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Rep. Chris Stewart says Trump could set example to turn down political rhetoric

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, talks with a student while campaigning at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Oct 16, 2018.
FILE - Rep. Chris Stewart talks with students during campaigning at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Oct 16, 2018.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump isn't alone in creating hostile dialog in politics but could do more than anyone else to tone it down, Rep. Chris Stewart said Monday.

"I mean, if the president were to change his rhetoric, it would be far more powerful if he did that than if Nancy Pelosi did or than if I did. He could lead out on this. He could set an incredible example, especially because his rhetoric has been fairly aggressive," the Utah Republican told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards.

"If he were to recognize that wasn't helpful and admit it and talk about it and say, ‘I’m not going do it anymore,’ imagine the impact that would have on other people and how that would neuter the opposition."

Says Stewart's Democratic challenger Shireen Ghorbani: "But he won't and he hasn't."

Ghorbani, who was knocking doors in St. George on Monday, said Trump can't be expected to lead the country to a moral high ground.

"I can't tell you how many Utahns I've met, Republicans, conservative people, who are deeply distressed and, in some cases disgusted, by the way he carries himself and the way that he speaks," she said. "At this point, it feels like a race to the bottom in terms of our political discourse."

Stewart said everyone should or can tone it down, including Trump.

"The president can, no question about it," he said.

But he said he thinks it's unfair to link Trump's words with the actions of "apparently troubled" people, like the Florida man who allegedly mailed packages containing bombs to top Democratic leaders last week.

"I don’t think there’s any more relationship there than there was when a Bernie Sanders supporter went and shot my friend Steve Scalise, and when he did that, I never, ever drew a connection between them," Stewart said.

James Hodgkinson, a left-wing activist and vocal Sanders supporter, shot and wounded Scalise, R-La., during a baseball practice of the Republican team for the annual congressional baseball game last year.

Stewart also said there's nothing to draw from anything Trump has said that would lead someone who is "viscerally" anti-semitic to attack a Pittsburgh synagogue, adding Trump has been the biggest friend to Israel in 50 years.

Ghorbani said Trump's rhetoric creates an environment where it seems like for some, "often sick or very angry individuals, a license to act a certain a way."

"Of course, individuals are responsible for the actions that they take," she said. "However, we need a president who is willing to unmitigatedly stand against white supremacy, against this kind of violence, and we just don't. He's unreliable when it comes to that issue."

Trump will come out and say the right thing, but turn around at a campaign rally and mock people and sow division, Ghorbani said.

Stewart said Trump has made "outrageous" statements, and previously said that sometimes make his job difficult. He said though he supports the president's policies, he has not defended some of the things Trump has said.

Ghorbani said she needs more than that from Stewart, "especially here in Utah where you as a Republican can stand up to this kind of rhetoric, this kind of behavior and often sail to re-election. It's not like you're going to lose a bunch of Utah voters."

With just a week before Election Day, polls show Stewart with a more than 20 point lead over Ghorbani.

In a late fundraising push, Ghorbani took in nearly twice as much as Stewart — $120,00 to $57,500 — in the first two weeks of October, according to Federal Election Commission filings. She also collected slightly more than Stewart in the third quarter.

Still, Stewart has raised $883,000 to Ghorbani's $368,000 overall.