Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Utah precinct caucuses cause for national attention

Utah's 2016 political party precinct caucuses, which incorporated presidential nomination contests, were remarkable events. The caucuses generated unprecedented attention from Utah voters, the national media and presidential candidates — multiple visits, advertising, literature and field operations. The Utah results might even help determine the eventual party nominees.

Sen. Ted Cruz easily captured all of Utah’s 40 GOP delegates. Did Utahns validate the Mitt Romney anti-Trump strategy by voting for whoever can prevent Trump from winning a majority of delegates? Could this change the trajectory of the GOP nomination?

Pignanelli: "Participating in a Republican caucus is like attending a stake conference. Visiting a Democratic caucus is similar to experiencing a Burning Man festival." — Observations from a very prominent Utahn, who dropped by both caucuses, and wisely wishes to remain anonymous.

The Easter bunny came early for local politicos. The campaign commercials and media analysis were great fun. Plus, the drubbing of Donald Trump was a beautiful thing. The concentrated effort in Utah can be replicated in other states to stall Trump’s momentum.

Trump on the ballot jeopardizes GOP control of the U.S. House and Senate and statehouses across the country. A serious response to this threat requires a ruthless manipulation of convention rules and protocols.

Throughout history, political parties and factions have savaged the convention process to ensure the "correct" candidate is nominated. (Supporters of Abraham Lincoln used reprehensible tactics. Thank goodness!) The national Democratic Party, to prevent insurgent candidacies that plagued it in the 1970s (George McGovern, 1972; Jimmy Carter, 1976) installed the "superdelegate" mechanism that exists today. Allowing 720 party bigwigs to vote unbound to their constituents’ preference is a big safety feature.

But as I remind my Republican friends, the pure act of democracy occurs on the Tuesday after the first Monday of each November. Everything else in politics is subject to cutthroat tactics delivered by otherwise decent persons. The survival of the republic depends upon this dichotomy.

Webb: Congratulations to Utah Republicans for dumping Trump. No doubt, a lot of Cruz votes (mine included) were strategic, designed more to deny delegates to Trump than to show affection for Cruz.

So much is at stake in this election: the presidency, control of the U.S. Senate and crucial appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. Truly, the future of the country hangs in the balance. Facing a very weak presumptive Democratic nominee in Hillary Clinton, Republicans initially had a clear path to victory and just needed to nominate a solid candidate and run a good campaign.

Instead, Republicans are mired in a disastrous nomination process with no obvious happy outcome. The top two candidates, Trump and Cruz, will lose to Clinton. But ousting them in a contested convention will result in chaos and massive defections. Somehow, the national Republican party is in a lose-lose situation.

Bernie Sanders swamped Hillary Clinton. Did Utahns breathe life back into his efforts?

Pignanelli: Sanders’ incredible lopsided success in Utah and Idaho gives him the momentum needed for a push in the remaining states — especially California and New York. National experts note that Sanders' achievement in these two states will help in fundraising and volunteer efforts. However, the affection by Utah Democrats for the Vermont socialist is interesting. Is it pushback against “establishment candidate” Hillary Clinton or the embrace of Sanders’ persona and platform?

Webb: It’s great that so many young people turned out and got involved in politics, giving Sanders his big margin. But I’m still trying to figure why it took a democratic socialist to excite young people — a candidate whose answer to every problem is to increase the size of government, raise taxes and balloon the deficit. I hope we’re not raising a generation that thinks the government should rip apart big businesses, penalize successful people and redistribute wealth. Hopefully, it’s just the usual pattern of political maturation: “If you’re not a liberal at 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative at 35, you have no brain.”

Utah Republicans were also spotlighted for conducting the presidential preference by online balloting. Is this a fad or the beginning of a trend?

Pignanelli: After enduring long lines, chaos in caucus organization and frustration with technical details, many Utahns will be pressuring political leaders for online voting. If thousands of Utahns are using the Internet to purchase personal items, conduct private research and otherwise help in important decisions, then voting should be one of those activities.

Webb: Online voting had plenty of problems, but the party deserves credit for trying it. The Count My Vote movement encouraged the political parties to open up the caucus process, and it was nice to see the GOP allow online voting and absentee voting. Still, the long lines, confusion and disorganization upset a lot of people, some saying they will not attend a caucus again. The bugs in the online process showed it’s not quite ready for a general election, but that day is coming. A presidential primary election allowing early voting, online voting and in-person voting would have produced significantly more participation.