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14 October 2016

What will anti-Trump Republicans do for the rest of the US election?

From backing “Stop Trump” candidate Evan McMullin to ignoring the presidential race entirely, how Republicans who oppose Donald Trump are tackling the vote.

By jonathan Jones

The now-famous video of Donald Trump boasting about grabbing women “by the pussy” hasn’t just cost him votes – it’s also cost him support from his fellow Republican politicians.

Even some of those who were happy to back him as he described Mexican immigrants as “rapists”, accused debate moderator Megyn Kelly of having “blood coming out of her wherever”, and called for a “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” have decided that boasting about sexual assault is a step too far.

Since the Washington Post released the video, 40 Republican Governors, Senators and Representatives have declared that they won’t support Trump, adding to the 19 who had already done so (according to Daniel Nichanian’s count).

Among those rescinding their previous endorsements of Trump was John McCain, the Republican candidate for President eight years ago, while 2012 nominee Mitt Romney had already stated that he couldn’t vote for Trump and former President George HW Bush has reportedly said he’ll vote for Hillary Clinton instead.

Apart from Bush, however, most of these anti-Trump Republicans are stopping short of voting for the one person who can prevent him from becoming President. To them, Clinton is guilty of being a female Democrat who used a personal email account, which in their view is apparently as bad as being a racist, misogynist sex-pest with no grasp of policy issues.

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So what will they do?

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Talk of replacing Trump on the ballot with another Republican began almost as soon as he was nominated, and got louder after the tape was released last Friday.

But in reality, it’s not going to happen. Even if Republican leaders were willing to overturn the result of their primaries, risking the wrath of Trump’s supporters and a legal challenge from the notoriously litigious Trump, it’s simply too late.

The deadlines for parties to finalise the names of their presidential candidates have already passed in a number of states, including Texas, Florida, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri. The Republican party could not get the name of a replacement nominee onto the ballot in any of those. And there’s the fact that more than 780,000 people have already voted.

That leaves abstaining, or voting for a “third-party” candidate. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is courting Republicans, but he’s so far been endorsed by just one member of Congress: Virginia Representative Scott Rigell. (Bizarrely, Ron Paul – the Libertarian nominee in 1988 and a candidate for the Republican nomination in 2008 and 2012 – has recommended voting for the Green party’s nominee, Jill Stein.)

And there’s Evan McMullin, essentially the “Stop Trump” candidate for President, after more prominent moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney, John Kasich and Condoleezza Rice all passed up the job.

McMullin’s not the obvious choice for a presidential candidate: he’s a former CIA officer who’s never been elected to anything, and was, until recently, chief policy director of the House Republican Conference. And he’ll only appear on the ballot in 11 states.

McMullin does have one thing going for him, though: he’s a Mormon. As a group, Mormons tend to vote overwhelmingly for Republicans: 80 per cent chose George W Bush in 2004, and 78 per cent voted for Romney – one of their own – in 2012. But they don’t seem to like Trump: in May, Gallup found that just 33 per cent of Mormons had a favourable view of him. In the primaries, Trump lost heavily to Ted Cruz in all three states where more than 10 per cent of the population are Mormon: Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.

That creates the potential for McMullin to make things interesting in Utah – one of the few states where he will be on the ballot – with its 62 per cent Mormon population.

Four years ago, Utah was the most Republican state in the country: Romney won it by 48 percentage points. Now, though, Trump leads Clinton by just 4 points in FiveThirtyEight’s polling average – 31 per cent to 27 per cent – with McMullin not far behind on 20 per cent. Their polls-only forecast gives Trump a 15 per cent chance of losing Utah and its six electoral votes.

The other option for anti-Trump Republicans is to ignore the presidential race entirely, and focus on retaining control of Congress. That’s basically what Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is doing. Though he’s still endorsing Trump, Ryan has said he won’t campaign for him anymore, and will instead focus on House and Senate races.

The Democrats are slight favourites to take control of the Senate, but overturning the Republican majority in the House is a much tougher task. Some Republican candidates have successfully distanced themselves from Trump – like Rob Portman, who leads his Senate race in Ohio by 14 points, while Trump trails Clinton there by 2. But the Democrats’ lead in national generic ballot polls has widened to 4 points, suggesting that many Republicans won’t be able to avoid Trump’s stench, no matter what they do.