Republicans should have long ago abandoned Trump and a party that supports him. When they failed to stand up for the vulnerable he attacked—people with disabilities, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants—they showed us that they don’t care about lifting up the least of these. In fact, they relied on Trump’s prejudices to increase voter turnout, trading in bigotry for power. When they didn’t depart over his earlier insults of women but now faint at the word “pussy” while refusing to recognize his role in promoting rape culture, they let us know that they don’t care about women but about their own sense of respectability. As I’ve argued elsewhere, they don’t get to pretend to be shocked—shocked, I tell you!—at his vulgarity, sense of entitlement, sexual violence, and lack of respect for others now.
But some of them are.
Among the leaders are Utah Republicans. Their actions just might turn this reliable red state blue.
It started months ago, back when Republicans in other states ought to have started to smell what they were stepping in. Clinton opened a campaign office in the state, which hasn’t voted for a Republican in a national election since LBJ in 1964. She’s been advertising in the state, calling him “unprepared and unfit”—words that mean something to people who pride themselves on being prepared. Before the most recent Trump indecency came to light, the Democratic campaign recognized that the people of Utah are fundamentally decent people, embarrassed by the behavior of Trump.
Note that this is not a love letter to Utah. I’m new to the state, and there is so, so much to love. (The town where I live is getting its own poet laureate.) There are also deep problems, including one of the nation’s highest suicide rates, including a teen rate that has tripled in recent years, sad facts linked, at least in part, to the LDS church’s failure to love its gay children and the availability of guns. Like everywhere, it has problems with race. And opiods.
And Utah can be a rightwinger’s refuge. We enjoy open carry, which is nutty and dangerous. Utahns stockpile weapons. There are lots of doomsday preppers here.
But Utahns are also reasonable, moderate, stalwart, and even-handed. They elect people like former governor and Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, not Ted Cruz. The fact that the population is heavily LDS means that many young people have traveled abroad and speak foreign languages. They come back to Utah different than when they left it, with broader perspectives and insight into how America is seen abroad.
Romney and Huntsman have both criticized Trump, with Huntsman, who is a leader at No Labels, which seeks to reduce partisanship, calling on him to step aside. This week, the current governor, Gary Herbert, withdrew his support for Trump. He was joined by Senator Mike Lee, who used a video he posted on Facebook to directly tell Trump that his immoral behavior was a distraction from the values of the Republican party. Representative Jason Chaffetz also withdrew his endorsement, saying, “I’m not going to put my good name and reputation and my family behind Donald Trump for president when he acts like this. I just can’t do it.” He specifically cited his inability to reconcile support for Trump with care for his teenage daughter.
The conservative Deseret News, an organ of the LDS church has never endorsed a candidate, but it now called for Trump to step aside. “We did not see this as a political issue,” editor Paul Edwards offered. “We really saw it as a moral issue.” The paper explained:
[T]his is one of those rare moments where it is necessary to take a clear stand against the hucksterism, misogyny, narcissism and latent despotism that infect the Trump campaign.
Today I wrote to the former governors who have criticized Trump, the current leaders who have withdrawn their endorsements, as well as the state legislators and Senator Orrin Hatch and Utah’s Representatives to US Congress who have failed to speak against Trump. All are Republicans. I thanked those who have put their country before their party and reminded those who have not yet done so to remember that, for the first time in a long time, the nation is watching Utah. They can be leaders here in elevating the dialogue. Utah’s 6 electoral votes aren’t going to make a difference in this election. Even if the state goes blue, Clinton is likely to wallop him in the polls nationwide—especially if women “remember in November” what Trump has said about them.
What Utah can do, and what Utah’s leaders can help its people do, is change the conversation so we never have to suffer a primary season like this again.