Just following up on Ed’s post from earlier this morning. If you were hunting around for an independent conservative to do maximum damage to Trump and you were stuck choosing among unknown people, you’d be crazy not to choose a Mormon candidate. Mormons are the most reliably anti-Trump conservative demographic in America. Two of the most outspoken anti-Trump politicians in the GOP, Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, are Mormon. Importantly, Mormons dominate a state, Utah, on which the GOP depends for six easy electoral votes and they’re a significant minority in two others, Arizona and Nevada, that are in play this year. (Although the ballot deadline in Nevada has already passed.) McMullin’s Utah pedigree is impeccable: He was born in Provo, attended BYU, and is a member of the LDS church. The problem in launching any independent candidacy, especially this soon before the election, is getting voters to pay attention to him. McMullin comes with a biographical hook to put him on the radar in Utah right away — especially if he can get Romney and Lee to say some nice things about him publicly.
Team Evan would say, I’m sure, that their goal is to see him elected president, but realistically it’s to put Utah out of Trump’s reach, either by McMullin shocking everyone and winning the state outright (highly unlikely) or peeling off enough socially conservative Mormon votes from Trump to let Hillary squeak through with a win (mildly unlikely). What sort of numbers would McMullin need to put up to make a difference? Well, here’s new data on the state from Dan Jones & Associates:
It’s unusual to see a vote for “other” that large in a four-way race, especially with Johnson pulling 16 percent of the vote. I haven’t checked systematically but that may well be his largest vote share in any state. Johnson has a major problem, though: He’s pro-choice, which is sure to make some socially conservative Mormon voters blanch no matter how anti-Trump they are. The thinking behind McMullin’s candidacy, I assume, is that if he camps out in Utah, makes a big deal of being socially conservative, and can convince Romney and/or Lee to campaign with him, he can build on that “other” vote and maybe crack 20 percent. If he does, Team Clinton might decide that Utah is in play and that they should commit resources to Democratic turnout there. (A poll in June had her trailing Trump by just three points(!), 29/26.) If Hillary’s ground game is clicking and McMullin siphons off a chunk of Trump’s pro-life Republican voters, you can sort of imagine a Clinton 35, Trump 30, McMullin 22, Johnson 10 outcome.
How bad could that be for Trump? Bad enough that he could win Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, the trifecta he’s banking on for national victory, and … still lose the election narrowly to Hillary:
That thing where Evan McMullin could cost Trump the presidency by helping flip Utah. pic.twitter.com/B1aftnZINz
— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) August 8, 2016
Explain something to me, though. How many pro-life anti-Trumpers can there be in Utah who are planning to vote for Trump reluctantly anyway? That is to say, what makes anyone think McMullin will pull more votes from Trump than he will from Johnson, who’s currently hoarding the #NeverTrump vote among Republicans there? If you’re committed to Trump right now because he’d be better on abortion than Hillary would, it’s a strange logic that would compel you to switch to McMullin knowing that that increases the likelihood that Hillary Clinton will be filling Supreme Court vacancies for the next four years. Logically, if abortion is a litmus test for you, you would switch your vote from Trump to some other candidate only if you’re convinced that Trump would be so dangerous as president that his deficiencies overwhelm even the pro-life benefits of seeing him elected. If you’ve already been convinced of that then you’ve already abandoned Trump; there’s no need for a new candidate like McMullin to persuade you. If you haven’t been convinced of that, there’s no reason to think McMullin will make the case. So what’s the point of all this?
If anything, sending McMullin into the fray in Utah with backing from some conservative donors and strategists risks handing Trumpers a convenient scapegoat for Trump’s defeat. It’s a longshot, but if the map Noah imagines turns out to be accurate it would likely mean a GOP schism for years to come, with Trumpers able to say that an establishment-backed stalking horse for Clinton handed the election to the left. Even if Utah’s votes don’t prove decisive, McMullin’s candidacy will still be cited, however unpersuasively, as a glaring example of elements of Trump’s own party working against him knowing that Democrats would benefit. Instead of recruiting McMullin, the smarter play for anti-Trump donors would have been to switch affiliations, even temporarily, and work for either Johnson or the Constitution Party candidate there, who’s pro-life. Oh well.
If you’re wondering what McMullin might be like on the stump, here he is giving a TED talk on genocide in late May of this year.