Your columnists are pleased with themselves. We avoided mentioning Pres. Joseph Biden and former Pres. Donald Trump in any substantive way for weeks. However, this refreshing respite has abruptly ended, overtaken by recent events — multiple indictments against Trump for allegedly mishandling classified documents, obstructing justice and making false statements. (The pause was nice while it lasted.) We review local implications.

The most recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll revealed Utah Republican voters are evenly divided between Trump (27%) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (26%) for the GOP nomination. But the survey was conducted weeks before the indictment. Will Trump’s latest legal problems affect Utahns’ perception of him and other presidential contenders?

Pignanelli: “The Department of Justice may have been out to get Trump … but he made it easy for them to do so.” — Georgetown Professor Jonathan Turley, Fox News Contributor   

Utahns are appropriately fussy about elected officials, demanding adherence to ethical and legal standards. The rare deviations from these parameters solicit a swift response — especially from the violators’ own party. Thus, our state enjoys a solid track record of principled leaders.

The latest revelations will likely drive independents towards alternatives to Trump, while reaction among local GOP is complicated.

Republicans express frustration when drawing comparisons to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who escaped formal punishment for failing to protect hundreds of confidential emails by using a private server. Her staff’s attempts to evade the Federal Freedom of Information Act were especially egregious. (These actions drove many Democrat and Independent voters towards Trump in the 2016 election.) This irritation is compounded by investigations targeting Trump eventually deemed baseless (Russian collusion) or universally condemned as reckless partisanship (initiated by the Manhattan District Attorney).

But the new indictments are another flavor. A vast majority of Republican legal experts who condemned prior actions against Trump are publicly stating the alleged violations of the Espionage Act are problematic for Trump.

If the serious allegations are substantiated, a subtle shift among many conservative Utahns will occur. Utahns demand — and provide — excellent and ethical performance. These standards will be demonstrated in upcoming presidential preferences.

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Webb: Unfortunately, the new Trump indictment will probably help him win the GOP nomination. The indictment confirms what most Republicans already believe — that the Biden administration and the Washington establishment are out to destroy Trump and will use any means to do it. A recent ABC News poll showed 80% of Republicans nationally think the charges are politically motivated.

In Utah, the indictment probably won’t make much difference. At this point, you’re either for Trump or against him, no matter what he’s accused of.

Personally, as I’ve written many times, I don’t want Trump — or Biden — to be president. This is the worst presidential choice in my lifetime. The two leading candidates are equally bad.

I believe the charges against Trump are very serious, and probably justified. But it’s also true that Trump has been unmercifully investigated and persecuted since he walked down that famous escalator in 2015.

Trump’s character is deeply flawed, and he’s unworthy to become president. But Democrats, the liberal news media, Hollywood influencers, the FBI and the Justice Department have also unfairly harassed him for eight long years. As some brilliant philosopher said, “It ain’t paranoia if they’re really after you.” 

The multiple Trump investigations (including two ill-conceived impeachments) have numbed most Republicans to new accusations. We need discerning Republicans to say, “Yes, Trump has been treated unfairly. But he brought most of it on himself and there are much better choices for the Republican nomination.”

So far, that’s not happening.

Many high-profile Republicans are condemning the indictments, while a few are less accusatory of the Justice Department or they question Trump’s actions. What strategy should local officials develop in response?

Pignanelli: Recorded conversations of officials alter political dynamics. The release of the “smoking gun” tape wherein Pres. Richard Nixon authorized CIA obstruction of the FBI Watergate investigation was fatal and prompted Republicans to shift messaging.

Finger-pointing at Hillary, the Steele Dossier, and zealous New York prosecutors by the GOP are expected. But Trump is on tape with damaging statements. Thus, a swing to an alternate position is likely (i.e. “The Department of Justice is weaponized against Trump, and he unfortunately provided the ammunition.”)

Webb: If a Republican in Utah wants to win the party nomination, he or she had better denounce the charges against Trump. Here’s what they should say: “I think Trump has been unfairly targeted, but for president I support (choose one: DeSantis, Pence, Christie, Haley, Scott, etc.).”

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Will the indictments be an issue in the Second Congressional District special elections?

Pignanelli: Voters can expect denunciations of Hillary, President Biden, his son Hunter Biden, overaggressive Democrats, etc. This is a red meat issue perfect for summer election barbecues.

Webb: Hardcore activist Republicans will be influential in the GOP primary election. They, and other voters, will want to know candidate opinions on this latest Trump imbroglio.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semi-retired small farmer and political consultant. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email: frankp@xmission.com.