The problem with Utah

Why a GOP bulwark may be souring on Trump

Why Utah may be souring on Trump

Donald Trump’s scorched-earth path to the Republican nomination has alienated large swaths of conservative voters around the country. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Utah, which has become one of the epicenters of the anti-Trump movement.

Trump has never exactly been a beloved figure in Utah. But since a 2005 tape emerged last Friday featuring the GOP nominee boasting about sexually assaulting women, his standing in the state has diminished even further. A poll of likely Utah voters conducted by Y2 Analytics on Monday and Tuesday and released by the Deseret News has him tied with Hillary Clinton at 26 percent.

The poll shows a growing number of Utah voters turning to independent candidate — and Utah native — Evan McMullin, who is busy capitalizing on the widespread dislike of both major-party nominees. McMullin, who is also a Mormon, got 22 percent support, a statistical tie with Trump and Clinton. Among Mormon voters, he is leading with 33 percent, compared to Trump’s 28 percent.

But Utah is not a full-fledged swing state. It hasn’t voted for a Democratic candidate since it went for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Before the leaked tape came out, Trump had been steadily beating Clinton in all major polling aggregators with as much as a 45 percent average. The Y2 poll is the first and only one to be conducted since Trump’s abysmal last week. FiveThirtyEight still puts Trump’s odds of winning the state at just above 95 percent.

Nonetheless, McMullin’s campaign has been quick to seize on the Y2 poll. “Voters have just become exhausted by the trauma Donald Trump imposes on them all the time,” campaign manager Rick Wilson told VICE News. Utah voters are fundamentally conservative, he added, but perhaps more importantly, “Utah is nice” and voters are turned off by Trump’s blunt style and attitude.

Trump has caused Republicans anguish throughout the U.S. But in Utah, his disregard for political correctness and propensity for lewd language (or in Trump’s words, “locker-room talk”) strikes a particularly negative chord, Wilson said. The Mormon-dominated state is one of the most socially and politically conservative in the country. In 2012, Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by 50 points — the largest margin of victory he received in any state.

“We’re just hearing it every day that Trump has disqualified himself by being an indecent person,” Wilson said. “People don’t want him in their living room for four years.”

The fact that the Republican nominee hasn’t managed to gain even a slim polling majority is just another sign of how deeply he has split the GOP and upended the electoral map.

“We’re certainly seeing a different kind of motion in the overall Republican electorate nationally,” Wilson said. “But I think Utah may have been the lead dog in that equation.”

Since the lewd tape emerged, an avalanche of Republican leaders have declared they would not support the nominee. Utah Republicans led that defection, with prominent officials in the state making some of the harshest disavowals of Trump.

Utah’s governor, Gary Herbert, was one of the first Republicans to pull his support from Trump, calling his comments in the tape “beyond offensive and despicable.” Utah Representatives Jason Chaffetz and Mia Love and Sen. Mike Lee all followed suit shortly after by calling for Trump to step aside.

Perhaps the harshest words against Trump came from the editorial pages of the Deseret News. On Saturday, the paper, which is owned by the Church of the Latte-day Saints, published an editorial calling on Trump to drop out of the presidential race — marking the first time in 80 years that the outlet has weighed in on presidential politics.

“What oozes from this audio is evil,” the editors wrote.

“Trump’s banter belies a willingness to use and discard other human beings at will,” they continued. “That characteristic is the essence of a despot.”

Republican voters in Utah may not find much in common with the twice-divorced Manhattan reality-TV star who boasts about grabbing women’s genitals without their consent and is apparently OK with people calling his daughter “a piece of ass.” As New York Times polling expert Nate Cohn pointed out during primary season, the heavier the Mormon population was in a state, the worse Trump performed. He received just 14 percent of the vote in Utah’s caucus in March.

Mormons in Utah — which make up 60 percent of the state’s population — also take issue with Trump’s position on immigration. As BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins pointed out, the church’s compassionate stance on immigration is at odds with Trump’s hardline view on the issue. The Mormon church has spent years lobbying heavily for immigration reform that prioritizes the unification of families over deporting undocumented workers.

After Trump first proposed halting Muslim immigration to the U.S. last December, the church responded with a rare statement on a political race.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in regard to party politics and election campaigns,” they said. “However, it is not neutral in relation to religious freedom.”

In June, Sen. Mike Lee was asked in an interview why he hadn’t endorsed Trump. “He’s wildly unpopular in my state, in part because my state consists of people who are members of a religious-minority church,” the Mormon senator, one of the most vocal anti-Trump Republicans this year, explained. “[These are] a people who were ordered exterminated by the governor of Missouri in 1838. And statements like that make them nervous.”

Trump has even caused conservative radio and TV star Glenn Beck, who is also Mormon, to consider voting for Clinton — something he said was unthinkable a year ago. On Saturday, Beck posted a statement on Facebook saying voting for Clinton over Trump on Election Day is the “moral, ethical choice.”

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @oliviaLbecker

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