Late Friday afternoon, as lurid reports emerged featuring audio of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s self-described sexual indiscretions and misogyny, calls went out to Utah’s top republican leaders. They were all asking versions of the same question: “Will you still be supporting and/or voting for Trump?” In a state where conservative, family values now seem unavoidably at odds with those of a seventy-year-old multi-millionaire running for the highest elected office in the nation.
Just the week before, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. had issued an endorsement of the Trump-Pence ticket, a move seen by many to be a pay-back posture and homage to the Republican Party machine.
It didn’t last long.
Huntsman was the among the first of several Utah politicians to abandon the seldom-scripted star of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” a weekly “reality-based” television show which was beamed into American living rooms for several seasons. The Apprentice ultimately served to manufacture a positive and successful image for Trump that evolved from one that included several bankruptcies and entrepreneurial failures in real estate, casino, and product development.
“The time has come for Governor Pence to lead the ticket,” Huntsman told the Salt Lake Tribune one of the first public comments made about Trump’s lewd remarks, recorded in 2005. At the time, Trump was speaking with Access Hollywood’s host, Billy Bush.
Feeling the pressure to distance themselves from a candidate becoming increasingly dangerous for Republican ballots nationwide, a trend began. National Governors Association president and Utah Governor Gary Herbert followed with a statement via Twitter, “Donald Trump’s statements are beyond offensive & despicable,” and continued, “While I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton, I will not vote for Trump.” Herbert has previously said that he was voting for Indiana Governor Mike Pence and that “Donald Trump comes along with the package.”
As social media began to erupt, CNN’s Don Lemon reached U.S. House Rep Jason Chaffetz by telephone and asked if the Utah congressman thought that Donald Trump could win now. “I just don’t know,” Chaffetz stammered. “As offended as I am and my wife is… and I hope that my 15-year-old daughter doesn’t read or see any of that stuff… but I’ve got to tell you that I’m out, I’m no longer endorsing [Trump]. I just can’t do that.”
Caught between a conservative culture with a moral, ethical bias and a political party that had given their endorsement to a free-wheeling showman and dealmaker from Queens, Utah’s Republican political establishment, led by Senator Mike Lee, had gone to their national convention in July supporting Senator Ted Cruz. Convention rules were applied to quickly change their votes to fall behind loyalists gathering momentum for Trump, allowing him to emerge from the primaries and a national convention with the GOP nomination. Utah voters immediately recoiled but in the months to follow, they gradually warmed to the new nominee.
On Friday however, the tides changed.
The Speaker of Utah’s House of Representatives, Greg Hughes (Republican, Draper) had been among the first to enthusiastically endorse Trump, arranging fundraising meet-and-greet opportunities and an appearance in Utah’s House chamber by Donald Trump Jr. So without an official condemnation statement, Hughes late Friday afternoon said, “To say I am disappointed would be a gross understatement. I share the same questions and concerns that the rest of this country has,” Hughes continued, “In the coming debate, there will undoubtedly be questions about what we learned today. My hope is that there will be a sincere apology and an accounting for these statements.”
Donald Trump did issue an apology that was termed “defiant” by news organizations and included an effort to compare his misdeeds to those of Bill Clinton, which Trump described as “much worse.” This prompted an observation in social media that asked Twitter to halt their consideration of the nation’s highest office and realize that Trump’s behavior would be cause for dismissal for any other job.
As of the time of publication, the only member of the Utah delegation not to make a formal condemnation of Trump’s actions was Representative Rob Bishop (Republican – Ogden, Logan, Park City). Bishop endorsed Trump in July. Senator Orrin Hatch (Republican) has condemned Trump’s statements, but fell short of pulling his support.