Why a deep-red state is turning against the GOP

Evan McMullin UtahGeorge Frey/Getty ImagesU.S. independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin talks to supporters at the Brick House Cafe on November 5, 2016 in Cedar City, Utah.

UTAH — Voters across the reliably red state of Utah have lost faith in the Republican Party.

And while Donald Trump might have been the final straw, for some, the disillusion with the Grand Old Party first started years ago.

“[President George W.] Bush and the Senate and the House of Representatives all had control for six years,” Barry Richardson, 36, said after a town hall for independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin in Brigham City, Utah on Friday.

“And they didn’t do anything to reform. The Medicaid thing that Bush put in place was one of the largest increases in entitlements. And he did no other reforms. He didn’t do anything to help control costs on the [Iraq] war, he went into the war under false pretenses.”

Lynn Adair, a 63-year-old who works in advertising sales, said she sees too much corruption in the Republican Party.

“I’m not happy with [the Republican Party]. Not at all,” she said after a McMullin meet and greet in Nephi, Utah on Saturday. “I’m more about individualism.”

Republicans are “just as corrupt as the Democrats,” she said.

She continued: “I don’t trust any of them.”

Business Insider crisscrossed Utah with McMullin’s campaign over the weekend and found dozens of conservative voters who are severing ties with the party that has been their political home their whole lives.

McMullin, a Mormon conservative from Provo, Utah, says he is building a “new conservative movement” that will serve as a refuge for disaffected Republicans fleeing from the party that’s crumbling under the weight of Trump’s candidacy and all the divisive rhetoric the billionaire businessman has brought with him.

A significant proportion of the electorate in Utah have balked at Trump, who doesn’t quite embody the family values that are so important in the deeply religious and conservative state.

“I’ve been Republican my whole life, but Trump doesn’t work for me at all,” Charles Greatwood, a 60-year-old engineer, said after the McMullin town hall in Brigham City. “Of course Democrats never work for me. And I wasn’t going to vote for Trump just because he was the lesser of two evils, I’m done with that. Especially when I heard his tape.”

McMullin’s campaign got off to a slow start, but then the Access Hollywood tape leaked. Trump was heard on the 2005 recording making lewd comments about women and bragging about how his celebrity status allowed him to grope them.

“It was, I was kind of a weak Trump supporter until I heard that Billy Bush hot mic and then I said, ‘I’m done with Trump and I’m done with the Republican Party,” Greatwood said. “So I saw Evan McMullin, and he was just right, he was just what I was looking for.”

Greatwood’s wife Nan said she was “in a state of shock” over Trump winning the Republican presidential nomination. She cited his controversial comments about women, the military, and disabled people. On the campaign trail, Trump has often called the military a “disaster” and once mocked a reporter with a disability.

“I have a disabled son, and we have a son in the military and I’m a survivor of sexual abuse,” Nan, a 53-year-old small business owner, said. “And none of those things worked for me, so it was like ‘OK, I see through him.'”

Republican presidential candidates have won Utah in every election since 1964, when the state voted for Democratic candidate and later President Lyndon B. Johnson.

But this election might break that streak. Utah has turned into a battleground state as McMullin has made inroads with disillusioned Republicans.

One poll in mid-October showed McMullin taking the lead over both Trump and Clinton in the Beehive State. And on the eve of Election Day, the “Never Trump” candidate was at 25% in the RealClearPolitics average.

But it’s not just Trump — Utah voters said they’re also disappointed with Republican leadership for not doing more to stand up to Trump.

“When he’s proposing all of these things, no one stood up to say ‘no,'” Nan Greatwood said in reference to some of Trump’s more controversial comments. “I mean, if it would have been a Democrat doing it, they would have been glad to stand up to him. And they didn’t have the guts to tell [Trump].”

Shirley Case, 72, is a lifelong Republican who said she’s discouraged and frustrated by what the party has turned into.

“I remember when I was younger I used to try and vote for the candidate who I felt like was somebody of character,” Case said after an event at a restaurant in Ephraim, Utah.

Her disappointment in Republican presidential candidates runs back to the 1980s.

“It amazes me; I have felt like our voting system has been fixed for a long time,” she said, adding, “When [Bob] Dole was running, I thought, ‘All of these people, and Dole, I don’t understand how that happens.’ And the same way with McCain, I thought ‘All of these people for us to choose from in a primary, and we get McCain?'”

Some Utah voters were even hesitant about Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee. Romney is a Mormon who earned his undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University in Utah.

“I voted for Mitt last time, and I even had my issues with Mitt,” said Lee Demille, a 30-year-old who works at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints temple in Provo. “And he’s LDS. … I don’t think he talked the same principle, liberty-based points as Evan McMullin has.”

The election is such a hot-button subject in Utah that Demille said it has driven a wedge between himself and his family.

“I’m not going to Thanksgiving dinner because of it,” he said. “My parents, my whole entire family is Trump supporters. We are not on speaking terms right now.”

McMullin has marketed himself as a true conservative, unlike Trump.

He supports small government, respects capitalism, is pro-life, emphasises the need for entitlement reform, and wants to repeal and replace Obamacare. His speeches are often tinged with rhetoric about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and respecting the Constitution.

“I like him because he’s conservative,” Case said of McMullin. “There’s a moral-ness about him, and I feel like Washington is just mired in corruption and it doesn’t seem like anymore like we the people have much say.”

Gayle Crofts, a 58-year-old homemaker, said after a McMullin meet and greet in Richfield, Utah that she’s officially leaving the Republican Party after the election.

“I am unaffiliating myself as soon as I vote,” she said. “These are not my values anymore. I go to caucuses, I’ve even been a delegate, and I feel like it stands for things I believe in, but as far as how they act, I don’t think the Republicans and Democrats are that far apart in how they act.”

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