Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Alternative presidential candidates, BYU and Sen. Hatch

Olympic games and political games are both getting attention in Utah. It’s fun to watch participants in both pursuits hit, run, feint, jump, win, lose, celebrate and cry.

Alternative presidential candidates, like Libertarian Gary Johnson and Provo native Evan McMullin, are seeking votes in Utah. Will they have any real impact on the race?

Pignanelli: "Are Libertarians just Republicans who want to smoke pot and rich Democrats wishing to avoid taxes?" — Numerous commentators

Usually, third-party candidates are gadflies not taken seriously. But when they have impressive backgrounds, and there is confusion in the traditional parties, they can perform well … especially in Utah. Remember, Utahns delivered second place to independent party candidate and billionaire Ross Perot in 1992.

The Libertarian candidates are credible and well-respected and are gaining traction. But there is more than just Americans rolling their eyes at Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The insurgent candidates (Trump and Bernie Sanders) have instilled impractical populist themes in each party's platforms that are making their way into the candidates’ speeches. This is driving more examination of alternatives by serious-minded voters.

McMullin is benefiting from a brief burst of attention, as is the Green Party candidate. But the Libertarians will become more attractive as a potential alternative. Johnson and William Weld are former successful governors who provide serious policy offerings that are intriguing many frustrated with the major candidates and/or their stands on trade, regulations and fiscal matters.

So the dynamics are different, but the net result will be the same as 24 years ago. A third party will impact the presidential race across the country and in Utah. This offers some fun and respite from the nastiness. (My son is a registered volunteer for the Johnson/Weld campaign. No snarky comments please.)

Webb: Dislike of Trump and Clinton is strong enough that many Utah voters are seeking alternatives. But in this stranger-than-fiction political year, no good alternatives exist. Johnson would be almost as weird a president as Trump. McMullin’s bid is too little, too late, even if he has supporters with significant money.

McMullin and Johnson are hoping for a complete Trump collapse. Not going to happen. Trump’s floor of true believer support is much higher than Johnson or McMullin will ever attract. Like it or not, either Trump or Clinton will win the election. If the race is close, Republicans voting for anyone other than Trump will help elect Clinton.

LGBT organizations oppose BYU’s bid to join the Big 12 athletic conference. Is this flare-up a trend of things to come?

Pignanelli: How any organization — public or private — adapts its policies to LGBT persons will forever be scrutinized as a fundamental aspect of society. Support by the LDS Church of the antidiscrimination amendments demonstrates deep compassion and understanding of these issues. I am confident that these emotions will be reflected in BYU policies and allow for admission into a collegiate conference.

Webb: If Hillary Clinton really cares about religious freedom, as she purports in her much-ballyhooed Deseret News op-ed, perhaps she could write a letter to the Big 12 presidents, suggesting they ignore the LGBT activists’ demands. Is her religious freedom devotion more than pandering? She would never write such a letter, of course, because LGBT support is far more important to her than Mormon support.

We need to understand who we’re dealing with here. In Utah, we’re nice. We like to compromise, find common ground, see some good in the other side. These militant LGBT groups aren’t nice. They play hardball. They’re out to destroy anyone who doesn’t fully support their extreme ideology. They have no tolerance for heart-felt religious convictions. Bigotry is no sin as long as it’s directed at a religious organization not aligned with their agenda.

The crusade to deny BYU Big 12 membership is a harbinger. Tomorrow they will attack church tax-exempt status, federal research dollars, student grants and loans. Anything to hurt any institution that doesn’t surrender to their demands.

Sen. Orrin Hatch has been in the U.S. Senate longer than some of his potential challengers have been alive. Will he seek an eighth six-year term in 2018?

Pignanelli: This has elevated from just talk into serious deliberations among politicos and Hatch watchers. The general consensus is that if the GOP keeps the Senate, Utah’s senior senator will likely run again. Each day more Republicans are adopting the strategy of conceding that Trump loses, but campaigning that there needs to be counterbalance to Clinton. This would be the Hatch strategy in developing his campaign. Other potential candidates also understand there is one factor that remains constant — it is foolish to underestimate Hatch.

Webb: The senator has immense power, clout, respect — and seniority (no kidding). It would hurt Utah to lose Hatch. But everyone has to retire sometime — or die in office. I believe Hatch would like to run again. But it will depend on his health and whether Republicans maintain Senate control. If, by some miracle, Republicans take control of Washington, Hatch will be positioned to do some great things for Utah and the country.