The Republican’s Woes in Utah Reveal a Wider Problem
SALT LAKE CITY –– Utah is widely considered to be the reddest state in the country.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ fortress-like world headquarters lies just a few blocks away from the state capitol and looms large over the Beehive State’s staunch socially and economically conservative politics. All six members of the congressional delegation are Republicans, as is the governor and all other statewide elected officials. Only one member of that cadre is female.
In 2012, Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, defeated President Obama here by a crushing 48-point margin. The state map was a solid block of red, with 29 out of 29 counties voting Republican. This wasn’t an aberration. While Romney overperformed John McCain’s 28-point margin in 2008, his victory was on par with President George W. Bush’s 46-point thumping of John Kerry in 2004.
But there have been warning signs that this GOP paradise isn’t a lock for Donald Trump this year. The two best polls for the Republican nominee, both taken over a month ago, had shown him up 15 points over Hillary Clinton.
When I visited the Utah capitol building last week, Trump was the subject of several conversations –– and none of them positive. Utahns were aghast that he was their party’s standard-bearer, especially after Romney, who is still wildly popular there.
Trump is the embodiment of secular hedonism, replete with five children by three different wives and a potty mouth that matches that of shock jock Howard Stern during his frequent interviews.
Adding fuel to the fire was the recently unearthed “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged he could “grab ‘em by the pussy” because “you can do anything” to women when you’re a star. It’s not a coincidence that Utah Republicans –– Gov. Gary Herbert, former Gov. Jon Huntsman and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz –– led the ensuing defection stampede.
There was more anecdotal evidence during my trip that Trump was in trouble in Utah. Evan McMullin, a Republican veteran who’s launched a #NeverTrump presidential bid, did a rousing town hall in Provo on Oct. 5.
Traveling through 12 counties, I saw as many Trump lawn signs as I did Clinton signs –– one. There were no Trump billboards. More significantly, I did see Clinton’s powerful “Silo” ad on TV, which features images of nuclear weapons against the backdrop of Trump quotes like, “I love war” and “I would bomb the shit out of ‘em” (the obscenity was bleeped out, of course).
So I wasn’t terribly surprised to see this week’s blockbuster Y2 Analytics poll showing Clinton and Trump tied at 26 percent, McMullin at 22 percent and Libertarian Gary Johnson at 14 percent.
While Trump is still expected to ultimately triumph in Utah on Nov. 8, there’s a clear fault line within the Republican Party with Mormon voters and officeholders. When taken with Trump’s alienation of Latino, African-American, female and college-educated voters, it’s clear that Trump’s appeal is dangerously limited.
It’s interesting that evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. and religious-right politicians like Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson have vehemently defended Trump over his comments. It’s also striking how many conservatives like U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, who’s a lawyer, have refused to characterize Trump’s comments as sexual assault (after the firestorm, Sessions sniffed that his response had been “mischaracterized”).
But some female evangelical leaders have had enough and split with Trump, like Beth Moore, who declared, “I’m one among many women sexually abused, misused, stared down, heckled, talked naughty to. Like we liked it. We didn’t. We’re tired of it.”
It will be interesting how values voters respond in Michigan, especially women. This summer, Clinton edged out Trump in West Michigan, a nationally recognized religious-right stronghold. The latest Detroit News/Glengariff poll (taken last month before the tape and both debates) shows Trump back up to an 18-point lead there, but Johnson was pulling in an unheard-of 21 percent.
Trump’s solid angry white male voting block in northern Michigan and Macomb County already isn’t enough to carry him to victory here. And his stream of degrading comments about women, continued insistence that the four African-American and one Latino teens known as the “Central Park Five” are guilty despite DNA evidence, and alpha-male stalking of Clinton in the Oct. 9 town hall debate won’t help him expand his base.
If religious female voters bolt from Trump the way Mormon voters are in Utah, that could be the difference between a solid Clinton victory in Michigan on Nov. 8 and an Obama ‘08-style blowout.
Moreover, it might mean that putting the GOP coalition back together post-Hurricane Trump may prove more challenging than Republicans think.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.