After Evan McMullin’s sudden surge in Utah, the Trump campaign is taking him seriously and attacks are mounting. The situation in the deep red state was serious enough that Mike Pence made a late-in-the-campaign visit to Beehive State in an attempt to shore up hemorrhaging support in the wake of three disastrous debates and Trump’s sexual harassment scandal.
The first attack came from Lou Dobbs who tweeted that McMullin was “nothing but a Globalist, Romney and Mormon Mafia Tool.” McMullin responded on CNN a few days later saying, “A hallmark of Donald Trump’s campaign has been to attack people based on their race and religion and all of this and so it’s not a surprise to me at all.” McMullin supporters on Twitter started a tweetstorm of jokes about the bizarre insult.
The attacks continued over the weekend when Trump lashed out at McMullin and Bill Kristol in an interview on Fox News. “I love the people of Utah. I have great relationships in Utah,” Trump said. “But you have a guy named Bill Kristol who’s called it wrong for two years. He’s a loser. He’s called me wrong. He’s called everything wrong. He’s called the wars wrong. Everything he does is wrong. He gets his puppet to go and run in Utah.”
Trump continued, “The guy [McMullin] takes votes away from me. You know, we’re going to win Utah. But he takes votes away from me, this man who I never heard of…. Now, if for some reason we lose Utah that could have a very devastating impact on the overall.” Utah has six electoral votes.
McMullin responded in Trumpian fashion: With a tweet. The independent candidate posted, “@realDonaldTrump, Yes you’ve never heard of me because while you were harassing women at beauty pageants, I was fighting terrorists abroad.” McMullin is a 10-year veteran of the CIA where he served as a clandestine agent in the Middle East. Donald Trump received student and medical deferments that exempted him from the draft, but told Howard Stern that not contracting a sexually transmitted disease was his “personal Vietnam” and made him feel like a “great and very brave soldier.”
McMullin added another tweet attacking Trump on substance. “@realDonaldTrump, you’re an authoritarian, life-long liberal who disrespects life, liberty, & equality. We can’t trust you on justices.” The Trump campaign did not respond to the tweet.
Then things got really nasty. Over Halloween weekend, McMullin was the target of robocalls in the new battleground state of Utah. Salt Lake City’s KUTV describes the call by William Johnson, a self-described “white nationalist” which attacks McMullin’s mother, a lesbian who is married to another woman, and alleges that McMullin, who is single, is a “closeted homosexual.”
Spoiler alert: Evan McMullin is not gay. Louise Mensch of Heat Street wrote of her earlier conversation with McMullin prior to an August interview. McMullin told her that “his greatest aspiration is to be a husband and a father.” Part of the reason that he left the CIA was his desire to one day be married and have a family, something that would be difficult for a CIA operative.
As to his mother, McMullin talked about her in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune on Oct. 26. “I believe in the sanctity of traditional marriage. It is an important part of my faith,” McMullin said. “My mother has a different view. That is OK. I love her very much.”
McMullin told CNN that the robocall was not a surprise. “This is exactly the narrative, the approach the Donald Trump campaign has had. So it didn’t even surprise when I heard news of the robocall, I just thought of course this is more of the same.”
The Trump campaign had quickly denied involvement in the robocall. Sean Spicer, the RNC communications director, said, “The call was disgusting. It’s reprehensible and it was appropriately denounced by the campaign.” Spicer continued, “But for him to then turn it back on them is almost as reprehensible. We live in a country of over 300-plus million people. Not everybody who supports Donald Trump, not everyone who supports Hilary Clinton, are exactly the kind of people that you want as supporters.” Spicer was denounced in turn for calling McMullin’s response to the insults “reprehensible.”
Then a remarkable thing happened. William Johnson, who is a Trump delegate, did something that Donald Trump hasn’t done. He issued a heartfelt apology and stopped the calls. “I am truly sorry,” he told the LA Times. “I am sorry for the mean-spirited message and I humbly retract its contents.”
Finally, Pax Dickinson, founder and CTO of Wesearchr, a pro-Trump website tweeted, “America hasn’t boasted a popular movement favoring genocide of Mormons for well over a century but @EvanMcMullin is working to change that.” Another tweet threatened a “Mormoncaust” if McMullin “succeeds and throws the election to Hillary.”
As another Twitter user replied, “This does not strike me as the argument that will finally win over Mormons for Trump.”
The disdain for McMullin and Mormons shown by Trump and his supporters has undoubtedly helped fuel the McMullin campaign. When Trump complained about “this character that’s running all over the state … going from coffee shop to coffee shop,” McMullin’s reply shed light on Trump’s problem.
“ The funny thing is a lot of people in Utah are Mormons,” McMullin said on Politico, “they don’t drink coffee. So, we’ve done zero campaigning in coffee shops. If Donald Trump were truly interested in the state and in the voters, he might know a thing or two about that.”