We have attended or closely followed political conventions for almost 50 years (yes, cavemen did hold conventions). Since the gatherings of last week were quite unprecedented (aka weird), we utilize all this experience for some seasoned (old fogey) analysis.

At the GOP convention, Sen. Mike Lee was essentially coronated with over 70% of the delegate vote. Some federal and state incumbent lawmakers came in second, but will still be on the primary ballot. Gov. Spencer Cox and Sen. Mitt Romney were no-shows. Meanwhile, the Democrats refused to nominate a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, instead supporting independent Evan McMullin. What does all the intrigue and turmoil mean?

Pignanelli: “The most important thing in communication is to hear what is not said.” — Peter Drucker  

Much has been discussed about what occurred at these conventions. Yet, equally important is what did not happen.

The absence of Cox and Romney at the events, regardless of “pre-existing commitments,” is a significant statement. Further, there were no recriminations against Utah GOP Chair Carson Jorgensen for appearing on national television openly attacking these high-profile Republicans. These omissions reveal a rift inside the state’s largest political party. This fissure is more than delegates quibbling with signature-gathering; competing ideologies are involved.

Many Democrat delegates so dislike Lee they are willing to abandon a very credible nominee — Kael Weston — to engage in a coalition with McMullin. The big vacancy in their convention was no one offered any compelling reason to vote for McMullin as a person other than he is not Lee. This unusual strategy would be understandable if the independent candidate was a well-known Utahn beloved for bipartisan community engagement (i.e. Scott AndersonGail Miller). Impacts from this perplexing outcome will be felt for years.

The major shifts transforming the nation’s political parties is affecting local politics, as highlighted by notable absences in the recent activities.

Webb: Once again, Republican delegates convincingly demonstrated they are not representative of the party as a whole. A number of popular, respected and accomplished leaders finished second to little-known far-right activists. But the incumbents will win handily in the GOP primary when all Republicans get to vote.

Mainstream Utah Republicans ought to once again thank former Gov. Mike Leavitt, Gail Miller, Rich McKeown and others who had the foresight to push initiatives to make everyone’s vote count in the nomination process. Otherwise, Utah politics would be much different — and more extreme — today. The ability to gather signatures needs to be protected at all costs. It is assaulted by the far right in every legislative session.

How will Mike Lee fare in the three-way primary with Becky Edwards and Ally Isom? Can McMullin defeat Lee in the general election?

Pignanelli: Lee enjoys more than 60% support among Republicans. Those opposed to his nomination are divided between two challengers. The primary outcome is predictable.

The McMullin strategy is interesting but tough. Lee averaged about 67% of the vote in prior elections. The independent will need to capture all the Democrats (average 29%) while persuading another 20% of Republicans and unaffiliated Utahns to abandon Lee. But 2022 dynamics create difficult barriers. Without a Democrat topping the ticket, while national organizations defend incumbent congressional members in other states, resources to turn out voters against Lee will be limited. Further, polls indicate that electoral momentum and enthusiasm are with Republicans. McMullin has yet to establish an attractive individual identity. Lee’s detractors have seemingly guaranteed his reelection.

Webb: McMullin is, for all intents and purposes, a Democrat. He has vigorously courted, and has now been endorsed, by some of Utah’s most liberal Democrats. Does anyone really think Utah voters will send him to Washington with control of the Senate and the direction of the country hanging in the balance?

What does McMullin stand for? We don’t know much, except that he hates Donald Trump and is outraged by everything related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, including Lee’s messages to Trump’s staff in the aftermath.

McMullin’s problem is that Jan. 6 isn’t the main issue in this election. It’s going to be energy and gas prices, other inflation, the border crisis, crime, the war in Ukraine, and it will be a referendum on the Biden administration and Democratic leadership. If beating up Lee over Jan. 6 is all McMullin has, good luck.

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Most Utahns are getting tired of the Jan. 6 drama. Yes, Trump tried to do everything possible to overturn the election. It was stupid of him, and it didn’t work. Trump should just go away. But the republic is secure, so let’s move on to the real issues. This poor old dead mule can only be flogged for so long without boring everyone to tears.

With Democratic backing in hand, watch for McMullin to suddenly become more conservative to appeal to Republicans. It will be a tough transition to make.       

Pignanelli & Webb: A friend to both your columnists, Orrin Hatch, passed away last Saturday. He was a monumental actor in American politics for over 40 years. He deserves the praise and accolades that filled the national and local media. We remember him as a strong advocate for our state and people. Although immensely powerful, Hatch was always kind to those without influence and status. This, more than anything, defines his character.

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.

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