SALT LAKE CITY — Gary Huntsman can get emotional talking about former President Donald Trump.
“It was hard for me to not see the United States’ people give him credit for what things he’s done, and destroy him,” Huntsman said, as a tear started falling down his cheek. “It was a fight for him for four years – from the beginning, before he got elected until….
“Excuse me. God. I didn’t mean to get carried away.”
Even though the election was lost, Huntsman has continued his financial support, donating at least $200 to Trump in the weeks after Nov. 3.
Janet Spencer, of West Jordan, gave Trump at least $600 after Election Day.
“I donated to him after the election,” Spencer said, “because I feel like what he stood for was important to me and I support his movement that he has created across America.” Spencer and Huntsman are in good company here in the Beehive State. According to records compiled by Propublica, Utahns made over 52,000 donations to then-President Trump between the election and the end of 2020.
The contributions from Utah totaled at least $2.3 million. That amount is more than 50 times the Utah donations the Federal Elections Commission recorded for Trump after the 2016 election.
“At this point, President Trump is very popular in Utah,” said Josh Ryan, an associate professor of political science at Utah State University. “He is essentially the Republican Party. That’s true all over the country.
“He was less popular in 2016, President Trump, at least in Utah. There was a lot of discomfort with his candidacy in 2016. I think a lot of that skepticism of him has gone away in the last four years.”
So, what do these donations mean for the future of Trump’s base in Utah?
Leah Murray, a professor of political science at Weber State University some of those post-2020 donations may actually be to help Trump in 2024, if he runs for president again.
“But President Trump never conceded,” Murray said. “So, if he’s your candidate, and he’s telling you that he won the race and he’s still in it and he’s still fighting, then there’s still some incentive to donate money.”
Huntsman, a Relator in Sandy, developed an indirect connection to the former president. One of Huntsman’s employees competed on “The Apprentice.”
Huntsman also gives the former president credit for the first bailout that helped his business during the pandemic.
“If I could vote tomorrow for Donald,” Huntsman said, “I’d vote tomorrow for him to be re-elected.”
Murray says much of the loyalty Trump inspires stems from his sudden rise in politics and the pop culture status that has created.
“And I would argue he’s not alone,” Murray said. “I would argue that President Barak Obama was a bit pop politician. And what I mean that is, you know, they became like rock stars.”
Do Trump supporters care about him when they are voting in state and local elections?
“Yes,” Ryan said. “I think if you are voting, if you’re a strong Republican and you’re a strong supporter of President Trump – as most strong Republicans are now – you’re going to want to know if your local officials are supporters of President Trump.”
Murray, though, contends local elections tend to be about local issues. When former Utah Speaker of the House Greg Hughes ran for governor in 2020, he placed Trump in his campaign ads.
“And Spencer Cox is governor,” Murray said.
Huntsman and Spencer say whether Utah candidates support Trump’s movement, even if he doesn’t run for president again, will be a factor in who they vote for.
“It seems like all of our freedoms are being attacked,” Spencer said, “and I guess I would consider that attacked by the liberal left, if you want to put it that way.”
If Trump doesn’t run for president again, he can use his campaign money to support other candidates for office.