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Washington • With the Republican presidential nomination all but secured for Donald Trump, many of Utah's elected GOP leaders are rallying around their soon-to-be standard bearer, though it's clearly more of an anti-Hillary Clinton move than a pro-Trump effort.
"There's no way that I will vote for Clinton," said Rep. Rob Bishop when asked if he'd support Trump. "That's a given of something that will be a continuation of very bad policies. Trump is not the official nominee until they meet in Cleveland. ... If Trump is the official nominee, then yes, he would be preferable to Hillary Clinton."
None of Utah's federal delegation, and only a few state leaders, had publicly backed Trump but now with Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich suspending their campaigns the GOP officials have to face the hard truth: He's their guy. Even if they don't want to readily admit it and are not offering anything close to a ringing endorsement.
Rep. Chris Stewart, who not long ago said Trump was "our Mussolini," referring to the 20th century fascist dictator of Italy, now says that the billionaire businessman-turned-politician wasn't his "first choice" but that to move forward the party has to unite behind him.
"With as many as four vacancies [possible] on the Supreme Court over the next few years, our future president will shift the court and our country's policies for generations," Stewart said in a statement. "We must unite around conservative principles to get our country back on track."
Gov. Gary Herbert called Trump's apparent nominating victory "another chapter in a very strange and unprecedented presidential campaign. Whatever the rules have been in the past seem to have been thrown out the window in this campaign."
Herbert, who had endorsed Cruz before Utah's primary, said as a national delegate, he plans to vote for Cruz at the convention as he is bound to do. He said the Texas senator "lines up better with the principles and values of Utah," but he hopes to have a chance to meet Trump and "maybe vet him a little better."
"I certainly don't see myself voting for Senator Clinton or Bernie Sanders, you know, an avowed socialist," the governor said.
Even former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a one-time presidential hopeful, says it's time to coalesce behind Trump.
"We've had enough intraparty fighting. Now's the time to stitch together a winning coalition," Huntsman told Politico. "And it's been clear almost from the beginning that Donald Trump has the ability to assemble a nontraditional bloc of supporters. … The ability to cut across traditional party boundaries like '80, '92 and 2008 will be key, and Trump is much better positioned to achieve that."
Sen. Mike Lee's office says it can't say whether the Utah Republican will back Trump. Rep. Mia Love's campaign manager said she hasn't decided.
"There is still plenty of time before the convention and the election for that decision to be made," Dave Hansen said on Love's behalf.
Anyone but Clinton • Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who stumped for then-GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, is resigned to the choice his party's voters have made in primary contests.
"Looks like it's going to go that way," Chaffetz said. "It happened. So the reality is it'll be Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton and that's a no-brainer for me. Hillary Clinton as president is a very scary scenario so I think the country will see it the same way. It wasn't my first choice but my No. 1 goal is not allow Hillary Clinton to become the next president of the United States."
Chaffetz said Trump hasn't asked for help on the stump, but Sen. Orrin Hatch says he's ready if needed.
"It looks to me like he's going to win [the nomination] and if he does I'm going to do everything in my power to help him," Hatch told Newsmax last week.
Hatch had endorsed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio and isn't likely to endorse Trump anytime soon. But the Utah senator does believe that Trump can overcome some of the more controversial remarks he's thrown out so far in the race.
"I think he could be great if he'll get serious about being president, and I think he will," Hatch told Newsmax. "When he gets hit with reality that this is the toughest job in the world, he's a clever, smart guy who I think will want to be remembered for doing good things, so I have a feeling he can make that transition."
Former state Rep. Chris Herrod, who helped organize Cruz's efforts in Utah, said Wednesday that the senator's decision to drop out "was pretty devastating," and it remains to be seen whether he could support Trump.
"You never make a big decision while you're mourning," Herrod said. Backing Clinton is not an option, he said, but Trump is a "wild card."
"As a true believer in the conservative cause, I'm frightened for our nation," Herrod said. "I think part of [his support] will be determined if Trump can start acting presidential. But I'm still frightened by his bullying nature. I don't want a right-wing despot any more than I want a left-wing despot."
Boyd Matheson, president of the conservative Sutherland Institute and a former chief of staff to Lee, said Cruz did the right thing in dropping out of the race, and while Republicans may not embrace Trump completely, they will support pieces of his platform.
Utah Republican National Committeeman Bruce Hough said he was surprised Cruz got out of the race when he did because things were looking up for him in parts of California. But after the Indiana defeat, Trump's path to the nomination was almost assured.
Now, Hough said, the organization and resources of the national Republican Party will be completely behind the party's nominee, and the party is better organized, better funded and has more "boots on the ground" than any time in its history.
"Can [rank-and-file] Republicans get behind Donald Trump as a candidate? Well, so far they have. That's why he's the nominee," Hough said. "My view of it is that Donald Trump as a president will be better than Hillary Clinton and we will have a better chance of placing conservatives on the Supreme Court with Donald Trump in office … and that is a generational issue, not just four years of a presidency."
Utah values? • Utah Democrats were already salivating at the presumption that Trump would be the GOP's nominee. A Deseret News poll in March showed that if the general election were Trump vs. Clinton, the state would go for the Democratic nominee for the first time in more than 50 years.
"I always thought that Trump represented the modern Republican Party and now he is the presumptive nominee," Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said. "I think he is the result of 20 years of fear politics."
"I think the outcome of his nomination will be a Democratic presidential victory in 2016 and hopefully more Democrats elected in the state of Utah as well," he said. "I think Donald Trump doesn't represent Utah values, so even Utah Republicans will look at potentially voting for a Democratic presidential candidate."
Chris Karpowitz, director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, said that Trump on the ticket could create opportunities for Democrats, both at the top of the ticket and in congressional and legislative races.
"I think Utahns have shown already in the Republican primary that they are not enamored with Donald Trump," Karpowitz said.
Trump got just 14 percent of the vote in that contest.
"He does not seem to represent a style of politics or substance that Utahns seem to want," Karpowitz said. "That's not to say that Hillary Clinton is popular here, but I think in terms of both his attitude … and sort of his general style, it's not a good fit for Utah."
The state party needs to be concerned, as well, since independents and disaffected Republicans could stay home or break their loyalty to the party. "I think this certainly makes the electoral environment more uncertain down the ballot than it typically is," Karpowitz said.
Hough said that the national party will have to keep its guard up and work hard in all 50 states to ensure against losses in congressional races that could jeopardize its control of Congress.
But Matheson believes the same logic that is driving Utah politicos to Trump namely that he's not Clinton will resonate with voters who dislike the Democratic nominee.
"Hillary is equally as toxic and the Clintons have never won anything in the state of Utah," Matheson said. "I think that part is a wash between the two parties."
Matt Canham contributed to this report.