This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Donald J. Trump's "tremendous problem" with Utah's voters, particularly Mormons, never went away, but that didn't stop him from claiming the state's six electoral votes, and the presidency.
According to unofficial returns early Wednesday, Trump had 47 percent of the vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton's 28 percent and independent Evan McMullin's 20 percent.
While Democrats seemed satisfied, if not always enthused, to back Clinton, many Utah Republicans anguished over their choice, splitting between Trump and McMullin.
"McMullin had his moment," said Jason Perry, the director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics. "In the end it came down to who they know and largely to their party. It shows there are issues bigger than their concerns for Donald Trump."
Attendees at the Utah Republican gathering were jubilant as their nominee picked up Florida, Ohio and North Carolina and eventually surpassed the 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who was re-elected Tuesday, said in his speech: "You might want to start practicing calling him President Trump." The crowd of Utah Republicans broke into a brief chant of "Lock her up."
And Sen. Orrin Hatch said of Trump: "He says he's going to drain the swamp. I hope he gets the chance to ... With Donald Trump as president we can turn this stinking thing around."
Gov. Gary Herbert, who had said earlier he would not vote for Trump, said he knew all along that Trump would win Utah and the presidential race would be closer than pundits predicted, but he would not say whom he voted for.
"The good thing about America is we have the right to vote and we have the right to have it private, and that's all I want to say," Herbert said. "I think Mr. Trump, whatever his shortcomings, maybe has tapped into some frustration that nothing seems to happen in Washington, D.C. ... The bull in the china shop really is Donald Trump."
Utahns at the party for Democrats were in disbelief.
"I feel like we're burning down the house and we're all sitting in the fire," said Peter Corroon, chairman of the Utah Democrats. "I think this election is a moral test for our nation and for our state and I'm not sure if we're going to pass the test."
Brittany Escalante, of Cottonwood Heights, felt resigned: "As an American citizen, in our democracy, I will support the president. But it will take some getting used to and I won't necessarily be happy about it."
McMullin said Trump wins means "the Republican Party can no longer be considered a home for conservatives." The independent, who has previously called Trump a racist and misogynist, warned that some now legitimately worry that a Trump administration would challenge individual liberties of people.
"We are all human beings created equal," he said at his election night gathering in Salt Lake City.
The exit poll results indicate a majority of Utahns didn't back Trump.
Mormon voters often expressed their disapproval with Trump's personal life, focusing on his infidelity and multiple marriages, and his policy positions, namely his hard-line immigration stance and his plan for temporarily blocking Muslims from entering the country.
Even then, Trump maintained a steady lead in the state throughout the summer. Utah didn't emerge as a swing state until early October, when The Washington Post published the "Access Hollywood" video and Utahns, including Gov. Gary Herbert, Rep. Jason Chaffetz and former Gov. Jon Huntsman, were on the vanguard of condemning Trump for bragging that he could kiss and grope women without their consent because he was a celebrity.
Before that, McMullin and Libertarian Gary Johnson were hovering in the teens in polls. But that lewd video gave Utah conservatives a reason to reassess and a sizable group migrated to McMullin's column.
An unknown on the national stage, McMullin was a Republican congressional aide when he resigned to run for president in August. He's a Mormon born in Provo who spent 11 years in the CIA as an undercover operative and then a few years with Goldman Sachs.
He saw Trump as an authoritarian who had to be stopped and he criticized Clinton as corrupt and unfit for office. His only path to the presidency required him winning at least one state and Utah was his only realistic chance, though he's on the ballot in 10 other states. After that, he needed Clinton and Trump to split the remaining Electoral College votes, neither getting the 270 needed to claim the presidency. If that unlikely scenario happened, the U.S. House of Representative would pick the president from candidates who won some electoral votes. Each state would get one vote and Republican delegations control more states than Democratic delegations.
As the campaign progressed, McMullin focused increasingly on Utah and his election eve rally took place in Provo, where he said even if he lost, he wanted to galvanize his support to create a new conservative movement and possibly a new conservative political party.
"The stronger showing we have here in Utah and across the country, it will send a message to Washington, D.C., that it will not be able to ignore," he said.
Republican officials in Utah heard McMullin's message, saw his growing strength and responded.
The Trump campaign sent Mike Pence, the vice presidential nominee, to hold a quick rally in Salt Lake City on Oct. 26, urging Republicans to "come home."
"The truth of the matter is there are only two names on the ballot who have a chance to be president of the United States," he said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch and Reps. Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart headlined a subsequent rally at the state Capitol to drive home the point. In the past few weeks, McMullin's momentum stalled and as national polls tightened, some Republicans flipped their support back to Trump.
Still, Trump's support in Utah is abysmal compared to past Republican nominees. Mitt Romney, a Mormon and a beloved figure in the state, got 73 percent of the vote in 2012. Sen. John McCain claimed 62 percent.
Perhaps the saving grace for Trump was that, as much as Utahns disliked him, Clinton was even more repulsive. Seventy percent had an unfavorable opinion of Trump, according to recent polling, but 75 percent disliked Clinton.
"This has been an amazingly divisive election," said Perry, from the Hinckley Institute. "These are candidates that voters are not taking pride in."
Robert Gehrke, Courtney Tanner and Zoe Woolf McGinn contributed to this report.