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Opinion: Will party turmoil hurt Republicans in 2022?

Trump’s inability to let go of voter fraud claims may make it hard for Republicans to take advantage of Democratic mistakes.

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Supporters of both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden rally at the Utah Capitol on Nov. 7.

Supporters of both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden stage rallies outside the Utah State Capitol on Nov. 7. Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election was fraudulent could hamper Republicans as they seek to win 2022 congressional races. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)


Utah is obviously a Republican state. So when pundits and observers consistently talk about all the factions and schisms within the GOP, questions arise about the impact on our state politics. We join in the fun.

Major media outlets are documenting potential splinters among Republicans on issues like allegiance to Donald Trump, vaccinations, and even climate change. Is Utah experiencing such tremors?

Pignanelli: “Republicans refused to push vaccines and tick off a significant portion of our base. But, with cases increasing, that calculus changed because guess who’s getting sick? Republicans” — Glen Bolger, GOP Pollster   

Adult chaperones on high school field trips ooze calm while inwardly anxious at the potential of chaos. High-profile Utah Republicans exude similar patience while secretly anguishing while their national peers create havoc in the political arena.

President Joseph Biden suffered a recent hit in approval ratings — attributed to his failed goal of 70% vaccinations by July 4. Americans want results in resolving the pandemic. Thus, if the refusal by many to obtain a vaccination creates economic and societal problems, those perceived as responsible will suffer recriminations. GOP operatives understand this and are openly diminishing partisanship of the issue. Utah leaders have inoculated themselves through responsible direct messaging of support for the “jab”.

Announcing fealty to the former president may secure a dedicated base, but it does alienate moderate Republicans and chunks of independents. Cautious candidates proclaim “Trumpish” qualities without referencing the man.

The Trump debate is causing small cracks in Utah’s GOP. Sen. Mike Lee faces several interparty opponents. Mitt Romney is not the favorite among some conservative factions. Local officials are subjected to inquisitions on the matter.

Equally compelling is that affluent Republicans are gathering in small groups to discuss ways to prevent any further drift of the party towards the Trumpistas. This indicates a low boil of turmoil.

Local political chaperones hope for peaceful field trips through 2022.

Webb: Divisions have always existed between arch-conservatives and moderate Republicans in Utah. We’ve seen it manifest on issues like SB54/Count My Vote. But Utah is so heavily Republican and conservative that the schisms have seldom led to losses to Democrats. If Utah was a closely-divided swing state, the rifts would matter more.  

Democrats and the Biden administration are trying to blame Republicans for lower-than-expected vaccination rates. But one big Democratic demographic group suffering from low vaccination rates is lower-income, inner-city, communities of color. That’s the fault of Democratic leaders for failing in their outreach and education efforts.

Meanwhile, responsible Republicans ought to encourage vaccinations and not let resentment toward shutdowns, mask mandates, vaccine passports, mixed messaging, etc., become a deterrent.

The vaccine works. Everyone should get it except those with prohibiting health conditions. 

The Trump factor, more particularly his insistence that the election was stolen, is definitely dividing the GOP. The party would be reasonably united and poised for congressional gains in 2022 were it not for Trump wanting the election to be about one thing – himself.

Trump’s 2020 election obsession is getting really old . . . starting to smell like a dead fish. Democrats are giving Republicans plenty of great stuff with which to defeat them (border chaos, surging crime, inflation, COVID-19 resurgence, deficits, the nanny state, identity and grievance politics, and so forth). But Trump and his ego might ensure the Republicans snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The sad thing is, Trump could be a unifying force in the party, leading the charge on Democratic leadership failings. Instead, his focus is all on himself. It’s an incredible act of selfishness.

Do any of these issues offer potential for primary upsets and even surprises in general elections next year?

Pignanelli: The 2010 midterm elections during the last Democrat president administration, offer indirect guidance. Then, tea party conservatives rejected moderate Republicans and captured many Democratic seats. The frustration of 12 years ago may be exhibited in 2022 in unusual ways and transform the GOP in unexpected directions. If the vaccination tug-of-war intensifies, Trump remains a factor, and fear abounds from the economy and climate, the unpredictability will be greater than 2020.

Webb: Nationally, the Democrats are vastly overreaching with their multi-trillion-dollar spending proposals and cultural crusades to remake society. Were it not for the Trump distraction and the likelihood that Senate Republicans will save the Democrats from themselves by blocking the most outrageous stuff, 2022 could be a realigning election — worse than 2010 for the Democrats.

Will Utah Democrats face similar pressures this year and next from fringe activities?

Pignanelli: As with the right wing, left wing adherents care more for purity than for electoral success. Such dynamics in the past have fostered skirmishes between pragmatic special interest groups and lefty advocacy organizations. The turbulent environment suggests Democrats will encounter inner turmoil.

Webb: National Democrats are trying to enact the most liberal, big-government agenda in my lifetime. Utah Democrats (at least outside of Salt Lake City) should run, not walk, from this manifesto.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Email: frankp@xmission.com.