A version of this article was first published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here. To submit a question to next week’s Friday Mailbag, email onthetrail@deseretnews.com.

Good morning, friends. Welcome to On the Trail 2024, Deseret’s campaign newsletter.

3 things to know

  • Nikki Haley visits Utah tomorrow. She’ll hold a 12:30 p.m. rally at Utah Valley University and an afternoon VIP reception with her local endorsers and donors. I’ll bring you coverage from the UVU rally, and then I’ll follow her through her weekend swing to North Carolina; Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and Massachusetts — her last stand ahead of Super Tuesday. Read more here.
  • Trump’s lawyers appealed last week’s civil fraud decision, hoping to obtain a stay on the $454 million penalty against Trump and his two sons. The case could have real effects on Trump’s electability and his net worth, as experts predict he’ll struggle to find lenders willing to work with him and may need to liquidate assets. More here.
  • Biden heaped praise on Utah Gov. Spencer Cox this week, after Cox and his “Disagree Better” initiative headlined the National Governor Association’s annual meeting in Washington. Biden applauded Cox’s efforts to “get those of us who disagree with one another to listen to one another, to treat one another with a sense of dignity and respect.” More here.

The big idea

In Utah, party drama and caucus chaos

Like 15 other states, Utah Republicans will vote for a presidential nominee on Super Tuesday, March 5. Unlike most others, Utahns will not hold a primary election — instead, Utahns will cast votes in a “presidential preference poll” during caucus meetings.

The decision to hold caucuses is geared toward increasing civic engagement and participation within the party, its proponents argue. But a mass text sent to over 100,000 Utah Republicans — declaring that “Utah’s primary election (was) canceled” — has caused massive backlash, including hundreds of angry emails and calls to Utah GOP Chair Rob Axson.

The text originated with Daryl Acumen, a former GOP vice chair in Utah County, who owns the domain utahgop.org — a slight variation of the party’s official website, utgop.org. Acumen sent a mass text to 161,895 registered Republicans throughout the state on Feb. 15, informing them that Utah would “NOT hold a Presidential Primary election.”

“While your Democratic and Unaffiliated neighbors all received ballots in the mail this week for the 2024 Presidential Primary, YOU WILL NOT!!!” the text read.

It encouraged recipients to “express your concerns” by emailing Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Axson at “chair@utahgop.org” or calling (435) 666-2024.

But those aren’t Axson’s real phone number or email. While the emails were automatically forwarded to Axson’s official email, they first went to Acumen. He also set up a redirect to the phone number, too — so while he couldn’t see what voicemails were left at the party office’s phone, he could see the total number of calls that came in, he said.

Within a week of sending the text, Axson received over 600 emails and 400 phone calls, Acumen said.

According to hundreds of emails reviewed by the Deseret News, many Utah Republicans are frustrated by the party’s decision to forgo a state-run primary, which could include options for vote-by-mail and early voting, in favor of in-person votes at hundreds of caucus sites throughout the state. The emails call the caucus system “confusing” and criticize the state party for “disenfranchising” voters.

Many of them expressed anger for ditching the primary system: “Who gave you the right to decide where and when people can vote or not,” one said. Others expressed disdain for caucuses: “They are mind numbingly robotic repetition of the status quo. ... I can’t attend because of work and immediate nausea upon arriving at these meetings.” Several said they could not participate due to work, child care or other challenges: one “young Republican mother” said she worries “if we move away from mail-in voting people like me will continue to be disenfranchised”; another, a “busy, working mom,” said “the caucus system inherently limits people from participating.”

Several more threatened to change their party affiliation unless the GOP reverted to a primary (which, of course, is too late).

Axson called Acumen’s text a “stunt.” He said he personally responded to each of the emails, while noting that many of their concerns — including fear of a “canceled” election — were misplaced. “(Acumen) sowed confusion,” Axson said. “Of course you’re going to get people who are confused when you tell people the Republican Party canceled the primary election.”

The caucus, Axson said, provides opportunities for absentee balloting. By visiting utgop.orgnot utahgop.org,” Acumen’s domain — voters can register to vote and receive step-by-step instructions on how to vote absentee. Axson noted that when he requested Acumen implement a temporary redirect from his site to the party’s official website, Acumen obliged.

Axson said the party has gone “above and beyond” to inform voters how and when to vote. He said the party has spent over $100,000 on advertising and messaging.

“We’ve absolutely been pushing out a ton of things,” he said. “We have radio ads playing in every radio market in Utah. They’ll be playing through Tuesday of next week. Digital ads, text message blasts, email blasts, printed ads — we’re going above and beyond in regards to what the party has ever done in the past.”

Voters who wish to participate in the presidential preference poll should visit utgop.org, fill out the registration form, and print out a paper ballot, which they can submit in three ways: send it with a member of their household on caucus night; send it with a neighbor who will attend the same precinct location; or deliver it in advance to the precinct chair or caucus host, whose contact information can be found on the party website.

That hasn’t stopped voters from criticizing the caucus. Former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert expressed disappointment with the decision to hold a caucus instead of a primary in 2016, and he’s echoing those same critiques this year. “I do believe holding a primary presidential election is beneficial to Utah,” he told me recently. For the hyper-engaged voters — those who are running for office, who want to be delegates or participate in other party events — the caucus system works well. “But they’re in the minority,” Herbert said. “I think having a regular primary election is a better way to do it.”

What I’m reading

No more Koch cash for Haley: A big Sunday-night scoop from Politico’s Natalie Allison, who reports that Americans For Prosperity-Action — who’d poured millions of dollars into bolstering Haley’s campaign since endorsing her in November — is pushing pause. Two days earlier, AFP-Action vice president Drew Klein informed me his group had reached 1.2 million South Carolina voters through door-knocking and phone-banking. Koch network stops spending on Nikki Haley’s presidential campaign (Natalie Allison, Politico)

WH press problems: The Biden administration is becoming increasingly impatient with its press coverage. As Biden’s age increasingly becomes a subject of scrutiny, the White House has complained to the press corps about its coverage. Both the White House’s complaints and the press’ coverage will only continue as November nears. It’s an election year, and Biden’s team is signaling a more aggressive posture toward the press (David Bauder, The Associated Press)

Swifties, meet Haleys: Taylor Swift-style friendship bracelets have become a staple at Nikki Haley events, worn by the candidate and her young, female admirers alike. A feel-good look at the girls who see Haley as a role model capable of breaking the glass ceiling: Haley trails Trump but is winning with young girls (Dylan Wells, Washington Post)

One last thing — a reminder to follow our new On the Trail 2024 Instagram account.

Have a question for the next Friday mailbag? Drop me a line at onthetrail@deseretnews.com.

See you on the trail.

Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.