SALT LAKE CITY — Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said Monday he's still voting for Donald Trump and believes most of the state's Republicans will join him despite their "emotional" reaction to Trump's vulgar comments about women.
"There's no rule book for this. We haven't seen something like this before," Evans said of the 2005 video that surfaced Friday of Trump's off-camera conversation with a TV host using graphic terms to describe making sexual advances on women.
Republican leaders were among the first in the country to respond to the video by announcing they could no longer support Trump in what has been described as a "full-scale revolt" in the state against the nominee.
But Evans said after Trump's debate performance Sunday night, he believes they'll see he's still their best choice for president "as that emotion subsides" and their focus shifts back to keeping Democrat Hillary Clinton from winning the White House.
"That was an honest reaction from those elected officials and others," the party leader said, but now "there is a space for Trump to win back most of those Republicans if he stays the course and continues to build on what he did last night."
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who backed Trump last March, said Monday he's still voting for the billionaire businessman because he fears the impact of a Clinton presidency, particularly on upcoming U.S. Supreme Court appointments.
"We don't have the option of taking our toys and going home," Hughes told KSL Newsradio's Doug Wright, warning that Utah would become "a political subdivision of the federal government, officially," under Clinton.
Hughes said there's little choice but to vote for Trump, and he cautioned against judging those support the GOP nominee too harshly.
"I think we have to. I want to be very careful. People who are making these hard, hard decisions, let's not cast them in this category of immorality," the speaker said. "That does not make people bad."
Enid Mickelsen, a former Utah congresswoman who served in a number of roles with the national Republican Party, also told Wright she will vote for Trump — "not happily," but to stop Clinton from shaping the Supreme Court.
But Rep Mia Love, R-Utah, said after hearing Trump on the video she's given up on the top of the ticket. Love and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, were the only members of Utah's all-GOP delegation who had not endorsed Trump.
"I've been looking for a reason to support Donald Trump, and I've gotten the opposite," Love told Wright, saying his remarks offend many, including her as the only woman member of the current congressional delegation.
"It's very difficult to navigate inside a male-dominated Congress," she said. "When you've got someone vying to be president of the United States making comments like that about women … you've got to ask yourself, 'Can this person have your support?' He can't. That's the bottom line."
Love, who faces a tough challenge from Democrat Doug Owens for her 4th District seat, said "if (Trump) is going to hand over the presidency to Hillary Clinton," her focus has to shift to preserving the GOP control in the U.S. House.
Lt. Gov Spencer Cox, a Republican, had already decided he couldn't vote for Trump or Clinton. He said on Wright's show that Trump's statements were "sorely disappointing but not surprising. He is who we thought he was and continues to be."
Cox, who oversees elections for the state, gave Trump no chance of winning in Utah but urged Utahns to vote in the 200 or so other races on the ballot, no matter how discouraged they feel about their presidential choices.
"The Republicans lost this election the minute Donald Trump was nominated," Cox said, and are now in danger of losing control of Congress "if we don't pull together and if we don't reject his message."
Don Peay, head of Utahns for Trump and a close friend of the Trump family, told Wright that although Trump's statements were not defensible, they were made in the past as part of a "corrupt celebrity culture."
"There's serious issues here," Peay said. "Trust me, if I didn't know the Trumps well and I didn't think that Mr. Trump was a changed man, if I didn't think he was a good man, I certainly would not be putting my name and reputation out there."
Utah House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, had kind words for those who came out against Trump, especially from across the aisle.
"I'm very proud of Utah. I'm very proud of Utah Republicans," King said on Wright's show. "It reflects the reality that the Republican Party on a national level has moved far from Utah values."
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said he believes Evans "is probably putting the best possible face on this" given what a tough position Republicans are in with Trump.
"They don't want to disavow Trump at the risk of alienating his supporters," Burbank said. "On the other hand, they don't want to get too close to him in case other things come out."
Burbank said while there may be "a little bit of a backlash" for Republicans who don't back their party's presidential pick, voters also recognize what an unusual situation this is.
"The big risk for Republicans and Republican candidates — and James Evans and the Republican Party — is they have voters who say, 'This is just awful. I'm going to stay away and not vote.'"
Evans said he does not believe voters will "punish Republican candidates in Utah because of Trump," but the state party is still working to ensure they'll turn out in the election. "We're just going to continue to do what we're doing."