At Saturday’s Utah GOP convention, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s family was subjected to “vulgarity and viciousness” as they volunteered for the Cox-Henderson team. Conservative Rep. Kera Birkeland’s daughter and friends were subjected to mocking and shaming by volunteers at the convention and political insider and volunteer Brian Maxwell and his young son were confronted because of their Cox-Henderson shirts.

All of them were willing to share their stories on social media, even providing additional detail when asked. And these are not isolated stories that I began hearing and writing about Saturday.

First, let’s be clear that some delegates had a great convention. Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Axson and the convention committee team did their best with a crowd of nearly 4,000 delegates, campaign members with their families, staff, volunteers, media, observers and others. Axson repeatedly told delegates that the rules of convention had been set by the State Central Committee, the governing body of the party, and should be followed.

But just because it didn’t happen to you doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Just ask Birkeland, R-Morgan, Utah County Commissioner Amelia Powers Gardner and state Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton. These were not one-off experiences.

Birkeland reiterated her support of the caucus system, and also wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “My daughter’s experience today was unacceptable. Additionally, being rude to your political opponent and his or her supporters is unacceptable. Those who are going after children/teens/opponents supporters are the problem, not the party or the caucus/convention system.”

Gardner, a solid caucus-convention supporter posted that “This was the most vitriolic I’ve ever seen. Many delegates’ litmus test was, are you angry and will you throw temper tantrums. If you wouldn’t concede to their demands, they didn’t care about policies and political issues.”

She also posted that “the line of the entire convention this year that resonated with me the most, ‘maybe you hate that I don’t hate enough.’ I’m not even on the ballot this year and I was attacked viciously by lies and anger from delegates who hate that I don’t hate enough.” The line about hate was given by Gov. Spencer Cox.

McCay, again a strong caucus-convention supporter, posted: “I will drink punch with 1 or maybe 2 dead flies but there were a lot of dead flies in that punchbowl.”

Every convention is raucous, but Saturday’s went beyond that for many who attended. Beyond wearing a preferred candidate’s shirt, hat or sticker, some wore attire with more pointed messages, including “Make tar and feathers legal again” and “Make America Violent Again.”

A group of pro-public education delegates had to move to the back of the convention hall because they did not feel safe. Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith was asked to step in and defuse an altercation. A caller to KSL NewsRadio Monday morning said that he was a first-time delegate who asked loud protesters near him to please be quiet so he could listen to Utah’s governor and was verbally threatened. Another first-time delegate said on the radio that he would have to be dragged “kicking and screaming” to run as a delegate again. The first-time delegates around me also said they would never run again.

Here’s the question many were asking Monday morning: Has the caucus-convention system run its course?

Jumping the shark

Here are some comments from staunch caucus-convention supporters who share concerns that the behavior of a number of delegates is putting the entire system at risk:

McCay: “I love the convention system but it’s on life support for many reasons: 1: Cost of convention (time and money), 2: Separation between convention and primary results, 3: Self-serving representation (not limited to elected officials), 4: Uncivil behavior.” In a separate tweet, he adds that the delegates “set the effort to restore the convention back another decade and may have ended any possibility.”

Justin Stapley, a self-described “political theorist and constitutionalist” with a long post on X: “First and foremost on my mind is that delegates and precinct chairs are cavalierly putting our wonderful caucus system into serious jeopardy.” He said he fears that Utah will “simply move to a pure primary,” which he said would be a tragedy.

Gardner tweeted: “I’m genuinely worried that this group of the dark right, whom I don’t think are conservatives at all, are going to ruin it for the rest of us fighting for liberty. Their poor behavior shouldn’t be dismissed, it should be called out.” She also posted: “I’m afraid the delegates with poor behavior will destroy the caucus system for those of us that have been dedicated to the cause of liberty for decades. We have to do better.”

What’s next?

Taylor Morgan, the executive director of Count My Vote, a Utah organization that helped create the signature path to the ballot, posted: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The caucus convention process is an antiquated, insecure, and an unaccountable relic of last century.” It’s widely anticipated that the original goal of Count My Vote to eliminate the caucus-convention system will be rebooted.