Utah lawmakers are marching efficiently through many budget and legislative issues, a number of them controversial. Meanwhile, at the federal level, political machinations continue to confuse and upset citizens, your columnists included.

Donald Trump is the clear favorite to secure the GOP nomination. However, Nikki Haley is continuing her campaign, for now. Both candidates enjoy endorsements from prominent Utahns, and a number of Utah Republican women are rallying support for Haley. So, what is the status of Utah in the presidential selection process at this point?

Pignanelli: “Nikki Haley is right to stay in and fight. No one has the right to shut her down.” — Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal   

Last week, Jason Perry of the Hinckley Report revealed a recent presidential preference poll of Utah registered Republicans with the following results: Donald Trump, 49%; Nikki Haley, 22% (a sharp increase from results late last year); Ron DeSantis, 13%; undecided, 17%. Although still behind, Haley has momentum in Utah and a chance to prevail.

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Poll: Trump widens lead in Utah

Conventional wisdom among national pundits is Haley has no path to victory. Yet for over eight years, the political environment has defied traditional parameters and expectations. The solid predictions of “experts” a decade ago were blown apart by changing demographics and shifting cultural mores. Therefore, much that is unexpected can happen between now and the GOP convention in July.

Haley’s conservatism and personal story is appealing to local Republicans. A strong showing by Haley in the Feb. 24 South Carolina primary could propel a good result in Utah (and other states) on Super Tuesday, March 5. This gives her enough delegates for a continued fight.

Betting on the unforeseen is risky, but the benefits are usually incredible.

Webb: I hope Haley stays in the race as long as possible. But her candidacy may not survive until Utah’s March 5 Super Tuesday caucuses. And the Utah Republican Party has also stacked the deck in favor of Trump by using caucus meetings to select Utah’s preference for the Republican nomination. Thus, barring something cataclysmic, Trump will be the Republican nominee and he will win Utah’s delegates.

I think Trump is the favorite to win it all, given President Joe Biden’s weakness. But it will be a very ugly campaign. And Trump, with his repulsive character, has offended enough independents and moderate Republicans to give Biden a shot at winning. 

A bipartisan immigration deal has had a chance of succeeding, at least in the Senate. However, Trump is opposing the compromise so he can continue to use the border crisis against Biden in the general election. Is this smart politics?

Pignanelli: Historians debate serious allegations that Richard Nixon prompted South Vietnam to walk away from peace talks to help him in the 1968 elections. There are other instances of delicate negotiations scuttled for electoral gain. But this issue has become so toxic that any supposed mischief could cause a serious blowback among voters toward the perceived perpetrators.

Immigration reform stalled this century on occasions when both parties controlled the White House and Congress. The current dynamics plaguing this problem are immense and will likely cause the legislation to fail, regardless of presidential politics.

Webb: Republicans are very close to allowing Donald Trump to dictate what happens in Congress, including immigration solutions, because they are terrified of getting crosswise with him. That’s a shame. As the immigration crisis worsens over the next eight months, with the flow of fentanyl and other illegal drugs only increasing, Republicans will have only themselves to blame for allowing Trump to use immigration as a campaign issue instead of solving it.

Will Utahns be upset if Congress fails to deliver needed aid to Ukraine and Israel?

Pignanelli: Utahns of my generation and older lived through the Cold War and understand the threat of authoritarian enemies. We support Ukraine to send a needed signal to adversaries who wish us harm. We care for the Israelis because they are loyal allies. But most younger citizens apparently prefer redirecting resources to domestic concerns. Thus, division among voters.

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Webb: I, for one, will be upset if we don’t quickly provide more support to Ukraine and Israel. Aid to Ukraine may well be a casualty of the border crisis stalemate. And that would be tragic. Republicans say they won’t provide more funding for Ukraine until the border chaos is resolved.

I’m all for closing the border, but I am embarrassed that my party in Congress is becoming virulently isolationist and is willing to risk Russia taking over Ukraine — increasing the chances of widespread war. A Ukraine defeat means China becoming more aggressive with Taiwan and eventually invading; North Korea becoming more belligerent, unpredictable and provocative; and Iran expanding its proxy attacks on international shipping and U.S. forces.

All of that is certain to happen as these rogue countries run by dictators see weak-kneed Republicans unwilling to stand up and fight evil in the world. If World War III breaks out, you can blame congressional Republicans and Trump.

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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