Looming over the 2022 primary elections in Utah and around the country is the specter of Donald Trump. Utah’s primary is June 28, but primaries in some states have already started. We look at the impact of Trump in Utah and nationally.
Trump is busy endorsing candidates, holding rallies, starting a social media network and hinting at running for president in 2024. Will Utah GOP candidates seek his support, and will a Trump endorsement help or hurt candidates in Utah?
Pignanelli: “Trump in some ways — he’s like the big, bad wolf. He huffs and he puffs and but he never blows anybody’s house down, really.” — former Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio)
Trump is reminiscent of the wealthy curmudgeon in many neighborhoods. Children are advised not to annoy him as their parents fear his wrath, but he is not invited to community events either.
Numerous national and state polls document a declining favorability for Trump as a presidential candidate in 2024. An increasing number of high-profile Republicans are openly distancing themselves from — and sometimes visibly criticizing — the former president.
However, that does not suggest that the Utah GOP candidates will publicly disparage or refuse endorsements from the former president. Several dynamics are in play. Trumpistas are an engaged minority who will show up at conventions and primary elections. So, Trump-bashing is a dangerous activity. Further, the “Never Trumpers” are far more attracted to those who just ignore rather than attack him.
Yet, knowledgeable candidates will determine from recent election results that unabashed support from Trump rarely guarantees victory. Recently elected Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin set the standard of a perfect balancing act. He spoke with Trump privately but never utilized an endorsement or broadcasted the relationship.
Regardless of partisan affiliation or other demographics, Americans, including Utahns, overwhelmingly support Ukraine and despise Russian president Vladimir Putin. Trump’s recent compliments toward the dictator, when compounded by the effects of the war, including inflation and shortages in this country, could create a radioactive feature about him. By Labor Day, Trump’s reputation could be significantly battered and his broad impact diminished.
Like the grumpy man at the end of the street, many politicos will quietly avoid Trump while hoping his departure is soon coming.
Webb: Had Trump not gotten so weird about the 2020 election being stolen from him, his endorsement would certainly have helped Republican candidates. But Utahns are pretty sensible people, and I think they’re getting tired of Trump’s tall tales.
Trump is also hurt by appearing to be soft on the despot Vladimir Putin as he invades Ukraine, even though Trump’s Russia policies were actually tougher than his predecessors.
Many Utahns, myself included, liked a lot of Trump’s policies, as I’ve written many times. But his giant ego, pettiness, disloyalty to subordinates and, especially, his deranged focus on 2020, have damaged him in Utah among mainstream Republicans. So, cozying up to Trump and repeating his “stolen election” silliness may hurt more than help.
The way to handle Trump is precisely the way Virginia Gov. Youngkin did last year. Keep Trump at arm’s length. Don’t be critical of him (Sen. Mitt Romney unnecessarily goes out of his way to attack Trump). Instead, ignore him or remind voters of his good policies. Contrast the economy and shape of the country when he was in office with life under Biden. If asked about elections being stolen, just express total confidence in Utah’s election system. Politicians in other states will have to speak for themselves.
Will Trump help or hurt GOP chances of taking control of Congress this year?
Pignanelli: Trump is unpopular, but so is President Joseph Biden. Neither is garnering the credit they deserve for accomplishments in their respective administrations. Both are to blame for this messaging incompetence. However, Biden is in office and history documents the incumbent president’s problems blemish the midterm congressional elections.
Webb: Republicans have a remarkable opportunity this year to retake Congress with big numbers and turn the country in a more conservative direction. But Trump is a definite wild card and he could make it harder for Republicans to cruise to a big victory. If he endorses a lot of extremist candidates and they win GOP nominations, that makes victory harder. But perhaps Biden is so weak, and GOP momentum is so strong, that even Trump can’t goof it up this year.
Make a prediction: Will Trump run for the presidency in 2024?
Pignanelli: Trump will wait until the last minute to announce … he will not seek the nomination. Troublesome polls and aggravating legal consternations will create barriers.
Webb: I’m going to predict what I hope happens: Trump sits it out. The goal of all sensible Republicans ought to be to convince Trump that he can’t win in 2024 and if he runs he’ll drag down the party. The presidency is sitting there waiting to be taken by Republicans in 2024. And the GOP has many stellar presidential candidates who are just as conservative as Trump, but without all the personality flaws and other baggage. It’s time for Trump to fade into the sunset.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Email: email@example.com.