U.S. Senate candidate Trent Staggs staked out an uncompromising “America First” position on border security, Ukraine aid and federal budgets, during an extended interview with the Deseret News on Wednesday.

The Riverton mayor, and former Salt Lake County mayoral candidate, called this “the most important election ever.” He said former President Donald Trump and his allies need to command the White House and both chambers of Congress in 2025 because “we have very little runway left” to pull back from “this crisis that we’re in.”

Staggs said without such a Republican trifecta, composed of “America First constitutional conservatives” like Sen. Mike Lee, “we’re not going to be able to effectively create the change that I think the American people have been demanding.”

What did Trent Staggs say about border and Ukraine?

Staggs echoed Trump’s views on Ukraine and the U.S.-Mexico border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine would come to a speedy diplomatic resolution under Trump’s leadership, Staggs said. He did not elaborate on how that would be done.

In the meantime, Staggs continued, European countries should take their security into their own hands and U.S. lawmakers should address the security at their own border.

“American sovereignty, American border security needs to be prioritized over that of Ukraine,” Staggs said.

A small portion of the more than $100 billion allocated toward military and monetary assistance in Ukraine would have been enough to complete a wall along the Mexico-U.S. border, Staggs said.

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That this hasn’t already been done during President Joe Biden’s time in office — in which a reported more than 7 million migrants have crossed the border — “speaks to where the priorities have been,” Staggs said.

As senator, Staggs would support banning welfare benefits to migrants who enter the country illegally, implementing E-verify nationally to confirm the migrant status of employees and returning to the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, which requires migrants seeking asylum to wait out their immigration proceedings on the other side of the border.

But his “tough border position” shouldn’t be conflated with disfavor toward immigration, Staggs said. He also supports expediting the process by which qualifying individuals can become citizens of the United States.

“Reward legality, and not illegality, or illegal behavior,” Staggs said to summarize his views. “Right now, the Biden administration is just supporting and rewarding the wrong thing.”

Senate candidate Trent Staggs speaks as he meets with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards at Triad Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Should senators compromise?

There is no room to compromise on “America First” issues, such as the importance of securing the border and reining in a runaway national debt, Staggs said.

“I’m not going back to make friends, I’m going to make change,” Staggs said.

Staggs said responsible lawmakers have no choice but to reform the main drivers of national debt: entitlement programs. Benefits should remain untouched for those who have already paid into the systems, Staggs said, but Congress should consider the privatization of Social Security and site-neutral reimbursements for Medicare for future generations.

Fiscal sanity in the federal budget can only be restored if lawmakers return to the proper process, Staggs said. He repeated Lee’s criticisms of legislative leadership, or “the Firm,” which often negotiate massive annual spending packages behind closed doors with little input from most representatives.

Staggs acknowledges his policy wishlist is all but wishful thinking if Senate Republicans remain in, or House Republicans enter, the minority.

“The reality is, unless we have the majority in D.C., we’re not going to get anything done,” Staggs said.

But in Washington, D.C., the most important distinction isn’t between Democrat and Republican, Staggs said, it’s between “American and anti-American.”

“They want open borders. They want $34-plus trillion in debt. They want a regulatory state that is a stranglehold on our economy,” Staggs said. “And those are people with which I think you cannot compromise. We need to get back to the foundational principles of this country — what made us great.”

Will Staggs’ strategy work?

As the first of 11 Republican candidates to enter the race to replace Sen. Mitt Romney — who he said was “emblematic of the issue that we have in American politics” — Staggs has labored to carve out a lane as the most Trump-aligned candidate.

He has sought and received the endorsement of several national figures that he says characterize “the willingness to stand up and fight the establishment,” including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a prominent member of the House Freedom Caucus; Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., a close friend of Lee; and Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake.

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Despite the small-dollar donations associated with figures like Gaetz, Staggs’ strategy has left him trailing candidates like 3rd District Rep. John Curtis and former state House Speaker Brad Wilson in fundraising. However, it may pay off among state delegates ahead of the April 27 GOP convention.

Staggs came in first place in a straw poll conducted last month among 425 Washington County delegates. He won with nearly 32% of the vote, followed by Wilson with 23%, Curtis with 20% and political adviser Carolyn Phippen with 13%.

Unlike Curtis, Wilson, and most other candidates, including Moxie Pest Control CEO Jason Walton, Staggs has opted to place his primary hopes entirely in the party convention system instead of gathering signatures.

The Republican state convention will be held on April 27. Candidates who receive more than 40% of delegate votes, or who have gathered enough verified signatures, will appear on the primary ballot on June 25.

The GOP nominee who emerges from the primary will face off against the nominees from other registered political parties in the Nov. 5 general election.

Other Republican candidates, besides those already named, include certified public accountant Josh Randall, Bookroo founder Chandler Tanner, Brian Jenkins, Jeremy Friedbaum and Clark S. White.

The Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate in Utah include mountaineer Caroline Gleich, Archie Williams III and Laird Hamblin.