Why is my dad mad?
Is he constantly playing with online electoral map models and muttering, “It can’t go to the House, it can’t go the House,” under his breath?
Yeah, and he keeps carving “270” into his mashed potatoes.
Well, he’s probably upset about the upstart presidential campaign of Evan McMullin.
I have never heard of him. But now I’m hungry.
Now that I think about it, perhaps McMullin is benefiting from all-day-breakfast-menu name recognition. It would explain a lot.
Sorry! OK: The reason you haven’t heard of McMullin is that he only announced his candidacy in August.
He’s just another fringe candidate then? This doesn’t explain why my dad is mad.
He announced his candidacy in August ... and now some polls have him tied for first place in the state of Utah.
I don’t know whether I should be impressed with that or not. On the one hand: Whoa, a non-major party candidate might win a state in a presidential election?!
Right??? It hasn’t happened since 1968!
On the other hand ... Utah?
True, it’s not the highest degree of difficulty, population-wise (it’s just slightly larger than Chicago). Also, McMullin is from Utah, and he’s a Mormon who went to Brigham Young University — both assets in a very tight-knit and somewhat insular state. So he had some advantages going in.
And, obviously, a lot of people are interested in trying to find alternative candidates this year ... but how come this one caught on, and not one of the other candidates? Jill Stein and Gary Johnson actually have measurable national support, and (sort of) have actual campaigns.
Yet neither of them is polling above single digits in any state! McMullin’s success in Utah probably has to do with that Mormon connection. Mormons are usually reliably Republican voters, but they’ve turned out to be particularly averse to Donald Trump’s candidacy. Lots has been written about Trump’s “Mormon problem,” which is somewhat similar to what people thought would be his “evangelical problem”: How do you sell Trump to a group of people who are true social conservatives? People who are turned off by his womanizing, his profiting off gambling, his ostentatiousness and lack of piety?
That’s a great question. How do you do that?
Well, it turns out, for evangelicals, you use the prospect of multiple Supreme Court appointments to scare the shit out them. You tell them they’ll never get Roe v. Wade reversed if Clinton wins.
That’s it? They’ll forgive a fornicating, foul-mouthed, borderline sacrilegious bloviator who boasts about sexual assault because they think there’s a chance of reversing Roe? Didn’t Trump once say he was pro-choice?
Lol. Yes! What can I say? They are, after all, people of faith. In any case, 65 percent of self-described evangelicals now back Trump.
But Mormons are holding out?
In droves. In one poll, only 19 percent of Utah Mormons saw Trump favorably (there aren’t any national polls of Mormon voters).
What makes Mormons different?
Oh boy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (which is how Mormons refer to the religion themselves), the only major religion native to the United States, has a fascinating, bizarre, and often violent history, which has produced a culture so unique I can’t possibly explain it in full here. Though I highly recommend Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven if you’re curious.
Noted. What’s the short answer?
Well, Mormons are uniquely sensitive to the plight of those persecuted because of their religion, seeing as how they were hounded out of the United States themselves not too long ago.
Ah, so they see the kinds of things Trump has said about Muslims and think, That could be me.
Right. It’s weird how evangelical Christians don’t have the same thought process, since they’ve had their share of persecution as well ...
Persecution is the founding event of the whole religion!
It’s the difference between it happening over 2,000 years in the past and less than two centuries ago, I guess. Mormons are also more moderate than evangelicals on immigration in general, probably for similar reasons. And this is just my own hunch, but I think Mormons’ history of religious discrimination also makes them less susceptible to party-line voting. They’re not willing to compromise just because it seems like everyone else is, and they aren’t afraid of being governed by people they don’t agree with — that’s what they expect. So, “OMG OMG OMG HILLARY CLINTON!” just doesn't phase them.
I should add here that McMullin is also, objectively, an attractive choice for many conservatives who aren’t Mormon: He’s a former CIA operative who has worked as a Congressional staffer and investment banker. His platform is conservative with a libertarian bent. He himself is pro-life, as is his vice-presidential nominee, Mindy Finn.
Yes! She’s a well-known political consultant, very well-regarded by political insiders. They’re both under 45, too, which makes them feel fresh for younger conservatives. Even more to the point: They’re both articulate, thoughtful and — IMHO — decent people who make a strong moral, conservative argument against voting for Trump. McMullin has called Trump “bigoted, misogynistic, and xenophobic.” They have no illusions about being representative of a protest vote, but they’re giving millions of Americans a protest vote that is also one for someone they would genuinely like to see in office. Lots of Republicans have said they’re going to write in Ronald Reagan or some other placeholder. McMullin is a placeholder who at least is not dead.
I see how all of this would add up to McMullin doing well in Utah. But why is my dad mad? He’s not pro-Trump, I don’t think? Doesn’t McMullin winning Utah (or at least putting it in play) help Clinton win the electoral college?
Probably. But, like a lot of us, your dad is probably on edge about all the strange, unprecedented things happening in this election. And when a lot of unprecedented things happen, what seemed like equally far-fetched scenarios a few months ago ...
Such as a totally unknown independent candidate winning a solidly Republican state.
... start to seem probable as well. Like, say, Election Day ending with neither major-party candidate getting 270 electoral college votes. And McMullin winning Utah.
But one of them would have close to that, right? Utah only has (just a second ... googling ...) six electoral college votes. That’s not enough to be a spoiler!
Except the Constitution is super specific about this: You don’t get to be president without at least 270 electoral college votes. If no one gets there, then the election goes to the House of Representatives, where each state’s delegation would get two votes. In theory, that means Congress could then choose any of the candidates, including one who did not receive the majority of the popular vote — it would be wide open. And since Congress has a Republican majority ...
It could be Trump?
Or, in theory, McMullin! That is literally the only way he could win.
That just seems really unlikely.
Remember when Nate Silver said Trump didn’t have a chance to win the nomination?