Utah, home of conservative Trump critics, hosts GOP meetings | News, Sports, Jobs
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A deep red state home to some of Donald Trump’s most vocal conservative critics, Wednesday welcomed members of the Republican National Committee to a meeting where party officials are expected to cement the former president’s status as GOP flag-bearer ahead of the midterm elections .
Utah — home to U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, co-founders of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, and 2016 presidential nominee Evan McMullin — is the backdrop for discussions on issues important to Trump, including participation in presidential debates and a resolution the that censures two Republicans on the House committee investigating the January 6 riot.
There are few predominantly Republican states where Trump’s behavior clashes with political culture like Utah, a conservative bastion that prides itself on maintaining political civility in divisive times.
The state has largely resisted leftward political shifts that have gripped neighboring states of Nevada, Colorado and Arizona. Republicans, who control the governor’s mansion and state building, say the state’s low unemployment and rapid economic growth provide a model for the benefits of conservative governance and benevolent political discourse.
“We have something you’re going to hear a lot about: It’s called the Utah Way,” said McMullin, who is now running for the US Senate as an independent. “Usually it has something to do with finding common ground to solve problems. I mean, that determined our policy.”
In closed sessions this week, RNC members discussed a proposal to force candidates seeking the party’s nomination to pledge not to take part in debates conducted by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has been a crucial one for the past 30 years role in presidential elections years. The point, rooted in Trump’s longstanding criticism of the commission, is expected to be put to a vote by full membership this summer.
Republicans have objected to the selection of the commission’s moderators and to Mike McCurry, a former press secretary for President Bill Clinton, who serves as co-chair. He serves alongside Frank Fahrenkopf, a former RNC chairman.
“It’s great that the RNC finally stood up and said, ‘Enough of this.’ Because candidates deserve a fair, level playing field,” said Jim DeGraffenreid, Nevada committee member.
RNC members are also expected to resume a debate on whether to keep Iowa and New Hampshire as the first two states to vote in the presidential primary election calendar, or change the order while Democrats consider it. In a resolutions committee Thursday, Republicans may consider a motion to expel GOP Reps Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney from the party for joining the House Committee on Jan. 6.
Tim Chambless, a political scientist at the University of Utah, said the state’s unwavering favoritism for Republicans has masked its independent streak on certain issues like immigration. Religion affects politics differently in Utah than in most states, and more than a century and a half after members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived fleeing religious persecution, conservatives here remain staunch defenders of immigrants and refugees, he said.
Polls show that a large segment of the faith community disapproves of Trump’s brash style and inflammatory rhetoric.
“People voted for him in 2020 but not with a lot of love in their hearts,” Chambless said.
Trump won Utah convincingly in 2016 and 2020, but his margin for victory was small compared to previous Republican presidential candidates.
In 2012, Romney, himself a Latter-day Saint, won Utah by a larger margin than any other state, with almost three times the vote of President Barack Obama. Four years later, Trump won just 46% of the state’s voters, largely due to McMullin pulling more than 240,000 voters away.
Even after becoming one of Trump’s most vocal opponents, Romney was easily elected a Senator in 2018. He later voted twice to impeach Trump; However, an attempt by the state party to censure him last year fell through after he was not supported by a majority of state Republican Party delegates.
Stuart Stevens and Reed Galen, two co-founders of the Lincoln Project, live in Park City. The group was formed in 2019 by current and former Republicans disillusioned with the GOP’s leadership under Trump.
But the GOP was Utah’s fastest-growing political party during Trump’s administration, adding more than 200,000 registered active voters. Trump won hundreds of thousands more votes in 2020 than in 2016 and grew his share of the electorate by double digits.
“They predicted that Utah would turn bluer or even purple during the last election. But Utah was actually trending the other way,” said Utah Republican Party Chairman Carson Jorgensen, a 32-year-old sheep farmer from rural Sanpete County.
Jorgensen said grassroots conservatives would remain staunchly supportive of Trump. He hopes the winter meeting will present Salt Lake City as the ideal location for the 2024 convention. The RNC plans to discuss site selection Thursday and is considering Nashville, Tennessee, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh in addition to Salt Lake City. The 2020 convention has been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic, with business sessions in Charlotte, North Carolina and other events in Washington, DC, including controversially at the White House.
“We’re a really good choice for that, just because we’ve been under the Republican-Conservative government for a long time,” Jorgensen said, citing Utah’s growing economy and low unemployment rate. “These things don’t happen by accident. I think the RNC is really starting to take notice, even as the states around us are turning really blue.”