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Trump's demeanor makes reelection harder but for two things, Utah Rep. Chris Stewart says

FILE - Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks at the grand opening ceremony of the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 17, 2019.
FILE - Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks at the grand opening ceremony of the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 17, 2019.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump's demeanor would make it hard under normal circumstances for him to be reelected, except for two things, a Republican Utah congressman says.

"First, he can really point his finger at some success, and the second thing is he probably wouldn't have been elected in the first place were it not for Hillary Clinton. She just was a bad candidate," Rep. Chris Stewart said.

Now, Democrats may choose a 2020 challenger who "gives him that same argument, that is they're going to advocate for policies that most Americans just won’t accept," such as socialism and the Green New Deal, he said.

Stewart spoke Tuesday at a Sutherland Institute forum titled, "Free Enterprise or Socialism — Where is America Headed?" A panel discussion followed his speech.

"My relation with President Trump is like a lot of people in the room, it’s a little bit strained for some reasons," he said. "He makes my job so much harder in a lot of ways."

Stewart named Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., among those pushing a socialist agenda, something he said he never expected to fight in Congress.

Some will say they have not been promoting true socialist policies, he said.

"Kind of true, up until the last six months," Stewart said. "Absolutely, demonstrably untrue now."

Although socialism has failed dozens of times in countries around the world, people advocating for it now say they're going to do it right this time because they think they're smarter, he said.

"History has shown this is a fantasy. This is an absolute fantasy," Stewart said. Socialism, he said, always leads to misery, oppression and pain for people.

Free enterprise and capitalism aren't perfect and have some flaws, he said, noting that there are still "poor among us" and income inequality, which he says became greater during the Clinton and Obama administrations.

One of the pluses to capitalism is its ability to foster innovation and create wealth that allows Americans to be the most generous people in the world in terms of humanitarian aid, Stewart said.

"No nation can do that if they're broke," he said.

"It's the choice between an imperfect system that has enormous benefits and abject failure," Stewart said. "The imperfections of this program cannot detract or should not detract from the success we've had and the contrast of the failure of the other option."

During a panel discussion, Romina Boccia, a Heritage Foundation economist, said advocates for socialism take a more subtle approach compared to revolutions of the past. Socialism now is presented more as social justice, care for the Earth and care for the vulnerable, she said.

"Today's socialists are trying to lure us in by appealing to our higher virtues such as generosity, selflessness and love of planet, while at the same time exploiting our most harmful vices, including jealousy and envy," she said.

While they appeal to concepts of fairness and justice, they turn those ideas upside-down.

"There's nothing compassionate about taking from one person works hard every day and giving to another who chooses not to do so," Boccia said.

Utah House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said everyone should be suspicious of broad labels when it comes to socialism or capitalism.

"The fact is all of us are deeply engaged in capitalism and socialism every day in every single thing that we do," he said. "I'm very suspicious of this either-or paradigm here. The fact is this is a mixed economy that we have in this country."