964, and support for Democrats in the state has not been growing in recent decades, making a loss in Utah particularly difficult for the Trump campaign to endure.
In order for Trump to win, he needs to win a significant number of “toss-up” states, a category that includes Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, among others. If Trump loses in Utah, his chances of victory go from “unlikely” to “nearly impossible.” Even if he manages to win Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Ohio, Trump would still fall short of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to capture the White House if he loses in Utah. This would mean Trump would also have to win either Pennsylvania, Virginia, or some other state he is currently polling very poorly in to get to 270 electoral votes.
Making matters even worse, Trump likely can’t afford to spend substantial resources in Utah in the days leading up to the election, allowing McMullin to continue to seize this very unique and potentially historic opportunity.