Utah GOP leaders push unity moving forward from midterm elections

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This story pairs with “Romney election exemplifies disparity between GOP convention, population”

The midterm elections in November brought big changes to the Republican Party in Utah. In addition to Mitt Romney’s senate race victory, Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, lost to Ben McAdams by a total of 694 votes, and Donald Trump’s approval ratings are lower than ever before in Utah.

In the wake of the political whirlwind of midterms, Republicans now have a chance to stop and evaluate the current state of the party.

When asked whether there was a little bit of division among the Republican Party,BYU political science professor Richard Davis said, “A little bit? A lot. And yes, it was caused by Donald Trump. Trump is leading the party towards more nativism, isolationism and economic protectionism. Some Republicans favor that, but many are repelled by it.”

Trump’s approval numbers in Utah were never extremely high. In January 2017, Trump had a 58 percent approval rating. Since then, his approval numbers have dropped by 23 percent: the biggest drop in any state that voted for Trump in 2016.

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(Map created by Jefferson Jarvis)

State Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Davis, disagrees Trump is the reason the GOP is becoming less unified.

I think the divide among Republicans is getting worse in Utah not because of Trump, although he hasn’t helped,” Weiler said. “This was going on long before Trump, it’s been over 20 years. The most apparent that it’s ever been is after (President) Obama in his first term when the tea party uprising happened.”

Weiler said the biggest division in the party is the right-wing extremists who are often the loud minority.

Utah County Republican Party Chairman Rob Craig said small factions can gain a disproportional influence in the precinct caucus system because leaders know how to take advantage of the rules.

“Instead of the party looking within and asking how we can fix the concerns, people are focused on using party rules to their advantage,” Craig said. “There needs to be an emphasis on product rather than process.”

Though some, like Weiler, said Trump isn’t the cause of the problem, Davis said Trump’s policy lines up with the more extreme members of the party.

Davis also said the higher number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah creates a unique disapproval of Trump’s past. “(Latter-day Saint voters) are repelled by his personal style and background, even if the more die-hard Republicans agree with his policy actions.”

The path to unity in the party is unclear. Craig said the most enthusiastic Republicans are often extremist compared to the moderate majority, and their efforts can end up doing more harm than good.

“Unfortunately, those who think they are the saviors of the party are actually the demons destroying it,” Craig said. “God bless them for their heart and desire, but sometimes that passion has grown into disruption.” 

Although the GOP has its struggles, Craig said he is proud of the overall Republican brand and feels there is hope in the future.

The hope of the party, Craig said, is in working with the younger generation, teaching students to be involved in politics and focusing on commonalities rather than differences. “Ronald Reagan always said, ‘The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor,’ and I stand by that comment.”

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