Poor Donald Trump. Even Utah, which has voted for Republican presidential candidates with metronomic regularity since 1964 and which I’m visiting for a few days, looks like it’s about to turn its back on the New York tycoon. There are no ‘Make America Great’ or Trump signs in Salt Lake City, the citadel of the Mormon religion. Nor is there any fervour for Trump to be discerned in neighbouring towns like Provo. On the contrary, former Republican candidate Mitt Romney made plain his revulsion for the libertine Trump months ago. It had a real effect. Many Mormons are looking elsewhere than Trump.
The winner of Utah’s electoral votes may thus turn out to be neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton but Evan McMullin. His credentials? A devout Mormon who grew up in Provo, he served as a covert operative in the CIA and circulated in Washington conservative circles, working on Capitol Hill as a foreign policy aide and chief policy director of the House Republican Conference. Armed with these glittering credentials, McMullin, channeling Jimmy Carter’s slogan of a few decades ago, decided: Why not the best? He’s on the ballot in eleven states but it is in Utah where the locals truly seem to view him as presidential timber. A new Emerson poll has him leading Trump by four points, 31-27. A fresh face, he says he seeks a revived conservatism shorn of Trump’s atrabilious language. McMullin’s aspiration is to win enough electoral votes to prevent either Clinton or Trump from securing the requisite 270 to become commander in chief. Thanks to Trump’s fecklessness it will never happen. Clinton is on her way to winning as many as 400.
But the McMullin contretemps does suggest the degree of rot in the GOP. Trump had a real opportunity to force an agonising reappraisal of foreign and domestic policy in the GOP. Instead, he thrashed around wildly, championing unprecedented levels of military spending one day, then playing kissy face with Vladimir Putin the next. A rogue male if there ever was one, he has plunged the GOP into an intellectual and moral abyss. Whether Republicans can climb out of it after the election is an open question. Unless, of course, Hillary Clinton is a disaster as president. But counting on that seems like a stretch. The steely Clinton that appeared in all three debates with Trump seems likely to prove a tougher customer than many in the GOP reckoned. The irony of Trump’s candidacy may be that he helped secure a new era of liberal dominance. Which is why one canny businessman in Utah confided to me last night, ‘Hillary and Trump must have struck a deal for him to get her elected. In this election year nothing is too strange.’