Where Hillary Clinton is the Spoiler Candidate
Utah lets third-party fans throw an argument back in the Democrats' faces.
This weekend Donald Trump denounced Evan McMullin, an independent conservative candidate who's been polling well in Utah. After declaring that McMullin had gathered his overwhelmingly Mormon support by "going from coffee shop to coffee shop" (fact check: Mormons don't drink coffee), Trump declared that "if for some reason we lose Utah, that could have a very devastating impact" on his campaign.
That it could. Trump's been struggling in several swing states; the last thing he needs is to lose a place that's usually the most reliably Republican state around. And FiveThirtyEight currently gives McMullin a better shot at denying him Utah than Hillary Clinton has. He leads her in most of the state's recent polls, and he arguably has a better chance of picking up supporters from her column than vice versa. From the Clintonites' point of view, it would of course be ideal for the Democrat to claim the state's six electors. But if that's not possible, your average Dem would surely rather see McMullin collect them; at least that way they won't help Trump get the 270 electoral votes required to win.
So if you're a Democrat in Utah, who gets your vote? The fellow with a shot at blocking Trump? Or Clinton, the spoiler candidate?
Now if that Democrat asked for my advice, I'd tell him to vote for the person who's closest to his views. But I'm a guy who usually votes third-party. Every four years, I get an earful about how terrible this is, how I'm a foolish idealist who needs to stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. (For the record: I don't think any of the candidates I voted for were perfect, and I don't think any of their major-party opponents were good.)
Well, now the shoe's on the other foot. If you're a Utah Democrat who has ever sneered that Libertarians and Greens vote immaturely—if you seriously believe that the grown-up thing to do is to hold your nose and cast your ballot for the lesser evil—then you'll have to think hard about how exactly their actions are different from voting for Hillary Clinton. If there's a serious movement from Utah's Democrats toward McMullin, he'll carry the state. If they stick with Clinton, Trump's chances of getting those six electoral votes are a lot higher.
It's no skin off my nose; I prefer Gary Johnson anyway. But I'll still take a little pleasure in being able to tell a Democrat, "Oh. So you're throwing your vote away."