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Future of the Utah GOP 'without Trump'

Posted at 6:01 PM, Jan 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-21 20:01:29-05

SALT LAKE CITY — As many Utah delegates in Washington D.C. call for unification, one county commissioner said Republicans need to forget about former President Donald Trump and the past four years.

For Utah's Republican Party, the memory of Senator Mike Lee shouting at the 2016 Republican National Convention, opposing Trump, is one of the first conflicts with the former president and his candidacy.

Four years later, the conflict remained as protesters broke into the U.S. Capitol two weeks before Trump would turn over the White House to the next administration.

Though Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge is a registered Republican, he said his party is better off without Trump.

"It was a betrayal of our principals to give Donald Trump this nomination," said Ainge. "You do not take an oath to this president, or this party, you take an oath to this country."

Commissioner Ainge said he was surprised by some in GOP leadership who have supported Trump from the beginning, like Congressman Burgess Owens.

Initially Sen. Lee was against Trump, but later told FOX 13 he was mistaken.

"While this is not a president I expected to like, I've gotten to know him since then and I've developed a good working relationship with him," said Sen. Lee in 2020.

Commissioner Ainge hopes Republicans will take more of a Senator Mitt Romney approach, who has openly opposed Trump.

"I think it’s critical that you vote your conscience regardless if you’ve aligned yourself with a certain party," said Ainge.

This division among party members is not unprecedented, according to Utah State University Political Science Professor Damon Cann.

"Trump has not necessarily created brand new fractures so much as he has had a particular appeal to certain segments that have always been there," said Cann.

The 2020 election was different for Utah, said Cann, because it showcased a general distrust in Trump by Utahn's who historically show strong support for the RNC candidate.

"We need more time to measure to see if Trumpism is the future of the Republican Party," said Cann. "If that’s the case, there may be changes down the road in Utah."

One change Commissioner Ainge suggested is ranked-choice voting, where you can pick your candidate by highest to lowest preference.

"Our elected officials are a reflection of our people but ranked-choice voting brings more people into that discussion," said Ainge. "It makes sure you reach a full majority instead of just a real active base that’s going to vote you in on a primary election."

Both politician and professor can agree on one change -- a need to unify both party and country.

"The tone and lack of civility that we’re seeing in American politics right now is at a very challenging level," said Cann.

A time for change in the Republican party and for Commissioner Ainge, a time for the Utah GOP to heal.

"This is about having a strong Republican Party and actually living by our conservative principals," said Ainge.