‘Never Hillary,’ ‘Never Trump’ causes party conflicts
As the setting sun flooded a meeting of Utah County Republicans, Melanie Sorensen described her concerns about her party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
First, she spoke about Donald Trump’s suggestion that he may violate party orthodoxy and back a minimum-wage increase. Then, she addressed his tendency to take different sides of the same issue. Then, the image he projects to the world.
“I’m certainly a ‘Never Hillary’ person, but I may also be a ‘Never Trump’ person,” said Sorensen, 42, a homemaker who spends countless hours volunteering for the GOP. “It’s a nightmare. I’m living in a nightmare.”
Voters in this slice of deeply conservative Utah are experiencing an acute version of the political panic attack that’s gripped much of the GOP since Trump’s remaining rivals dropped out last week.
Utah County, 30 miles south of Salt Lake City, was never going to support Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. It’s home to Brigham Young University, and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney won 88 percent of its voters against President Barack Obama. But it’s also the conservative heart of Utah, whose voters were among the most resistant to Trump in the nominating contest.
The billionaire won only 14 percent of the votes at the Republican caucuses in March. Trump’s boastful, populist approach offends many in a deeply religious state that values humility, personal ethics and traditional conservative values. “What’s more important to us is the life led, the character of the candidate for office,” said Robert Craig, 55, a businessman and another member of the Utah County party’s executive committee.
The way Utah’s Republicans grapple with Trump’s nomination may say a lot about his viability in November. No presidential nominee in recent decades has won the White House without overwhelming support from voters of his own party — typically 90 percent of them or more – but the GOP is badly splintered over Trump.
Some Utah Republicans are grudgingly lining up behind Trump. U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, who called Trump “our Mussolini” in March, now calls for party unity. “While Mr. Trump wasn’t my first choice, we must move forward and unite to defeat Hillary Clinton,” he said.
K.C. Bezant contemplated what to do as he hurried back from his lunch break to the furniture store in the University Mall where he works. “Not a big fan,” he said of Trump. Bezant voted for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the caucuses. Another salesman, David Bauer, 69, met Bezant as he walked in.
“Are you going to vote for Trump?” Bezant asked Bauer, who also had supported Cruz in the caucuses.
“Yeah,” Bauer answered. “I don’t like Hillary. I’ll vote for him. Not voting is just putting another vote in Hillary’s back pocket.”
“Yeah,” Bezant said. “I’ll do it.”
Some are more open to Trump. The billionaire was software developer Lowell Nelson’s third choice out of the 17 Republicans who competed for the nomination, and Nelson backed Cruz in the caucuses. But now Trump will get his vote.
“He has stood firm against the trade deals and on immigration,” Nelson said. “Anything to get the establishment, the neoconservatives, angry, I’m OK with that.”