This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A lifelong registered Republican, I registered as unaffiliated earlier this year. The Utah GOP's support for Donald Trump was more than I could take, and that is saying a lot after putting up for years with the crazy inside the Utah GOP. And, as a studied conservative, I have tried to put my finger on a precise summary of this crazy afflicting the Utah GOP and what, if anything, to do about it.
For many years, I blamed the party's undercurrent of libertarianism pushing the Utah GOP to extremes. In great detail, through writing and speech, I have warned Utahns against the libertarian apostasy from true freedom. And, though an impractical philosophy, libertarianism is not the problem.
Perhaps the crazy inside the Utah GOP could be attributed to the unwitting influence of rubes? Support for President Donald Trump provided one more witness for that conclusion. People so seemingly ignorant that only anger guides their votes. People so seemingly lacking in civic virtue that they are blind to Trump's lack of character and unfitness to be president. Or, being generous, people so utterly cynical about American democratic processes they sought literally anyone to save them. But the rubes, by definition, are not smart enough to be the problem.
The crazy inside the Utah GOP is something more than just libertarians and rubes. The Utah GOP has been radicalized. You saw it during the immigration debate a few years ago. You saw it during the 2012 presidential election when ideologues turned their backs on Mitt Romney. They have booed our standard bearers. They have called Sen. Mike Lee a liberal because he supports family tax credits. And we just saw it raise its crazy head again as Chris Herrod received the GOP convention nomination for the 3rd Congressional District seat.
I have no ax to grind against Herrod, but, whether he likes it or not, he is the face of Utah GOP radicalism today with his recent convention victory. On the right, these radicals often call themselves constitutionalists and patriots. In reality, like many on the left, they are Pharisees. They love laws more than people. They worship abstract principles and step on the very values that give principle any real meaning.
In the movie "Thirteen Days," about the Cuban missile crisis, as the weight of the free world fell on Bobby Kennedy to carry a peaceful compromise to Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, Kennedy turns to consigliere Kenny O'Donnell on the way to the Soviet Embassy and laments, "We gave so much to get here. I don't know. Sometimes I think, What the hell did we do it for?"
O'Donnell replies confidently, "Because we knew we could do a better job than everyone else."
What say us? For too long, we thought we could ignore these radicals. When that did not work, we thought we could circumvent them by abandoning the Utah GOP through financial starvation and procedural workarounds such as Count My Vote. But when you stop tending the garden, only weeds grow. Neglect is a choice, not a strategy. The radicalization of the Utah GOP (and the Utah Democratic Party for that matter) is the fault of people who know better.
Ideology and ignorance cannot be fought with mere processes. Only with feet firmly planted in societal values can selfishness and extremes be conquered. Influential Utahns (aka the Establishment), who have traditionally funded the Utah GOP when it prioritized reasonableness over radicalization, need to understand that Count My Vote is a process, not a value.
The ballast in Utah's ship of state is our values. Without ballast, the ship of state will list from one extreme to the other. Process is not ballast. The best processes will not get a ship safely to port if it lacks ballast. Count My Vote might circumvent the crazies procedurally, but it does nothing to affirm values to crowd them out.
Think of all of the nonsense avoided if influential community leaders and sound thinkers put their time and money into Utah values. Imagine if we united, broadly and formally, to identify and sustain the values that make Utah exceptional. This vision is the antidote to the radicalization of our politics: Identify those values, fight for them, fund them and organize behind them.
That is not happening right now. In the name of prudent leadership, many influential Utahns have retreated cynically to pockets of elitism – our boardrooms, chambers, councils, lobbies and universities. We, who know better, must transcend status, class and political party. It's time for those of us who know better (and can do better) to get on the same team. Only then will sanity return to the Utah GOP and all of Utah politics.
Paul Mero is founder of ptmstrategies LLC.