Although entertaining, the weeks leading up to the New York presidential primary — for both parties — were among the most vitriolic in an already nasty campaign season. Even Utah’s usually tame politics is featuring some hard punches. Your columnists — pillars of civility (well, LaVarr, at least) — explore whether this is business as usual or atypical.
What happened to Utah’s famous niceness? Gov. Gary Herbert was booed at the Utah County Republican convention. The GOP gubernatorial contenders or surrogates are accusing each other of purveying pornography in their businesses. Many campaigns are claiming improprieties by opponents. Some GOP officials are refusing to provide resources to candidates who gathered signatures or refused to sign an obedience pledge. Activists are disparaging each other with awful insults on social media. Is this unusual for Utah?
Pignanelli: “Mudslinging in politics is as American as apple pie” — Richard K. Scher
The lack of diversity in Utah County is directly correlated to the level of wackiness in its politics. Thus, this geographic region is incorrectly perceived by the more enlightened areas of the state to be responsible for much of the ill-mannered comportment. However, their antics are the most humorous.
Gov. Herbert was not the first incumbent to be jeered by his own party (Gov. Michael Leavitt, Sen. Bob Bennett and Congressman Jim Matheson share the honor), and he will not be the last. Extremists on the left and right usually feel excluded and express their emotions without politeness. Utah politicos are among the most technologically savvy, which breeds greater involvement and higher levels of intensity. Hurling insults in the Twittersphere is easy and fun.
Major structural changes in society can also cause intemperate attitudes. Nationally, the realignment of partisan demographics is fueling rudeness. Locally, the huge revolution to the convention/delegate system along with other abrupt forces in our state is fostering impolite dialogue.
So political discourse in Utah will be at higher temperatures for the next several cycles. Thank goodness. Protesters against the BYU Honor Code should not have all the fun.
Webb: Politics always has been and always will be a contact sport. Nothing different in that regard. Case in point: Rep. Kraig Powell, a true gentleman, mainstream idealist and altogether good guy, decided to drop out of his legislative race rather than face a barrage of out-of-context attacks from right-wing fringe people. He just doesn’t want to take the time and expense to refute unfair attacks. He’s a clear casualty of nasty campaigning from far-right extremists.
New communications channels, particularly social media, increase the intensity and pervasiveness of negative campaigning. In the old days, you had to read the newspaper, listen to the radio or watch TV news to hear the latest insults. Today, they arrive on your cellphone and laptop, in your email and social media feeds 24/7, in addition to the traditional media channels. Charges and countercharges are made and delivered instantly to worldwide audiences. And the anonymity and unaccountability of online comments and some social media channels exacerbate the problem. Human nature hasn’t changed, but the opportunities to be offensive are magnified.
A large number of Utah legislative incumbents faced intra-party challenges. Ultra left-wingers were unable to dislodge sitting Democrat lawmakers. However, some Republican incumbents lost their delegate/conventional elections. Those who obtained the necessary signatures will be on the primary ballot, and the refusniks are now out of office. Any local trends here?
Pignanelli: Many Republican incumbents are distancing themselves from the petition signature process in public. But there is silent admission to the important safety valve it provides. The freedom of an alternative to a convention for placement on the primary ballot is very enticing. Relying on the reasonableness of delegates is a bigger gamble than a slot machine.
Webb: It’s interesting that legislative candidate Mike Winder, from Salt Lake County, gathered signatures to get on the ballot. He also encouraged those who signed his petition to go to their caucuses and get elected as delegates. The result was he eliminated his incumbent competition in convention, so he has no primary. Smart candidates ensure themselves a spot on the primary ballot by gathering signatures.
The Republican and Democrat presidential primaries are fostering incredible foulness. Does this end soon or become a permanent feature of the 2016 season and beyond?
Pignanelli: Donald Trump and his Trumpeters flourish on insults. Ted Cruz will not win Mr. Congeniality. Bernie Sanders supporters extol liberal values, but not politeness. The courtesy of the Clintonistas seems forced. So all the mayhem and turmoil on television will be a peaceful respite.
Webb: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the likely nominees, have essentially 100 percent name ID, and have had pretty much all the doors ripped off their skeleton closets. Both have terrible likability and approval ratings. The general election will be further descent into raw sewage.