Utah relishes the national attention the competitive presidential election between Republican Donald Trump and independent Evan McMullin is giving the state, but do they understand the importance of their vote in preserving conservative principles?
Utah Republicans resoundly rejected Trump at the presidential preference vote last March, giving him last place with only 14 percent of the vote. This gave pause to conservatives around the nation drunk on Trump’s populism. Utah’s delegation fought valiantly during July’s GOP convention to change party rules to favor conservative candidates for future elections. Come Tuesday, Utah has the unique opportunity to voice our concern about Trump and his politics without helping Hillary.
Evan McMullin is the only third-party candidate in the country with a real chance of winning a state’s electoral votes. Hillary’s road to the White House does not pass through Utah, her strategy is to win without us. Therefore, if McMullin carries Utah it can only be interpreted as an unequivocal rejection of Trump and his politics. Utah’s unflinching stand against Trump this election will be critically important in defending conservative principles after the election.
The most common argument among conservatives in favor of Trump involves the Supreme Court. “This election isn’t about Donald Trump’s behavior from 11 years ago or Hillary Clinton’s recent missing emails, lies and false statements,” said evangelical pastor Franklin Graham earlier this month. “This election is about the Supreme Court and the justices that the next president will nominate.” Trump has released impressive lists of potential nominees that even include Utah’s own Sen. Mike Lee. This, however, has not persuaded Lee to support Trump even though he stands to personally benefit from a Trump victory this coming Tuesday.
A Trump presidency is about more than Sen. Lee, of course. He and others worry it would threaten the future of the Republican Party.
If Trump wins, wrote the Economist, the Republicans will have to make good on his promises of “protectionism, spending increases allied to tax cuts, hostility to foreigners and a retreat from decades of foreign policy.” The party would stray from conservative principles of limited government, morphing into the image of a nasty, egotistical billionaire. Trump prides himself on being a winner. If conservatives help elect him, however, they will never win again.
It matters not, however, whether Trump wins or loses Tuesday. After the election, a war will be waged for the soul of the Republican Party. Most Republicans hope Trump will go away quietly if he loses. But recent inside reporting published in Bloomberg Businessweek by Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg show Trump has been quietly building a political machine to change the Republican Party.
Trump’s campaign is rushing to “cultivate a universe of millions of fervent Trump supporters,” the article reports. “By Election Day, the campaign expects to have captured 12 million to 14 million e-mail addresses and contact information (including credit card numbers) for 2.5 million small-dollar donors, who together will have ponied up almost $275 million.” Many have speculated that losing the election will spur Trump to build a media empire focused on these new disenfranchised Republican voters who are more populist, “angry, active, and fiercely loyal to Trump.” I do not doubt the billionaire businessman is laying out such plans; however, it is more concerning to conservatives that even with an election loss he is planning to control the Republican Party.
“Trump is a builder,” said Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon. “And what he’s built is the underlying apparatus for a political movement that’s going to propel us to victory on Nov. 8th and dominate Republican politics after that.” Trump will have exclusive use of this political machine after the election because he used his own campaign funds to build it. “We knew how valuable this would be from the outset,” said Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s digital director. “We own the future of the Republican Party.”
The alarm bells should be screeching in your conservative mind right about now. The possibility of Trump marshaling his forces in the party after the election is an apocalyptic future for conservative principles, but he can be stopped. Do not forget that Trump won the GOP nomination, not with a majority but with a plurality. Up until the Indiana primary when he still had challengers, Trump only received roughly 36 percent of Republican support; most Republicans voted against him. It will not be easy for conservative Republicans to expel this cancer from the party when they themselves succumbed to it. They will need an uninfected leader.
Utah’s vote for independent Evan McMullin will place Utahns at the foremost position in opposing Trump. It will be Utah’s responsibility to defend conservative principles from Trump and his cohorts in the party. Not selling out to Trump in the end will give Utah credibility to lead conservative forces in rescuing the Republican Party from Trump’s cancer. Our rallying cry to other conservatives will not be diminished by a hypocritical Election Day vote for Trump but rather our voice will be amplified by our refusal to capitulate.
Some reluctant Republican Trump voters jokingly muse that they will hold their nose in the voting booth and happily walk away thinking their discomfort is over. Conservatives, however, know that voting for Trump will be akin to repeatedly dry heaving in response to the direction he will try to steer the party. Utahns must have a broader perspective about their role in this election and the importance of their leadership in the ensuing Republican civil war.
Joshua Lee is a resident of Pleasant Grove, Utah. He is currently a junior at Hillsdale College majoring in politics and minoring in journalism.