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Opinion: How has the war in Ukraine affected Utah politics?

Utah’s congressional delegation must maintain their opposition to the war or face stronger challenges at the convention, primary or general election contests.

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A car destroyed by shelling is seen in a street in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

A car destroyed by shelling is seen in a street in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

AP

Every major world event has ramifications in local politics. We look at what Vladimir Putin’s barbaric war on Ukraine means for Utah and national politics.

As Utahns see heart-wrenching images of Russian bombing innocent civilians, our congressional delegation has called for a strong response by the U.S. and our allies. Sen. Mitt Romney has especially emerged as a major player in foreign affairs, his insights frequently sought by reporters and Sunday morning talk show hosts. He has been especially outspoken on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, encouraging an even stronger response than the Biden administration is comfortable with. How has the war impacted the political fortunes of Utah’s delegation?

Pignanelli“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” — Winston Churchill

Defining episodes in politics are usually unpredictable yet impactful on many levels. Social and traditional media are detailing the needless destruction of innocent civilians in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, there is an undeniable good versus evil aspect to this tragedy. Therefore, the Ukrainian crisis is a defining moment that will affect national and state politics across the spectrum.

Romney received plenty of guffaws for mentioning Russia as our nation’s“No. 1 geopolitical foe” in the 2012 presidential debate. Only fools continue to mock Romney as his prestige is elevated locally and across the country for such prescience. He has become the standard against where others are judged.

Several ultra-extreme conservative elements have a history of praising Putin. Some are now disparaging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Polls indicate American and Utah Republicans overwhelmingly support Ukraine in this war. Thus, the remainder of Utah’s congressional delegation must maintain their opposition to the war or face stronger challenges at the convention, primary or general election contests. This may require continued distance from the outliers. Incumbents will likely emphasize their strengths with voters (i.e. Chris Stewart — military experience, intelligence committee expertise; Blake Moore — international fairs and intelligence background.)

Because so many other countries are watching, the events in the Ukraine and how our local officials respond will determine many future trajectories.

Webb: The war and all of its military and political ramifications have yet to play out entirely, but it’s clear Utahns want to support Ukraine, even if it means a little sacrifice (like higher gas prices) here at home.

Romney is more of a traditional Republican, deeply suspicious of Russia and willing to exert U.S. power to keep him (and China) in check. Sen. Mike Lee, while supportive of Ukraine, is much more leery of foreign entanglements. Rep. Stewart has been outspoken in supporting strong sanctions against Russia and military support for Ukraine. Utah’s other House members have been less vocal, but are clearly concerned about Russian aggression and are supportive of Ukraine.

Utahns obviously don’t want World War III, but I believe they want the harshest sanctions possible against the dictator Putin, and the strongest support possible for Ukraine.

Most Americans support President Joe Biden’s response to Putin’s war, which includes harsh economic sanctions and sending weapons to Ukraine. Will Biden’s actions give him and his Democratic Party a boost politically as midterm elections loom next autumn?

Pignanelli: Both international and domestic economic turmoil exist. Consequently, the party perceived to be the adults in the room will prevail in November. Because support for Ukraine is bipartisan, political advantages can only be garnered through better messaging. For example, if the humanitarian toll continues, Americans may become impatient with diplomatic machinations that prevent even stronger sanctions and better weapons. Outspoken support for these activities maybe the litmus test.

Webb: The war is a stark reminder that the world is a very dangerous place and the relatively stable world order we are accustomed to can quickly turn upside down. In such an alarming situation, we need steady, wise and firm leadership. For the most part, Biden is providing that leadership, although there’s plenty to quibble about.

Things would be a little scarier if the mercurial and headstrong Donald Trump was still president. It’s hard to guess what his response to the invasion of Ukraine would be.

Biden’s biggest mistake is his response, or lack thereof, on energy. It’s obvious that the U.S., and Europe, must stop buying Russian oil and natural gas. We need an Operation Warp Speed to develop domestic energy, support Europe with American resources to eliminate dependency on Russia, and curtail the flow of billions of energy dollars into Russia.

Biden has made little effort to marshal and motivate the country’s energy leaders and resources. Instead, he seeks more oil from unreliable countries such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran, and he’s doubling down on wind and solar, which are years away from supplying the reliable energy we need for electricity, transportation and industry.

Biden’s inexplicable energy policy will hurt him and Democrats politically.  

With a few exceptions, the war has unified Republicans and Democrats in their revulsion of Putin and their support for Ukraine. Will agreement on Ukraine lead to more cooperation in Congress?

Pignanelli: Bipartisanship is available for matters relating to Ukraine, NATO, enhanced defense budgets and dealing with other international arrivals. But few other items.

Webb: Divisive election politics will reign supreme as this year’s midterm campaign gets underway. Both sides will seek every partisan advantage.

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.