clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How will Utah fare under President Trump?

SALT LAKE CITY — One of the first tests for President-elect Donald Trump may be how he deals with fellow Republicans, including some of Utah's top leaders, who didn't back his candidacy.

"A lot of people have been asking, 'Is there going to be retribution for Utah?' I don't know," Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson said Wednesday. "Is it the vindictive Trump or is it the unifying Trump?"

Utah's reluctance to embrace Trump attracted national attention during the presidential race, especially with an independent candidate, Evan McMullin, making a play for the state's voters as a conservative Mormon with Utah ties.

McMullin shot up in the polls after a 2005 video surfaced of Trump talking in graphic terms about making sexual advances on women, and Gov. Gary Herbert and other Utah Republican officials withdrew their support of the GOP nominee.

But some of those officials, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, decided they could vote for Trump after all, and McMullin finished behind both Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton in Utah, according to results released Tuesday.

Still, Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Mia Love, both R-Utah, never backed Trump. They, along with Herbert and the other members of Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation up for re-election, appear to have won easily Tuesday.

Lee issued a statement Wednesday congratulating the new president, calling the election "humbling for all Americans, and especially so for the political establishment in Washington, D.C. The message of 2016 is that the American people have become increasingly skeptical of the federal government.”

Matheson, Lee's former chief of staff, said while he believes Utah will continue to have influence in Washington under a Trump White House, he doesn't expect to see anyone from the state named to a key role in the new administration.

That includes Lee, who appeared on Trump's list of potential U.S. Supreme Court choices along with his brother, Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee, Matheson said.

"It would be a positive message to conservatives," Matheson said of Trump appointing Lee to the high court, "focused on reconciling with someone who didn't endorse him. It checks a lot of boxes. In the end, he'll probably go a different way."

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said he sees Trump as "one big question mark" when it comes to how he'll treat the state but isn't anticipating any Utahns turning up in the new president's administration.

"I don't think we have a friend in Donald," Corroon said. "I just don't see Donald Trump picking anybody from Utah after how he was treated during the election process."

Chaffetz, chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he believes Utahns in Congress have a pivotal role to play in getting through Trump's agenda.

But he said he also plans to be "the tip of the spear in holding a Trump administration accountable" as oversight committee chairman, as well as continue investigations into what he called Clinton's security breaches with email as secretary of state.

Chaffetz dismissed speculation that U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., could end up being replaced in the new Congress, shaking up committee assignments and chairmanships.

He said he has heard "zero talk" of such a change and expects no fallout from backing away from Trump temporarily as a result of his statements on the leaked video.

"When you say or do things like that, I'm going to call it out. I don't care what your party affiliation is. So I feel I did the right thing. In fact, I know I did," the 3rd District congressman said.

Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is key to the state staying in the new administration's good graces.

"This talk of retribution and all this kind of stuff is just fanciful. None of that will happen because we have Sen. Hatch there," Evans said. "Utah is going to be taken care of, and Utah has Sen. Hatch to thank for that."

Hatch, first elected 40 years ago, has not said whether he will run again in 2018. His longevity has put him in the position of Senate president pro tempore, third in the line of succession to the presidency.

He, too, congratulated Trump in a statement on his "historic election" and said "now is the time to bring the nation together to seek reforms. … I look forward to working closely with President-elect Trump to address the critical issues facing our country."

An early Trump backer, Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said the new president will be good for Utah.

"I think we will have a conduit of communications with that administration," said Hughes, who has a close relationship with Donald Trump Jr. "I think Utah will be just fine."

McMullin has not given up influencing politics in Utah and the rest of the country, pledging to lead a new conservative movement that may well result in a new political party.

"We'll be transitioning what we built in the campaign effort over to this new conservative movement," he said. "There will be a lot of Republicans, a lot of conservative voters, who are not willing to stand with Donald Trump."

The former CIA officer and U.S. House policy aide said "very sincerely" that talk he may now run for Hatch's Senate seat in two years is not in his plans. While he expects to run for office again, it may not be in Utah.

"It could be here. I just don't know," McMullin said. "What I do believe is there is a new conservative movement. People will need to run as part of this. Will I run again? Perhaps."