Is the Utah Republican Party determined to kill itself?

James Evans

Even though I’ve long maintained that Utah Republican Party Chair James Evans is kind of a dumpster fire of a state party chair, I still continue to be surprised at some of his awful decisions. While I’m no fan of CMV and the capitulation compromise that is SB54, he seems to be doing his darndest to play into every single stereotype and trope rolled out by supporters. At the same time, whatever monkey is in charge of the official Utah GOP Twitter account thought it would be an awesome idea to start going after a sitting senator by name. It almost seems like the Utah GOP is trying to march the party into irrelevancy.

It’s not just the SB 54 fight either. People close to them claim that many elected Republicans no longer donate to the party, often fearful that the money will later be used against them. (Given the Twitter exchange above, I can’t blame them). County and state party meetings almost always devolve into clown shows of people arguing about Roberts Rules rather than attending to Republican Party business.

Things internally are also a mess. James often acts without informing other party leaders, leaving them to find out about his latest cockamamie idea from the newspapers. Rather than working with the people chosen to assist with specific functions, it’s almost entirely lone wolf actions.

Always lurking right below the surface of these public and private fights are the people who are trying to use the party as their own personal kingmaker machine. They thought they had a pretty good thing going with a party machinery that could expel members deemed unruly, change rules on the fly to their own favor, and generally use lawfare to attain more power. Unfortunately for them, they’ve alienated enough people to no longer enjoy any kind of popular support.

But the problem isn’t just with the chair and the schemers. Former Utah Republican Party Chair Thomas Wright saw this fight coming long ago and pushed for reforms to increase the threshold to avoid a convention from the current 60% to 66%. That change was soundly rejected by the delegates at the convention. While this may not have placated the forces behind Count My Vote (who are all too eager to have their own kingmaker machine), it certainly would have blunted public support for ditching the caucus/convention system. Unfortunately, the mindset of total victory won the day where one side or the other had to get it all their way.

So, here we are at a point where the delegates will have a significantly reduced role in picking the party nominee and elected officials will only nominally support the party, if at all. In this scenario, what exactly does the party do other than create a brand label that candidates can choose to co-opt? More importantly, does the party itself even really control the brand anymore, or is that brand set by the actions of the elected officials who use it? Can the Utah Republican Party exert any control on candidates when they are now more-or-less free to dismiss it on their way to the ballot?

All of these questions call into doubt the very existence of the party as an influencer in state politics. We may very well end up with a “Republican Party” that’s more of an ad hoc group of people who find the loosely-defined label useful as a means to attaining public office. Under such a system, the brand gradually loses meaning and value as candidates further from the traditional right-center core use it because, hey, Utah loves voting for people with an R next to their name.

Unfortunately, the party, both leadership and delegates, seems to be taking the “double down” approach. I’m thinking it only hastens the irrelevancy of the party in state politics. What’s your take?

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