Gov. Spencer Cox traveled to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to speak at three different events and highlight his “Disagree Better” campaign.

Through his appearances at the Economic Club, George Washington University and an evening dialogue at the National Cathedral, Cox underscored a need for civil discourse and the root of polarization in the U.S. He also touched on the changing media landscape and how politicians can cut through the noise.

At midday, he spoke at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., alongside Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, with PBS NewsHour correspondent Judy Woodruff as the moderator.

Cox called Moore, a Democrat, his “good friend,” before joking that such an admittance during a reelection year for Cox “is a true testament of courage.”

As the chair of the National Governors Association in 2023, the Utah governor had the opportunity to launch an initiative. Instead of focusing on a single issue, like energy or health care, Cox said he realized “we can’t accomplish or solve the biggest problems facing our nation today if we all hate each other.”

His campaign is about “relearning how to disagree the right way, how to have a debate how to stay true to your principles, (and) your core values, without demeaning and tearing apart the other side,” he said.

Facing the challenges of polarization

According to an analysis from Pew Research Center, Americans are much more politically polarized now than 50 years ago. Woodruff asked what the reason behind this growing divide was.

At the core, it is politicians who divide Americans through anger and fear to earn their votes, Cox said.

Growing up, he said he never identified himself by the political party, and nor did others he knew. Being an American patriot, a Utah Jazz fan or a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came first, but now, people use politics to define themselves all the time, which, Cox added, is “unhealthy” in a pluralistic society.

Woodruff asked the Utah governor about his thoughts on the bipartisan border security deal that took months to negotiate but ended up falling apart.

“We’re elevating the loudest voices in the room,” he said.

Cox said while national lawmakers fail to do their jobs, local leaders, like governors, can’t ignore problems like potholes because of party lines.

He said that although there is polarization, Republicans and Democrats agree on a lot, even when it comes to issues like immigration and abortion.

He said he has debated with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat who is the vice chair of the NGA, over abortion, in which they agreed on prompting sex education, making contraceptives available and helping single moms despite being on opposite sides of the debate.

How to engage with those different than you? Here’s what Cox says

After his morning appearance, Cox made his way to George Washington University for another event, “Disagree Better: How Politicians, the Public and the Press Can Turn Down the Heat” in the afternoon.

The governor and media personalities — political commentator Jonah Goldberg and NPR host Michel Martin — were invited to the event hosted by the university’s College of Professional Studies and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Students from the university recorded their thoughts and questions on the role of news and the state of politics. Frank Sesno, the moderator and director of strategic initiatives at the School of Media and Public Affairs, cited one of the student’s fears of another Jan. 6 riot and asked Cox if he is worried, too.

Cox said he is worried. “We’re bigger than any one president. ... We survived the last eight years, we’ll survive the next four,” he said. But the lack of “fundamental change” makes him think a repetition of Jan. 6 is possible.

Elected officials “have a role to play in turning down the temperature,” he added. And this is where his campaign comes in. “Disagree Better” encourages people not to attack people but ideas, he added.

Sesno pushed back. Quoting derogatory remarks made by former President Donald Trump on immigration, and against the judges overseeing his legal cases, the moderator asked, “How do you ‘disagree better’ when the top of your ticket is talking like that?”

Cox said that he has never made statements like Trump has. But as someone from a rural American town with a population of a few thousand, Cox said most of those people will vote for the former president despite being “good people.”

“As a country, the only way to change people’s hearts and minds is to understand those hearts and minds. Demonizing them never works,” he said. Cox added that it's important to point out bad behavior and that both parties should hold their own accountable.

Gov. Cox’s strategic campaign for fostering understanding

Cox revealed that as a part of the “Disagree Better” campaign, 22 governors will create ads with someone from the opposite side of the aisle — and he, too, is recording one with Moore.

He said that while the news media opines on issues — an area that requires improvement — “there’s never been a better time for politicians to reach people directly.” Cox admitted that he stopped watching cable news 11 years ago.

The Utah governor said he recently published a 5,000-word essay, where he defended his stance on diversity, equity and inclusion policies, on Substack, and often uses X, formerly known as Twitter.

Before the GOP governor concluded, Sesno snuck in one last question: “Do you want to run for president?”

“No, absolutely not,” Cox answered jokingly, “because they don’t like kids from Utah to be president.”

Cox is set to speak at National Cathedral in a forum titled, “With Malice Toward None, With Charity for All.”

This event is in partnership with the Wheatley Institute at Brigham Young University and Wesley Theological Seminary and sponsored by Deseret Magazine.

It will also feature a conversation with ABC’s Donna Brazile, attorney Rachel Brand, legal scholar Ruth Okediji and activist Tim Shriver, who are trying to model a new kind of politics.