At last month’s Republican National Convention, Gov. Gary Herbert endorsed Donald Trump for president. But even after independent candidate Evan McMullin joined the race earlier this month, Herbert continued to endorse Trump. That was a mistake.
Donald Trump is the weakest Republican presidential candidate in Utah since Barry Goldwater in 1964. In fact, if current polls persist, he may even receive a smaller percentage of votes than Goldwater, who garnered only 45 percent of the vote. According to the latest Dan Jones poll released by UtahPolicy.com, Trump is at 37 percent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton at 25 percent, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson at 16 percent, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein trailing with 1 percent. Seven percent of Utahns were undecided. The poll did not include McMullin, whose candidacy may reduce Trump’s support even further.
There is a reason for that weakness. Donald Trump has advocated a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., which was followed by a statement by LDS Church leaders expressing their concerns about the liberties of believers of minority religions. Trump’s comments on women, Hispanics, African-Americans, the disabled, and so many other groups have concerned many Utahns who believe such remarks are inappropriate and hurtful. While Utahns have adopted a “Utah Compact” on immigration that adopts a humane approach to immigrants, even illegal ones, Trump has spent a year railing against illegal immigrants and promising to build a wall along the U.S. border to keep them out. Then, to top it off, he questioned Mitt Romney’s religious beliefs.
Then, there is the issue of Trump’s personality and personal life. While Utahns tend to value humility and a reticence towards boasting, Trump is a stranger to those traits. Plus, a candidate who has been married three times, divorced twice, and was openly involved in extramarital affairs does not fit the model of a president held by most Utahns.
Put bluntly, Trump is not good for Utah. Most Utahns understand that. That is why he is not likely to receive a majority of the vote in Utah, despite his party affiliation.
Yet, even with other options, Herbert not only is sticking with Trump, but even goes further by excusing him. Earlier this month, the governor said at a news conference that some people find Trump’s comments “refreshing” and that “all the candidates say things I don’t agree with.” What he should have said is that Donald Trump is harmful to Utah’s interests and, like Mitt Romney and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, he will not give him any support.
Why is the governor doing this? The answer is simple: Gary Herbert is a strong partisan. Supporting the Republican Party matters more to him than what is best for citizens of the state. No matter who the GOP candidate is, even Donald Trump, the governor will back him.
The governor’s support of Trump is unnecessary politically. Herbert is in his final re-election campaign. He does not need to woo Republican convention delegates or even Republican primary voters again. If he wanted to be a statesman rather than a party loyalist, he could support another candidate who more closely embodies Utah values.
But the governor’s actions demonstrate that he sees the world through a thick partisan lens. He cannot take them off under any circumstances. That is unfortunate. It is poor statesmanship. Herbert should stand up for the interests of Utahns rather than the interests of a particular political party.
The governor’s continued support for Trump is strange not only because a majority of Utahns do not support the Republican presidential nominee, but also because, earlier this year, Herbert himself explicitly rejected Trump as a candidate. At that time, the governor explained that he could not support Trump because he didn’t think “he’s the best person for the job.” When asked if he would support Trump if he won the nomination, the governor replied: “Let’s hope that doesn’t have to be my decision.” Indeed, it was his decision, and it was a poor one.
Richard Davis is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. He is the author of "The Liberal Soul: Applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Politics." His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of BYU.