Character has always been an important consideration for Utahns when evaluating candidates for office. This speaks to the strong moral fiber of the state. We examine new polling on this issue and developments in presidential politics.

A recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll revealed that when asked what qualities they wanted in a leader, the highest plurality, 33% of Utah voters, stated moral character and 17% trustworthiness. (The remaining 50% was comprised of various other attributes.) The survey also disclosed that among GOP voters, Donald Trump has increased his lead over Ron DeSantis, 29% to 24% (other candidates received 6% or less). Given the controversies plaguing the former president for many years, is there an incongruity here?

Pignanelli: “We’re halfway done with this year now, and the story of the primary has been Trump, Trump, Trump. It’s hard for any of these (other candidates) to get oxygen at all.” — Jonathan Martin, Politico 

A wonderful feature of this poll documents Utahns of all political affiliations and demographics value character in leaders. Interestingly, Americans in other states prize strength more than personal integrity. This explains why Utah suffers few political scandals and enjoys effective government. Our politicians, appointed officials and community leaders can differ dramatically in their public policy positions. Yet they all share a common fundamental — dedication to moral and ethical conduct.

This virtue compels Utahns to expect more from their officials than from those serving in D.C. from other areas. We swallow hard in supporting national leaders on either side that strongly advocate needed policies but with lower personal standards. This acknowledgment to reality clarifies how local Republicans support Donald Trump. (Democrats endured similar pain through unflinching support to a beleaguered president 25 years ago. The current occupant is also not an easy gulp.)

Our citizens must be reminded that a commitment to character pays dividends of moral conduct and efficient governance. Hopefully, the “Utah Way” of virtuous leadership will urge a nationwide trend.

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Webb: Yes, supporting Trump while valuing moral character is highly contradictory. But there’s a reason for it, and Democrats, the liberal news media, the Washington establishment (deep state), Hollywood and the elite tech companies are all to blame.

Through their persecution, numerous investigations, impeachment and general harassment of Trump over the last eight years (some of it justified, some of it not), plus their embrace of liberal, woke, profligate politics, these mostly left-wing institutions have managed to elevate Trump to superstar status. In the eyes of his supporters, he’s a true American hero, the only politician with the guts and capability to stand against the liberal mob.

This is awfully appealing to conservative, middle-class, fly-over America — salt-of-the-earth citizens who are fearful of the direction their country is headed. These folks are more than willing to ignore or forgive Trump’s numerous and serious character flaws. To support Trump is to give the proverbial middle finger to all those left-wing institutions they dislike. And while they admit Trump has some flaws, the alternative (a second term for Joe Biden) is much worse.

I sympathize with much of that sentiment. But, for me, Trump’s outright lies, his incredible disloyalty, his enormous ego and his treatment of women as playthings are disqualifying. I have liked many of his policies, and I agree that Democrats and the Washington establishment have unfairly and sometimes illegally tried to destroy him.

But I no longer trust his judgment. I worry that his pettiness, erratic behavior and recklessness would get us into a war or take us on a path of isolationism and retreat from the world stage.

Trouble is, I don’t trust or like Joe Biden any better.

Trump’s legal challenges are expected to continue with additional indictments and court dates in coming weeks and months. As presidential politics heats up, Trump will be dividing time between campaign events and courtroom activities. Will this impact the presidential campaign nationally and in Utah?

Pignanelli: The well-respected New York Times/Siena poll recently explained that Trump is supported by 54% of GOP voters while DeSantis has fallen to 17% (with the others far behind). These results reflect the recent indictments. Nothing is slowing the Trump juggernaut.

Normally, Trump’s distraction of paying legal fees from donations and attending endless court hearings would cripple his campaign. But his effective “I am the victim fighting for you” message is energizing support. Other candidates have little time to develop a strategy that appeals to the party faithful.

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Webb: For Trump’s base, indictments are just more of the same persecution. The hate-Trumpers have cried wolf so many times that most Republicans just ignore them. Plus, they see a double standard as Democratic scandals (see: the Biden family) are handled very delicately.

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Another Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll also reaffirmed that Gov. Spencer Cox continues to enjoy a solid approval rating of 63%. What could be his influence in the upcoming election season?

Pignanelli: The environment for the upcoming election will be toxic. Americans may find solace with a young popular Republican governor, espousing tempered, respectful voicing of disagreements.

Webb: Cox is a refreshing politician. He’ll need to find the right balance of niceness and toughness to be influential beyond Utah.

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.

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