The more I hear about how the Utah Republican Party may respond to SB54 now that they have failed to get an injunction, the more I am concerned about the Party taking the wrong approach. As I see it, there are two paths that the party can take: fight the change or embrace it.
From the comments Utah Republican Party Chair James Evans made at the Utah County Republican Convention, it sounds like he very much wants to fight the changes by forcing candidates to either continue to use the caucus system or pay a fair amount of money and be interviewed by party representatives. I actually listened to James talk about this with some delegates and somewhat defended him as I thought through the idea.
The other approach is for the party to embrace the change and find ways to help the candidates instead of being another hurdle they have to jump over. SB54 is law, and the party can embrace it and make the necessary changes. Of course the delegate system will become far less relevant.
What is going to happen if the party takes the first approach. The party will try to force its influence by making candidates submit to an interview and questionnaire and pay for the privilege. I imagine a large amount of candidates will go both the caucus and signature route together or may even skip the caucus. I also imagine that candidates will submit to this but it will be viewed poorly by both the candidates and the general public. And just as the party is trying to circumvent SB54 candidates and others will try to circumvent this measure either through law or other means. Personally, I see this path as eventually making the party and caucus system far less relevant. This path would be a public relations nightmare. Many look down on the caucus system as a handful of elites who discourage other people from participating. It only takes looking at some of the votes of the State Central Committee to strongly strengthen this impression. Taking the first path will appear to be a power grab by a party trying to force its way to remain relevant. This will reflect poorly in Utah and very poorly outside of Utah.
Alternatively, the party can embrace SB54. This will show that they don’t have tunnel vision, only seeing what many delegates want instead of the general public. They can show that they are willing to adapt. Conventions can still be held and delegates can still choose a nominee and the party can endorse that nominee going into a primary. How much influence will the party have under this scenario? That is up to them and how they treat the general public. As delegates we must remember that we represent the party, and not an ideology.
Although the first path might strengthen the party’s ability to control the candidates, at least short term, the second path will help more Republicans win elections, which is what the party is supposed to be doing in the first place.
After talking to some of the delegates I came to realize that it is easy to have tunnel vision and forget who we are representing. We like to complain about politicians who have been in office for many years, but isn’t that true of many of the delegates and members of the central committee? Without realizing it, as delegates, we have become the establishment. Perhaps we need to take a step back and remember who we represent, and go and ask them how they feel about this. I did, and they definitely prefer the second option. If we are scared that signature gatherers will beat the winners from convention, perhaps we don’t represent the rest of the party as much as we think.
There is a third option, which is to spent the time infighting and not even be on the ballot next year. Hopefully we at least advert this disaster.