Understanding why Count My Vote divided the GOP

by J.P. Feinauer

In late May, Lt Governor Spencer Cox announced that the petition submitted by Count my Vote did not qualify for the November ballot.  That means the issue remains politically contentious and expands the divide within the party beyond this election cycle. A recent Utah Policy poll[1] says that only 10% of Utah voters “strongly oppose” Count my Vote.  Why are 10% of voters so engaged and angry about this and why it caused such intense feelings and division in the Utah GOP?

I strongly support the delegate system for nominating candidates, but I haven’t supported Keep my Voice or their allies on the state central committee beyond expressing an opinion that their actions did not merit their removal.  Seeing the extreme measures they were willing to take lead to a desire to understand why they were so animated.

For years there have been divisions within the Utah Republican Party. While these differences are complex I think we can roughly divide the party into two groups based on their answers or attitudes toward the question: Why do you oppose the left or the Democratic Party?

Camp one believes that the left is wrong simply because it is radical.  It is extreme in its egalitarianism, or redistributionism or environmentalism or so on.  Camp one’s ideal Republican Party sees the problems brought forth by the left and desires to reach across to Democrats and craft balanced legislation to deal with those issues.  They value congeniality and working together to mitigate extremism and integrate conservative values (religion, patriotism, community) into governmental solutions. This approach they believe also shows an ability to govern and maintain popularity necessary to win elections.

Camp two, by contrast, would answer the same question a by saying leftism is inherently wrong because it is secular, or antagonistic to individual rights or so forth.  Camp Two believes that any acceptance of that ideology changes the nature of the relationship between the governed and the government and weakens the cultural foundation of American Values.  They have come to see the GOP not as a party that fights flawed leftist ideology but as one that compromises and thus enables it.

Looking at the history of who the Utah GOP elects it is clear that camp one has more political power in the state. They are the majority of the party.  Those in camp two have always felt like the place that is most advantageous for them to fight for their ideas and candidates is at the convention where the numbers between the two camps are often more equal.

To many in camp two the Count my Vote initiative seems like retribution for their success at the convention in 2010 when they replaced Bob Bennett with Mike Lee.  They also remember what Orrin Hatch said of them in 2012 when they were trying to force him into a primary saying [they’re not] “conservatives. They’re not Republicans…. I despise these people[2]” and they worry that they are being pushed out of the party.

To them, a signature path to the ballot is a direct attack on their ability to participate with the party because it seems designed to let candidates bypass them altogether.   Since they were a minority already this change makes them feel like they could become effectively voiceless when it comes to the electing of officials. The reason camp two is so willing to fight for the caucus system is because that feel it gives them a chance to work within the GOP to forward their goals. The caucus allows them to have a home in the party.  Without it, they fear that the GOP will have effectively told them to go elsewhere.

The Count My Vote initiative is a sign of the widening divide between and possible eventual divorce of these two camps in the GOP.  Those who want to save the GOP from potential implosion will need to understand the feelings in both camps and seek ways to help all conservatives feel accepted and like they have a voice.

[1] https://www.utahpolicy.com/index.php/features/today-at-utah-policy/16800-new-poll-shows-big-support-for-count-my-vote-ballot-initiative

[2] https://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2012/04/12/150506733/tea-party-again-targets-a-utah-gop-senator-and-orrin-hatch-is-fighting-mad

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