Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Twists and turns of the final few weeks

The amazing, disgusting, surprising, thrill-a-minute presidential campaign takes astonishing turns nearly every day. Recent survey research by Y2 Analytics shows Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and independent Evan McMullin in a statistical tie. The latest election twists deserve further scrutiny.

Utah politicians in droves distanced themselves from Trump when “The Tape” surfaced. This newspaper offered an opinion on a presidential candidate for the first time in 80 years — saying Trump is not fit to be president. How will this impact the election in Utah? Could Clinton or McMullin defeat Trump?

Pignanelli: "Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody." — Franklin Adams

Well-adjusted rational people (unlike me) are frightened about last week's events. But remember, we are witnessing history. Not since the Whig Party blew up in the 1850s and the Southern segregationist Dixiecrats refused to back the Democrat nominees in 1948 and in 1968, has there been such turmoil in a major political party.

The McMullin phenomenon is real. It is a sign of how desperate Utahns are for an alternative that a relative unknown BYU alumn and former CIA operative could win the state. His momentum is partially due to this newspaper’s editorial urging Trump to remove himself from the election process — a game changer and proud moment in our state’s history.

Because of Utah’s unique dynamics, I predict a Republican does not win Utah (a first since 1964). Clinton, McMullin (if he survives the inevitable attacks) and Libertarian Gary Johnson will be within a handful of votes of each other to secure Utah’s Electoral College delegates.

Hey, pundits need only be correct 10 percent of the time to be considered brilliant.

Webb: I am proud that Utahns are demonstrating an independent streak and more good sense than any other Republican state. It is remarkable that less than a month before the election the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are tied in reliably red Utah, with an independent candidate close behind. Even more surprising is the fact that no candidate gets barely more than a quarter of the votes.

We’re showing that in Utah, at least, character and competency count. Simply labeling someone a Republican isn’t enough.

Democrats might be excited about Clinton being tied with Trump. But the fact that their candidate gets barely 25 percent of the vote in Utah isn’t anything to celebrate.

If the Trump meltdown continues, McMullin could win. But if Trump bounces back a little in the polls, many Utah Republicans will still view him as the only chance to defeat Clinton. By voting for McMullin, Utahns could send a strong message about common sense and our expectation that political leaders demonstrate at least a minimal level of integrity and fitness for office.

Trump has declared war on Republicans who don’t vocally support him. He’s already said Utah is a “different place” and acknowledged he has a “Mormon problem.” Gov. Gary Herbert and Congressman Jason Chaffetz were among the first politicians in the country to reverse their prior commitment to vote for Trump. Was this the correct move? Will there be a trickle-down effect on state and local races?

Pignanelli: Herbert and Chaffetz were shrewd to jump off the Trump bus before it careened off the cliff. But how Utahns vote in other races is still in doubt. Mainstream voters may consider that Trump is not a real Republican, and support local GOP candidates who established distance from the bizarre billionaire. As the attacks against Clinton intensify, Democrats will be energized to vote. These dynamics will make a difference in a number of key swing legislative and county races.

Webb: Trump is running the worst presidential race in modern history, attacking and alienating those he should be courting. There’s no law of life that says Republicans like Herbert and Chaffetz must support someone they feel is incapable of effective leadership. Good for them.

The tragedy of all this is that Trump could have easily won this election had he demonstrated basic competence, common sense, decency and some mastery of the issues. Voters were looking for someone to blow up Washington. They wanted a fighter, an outsider, an insurgent warrior. But this political rebel also needed to care about all citizens and demonstrate a bit of character and wisdom.

Clinton is so disliked, so flawed, so careless, so status-quo, so establishment, and so boring that anyone but Trump could have readily defeated her.

Trump’s outrageous comments … Clinton’s careless use of email … last week's debate with threats of prosecution and jail time … the return of Bill Clinton's peccadilloes, etc. Can this election go any lower and will the republic survive?

Pignanelli: Our politics have been in worse shape. At other times and in other places, the two top contenders would have likely achieved high office with little effort. But they are being excoriated for prior blunders. Democracy is working.

Webb: Mothers, don’t let your children witness the presidential finale. I’ve actually raised pigs and watched them fight over a bucket of slop — squealing, biting and wallowing in the mud. This will be uglier. I won’t be surprised by anything that happens in the last few weeks.

Republicans need to accept the fact that Hillary Clinton will be president. It’s not the end of the world; it won’t be worse than eight years of Obama. The biggest tragedy, obviously is U.S. Supreme Court appointments, especially if Republicans also lose the Senate.

The good news is that the House will be a major check on Clinton, and Republicans will likely take back Senate control in 2018.

It’s also possible Clinton will actually try to accomplish something and will cooperate with Congress better than Obama did. Dream on. …