Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Wrestling with old and familiar topics in politics

An old adage says there’s never anything new in politics. That’s true, but it doesn’t stop us from wrestling with old and familiar topics.

As anyone but a hermit knows, presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump continually says outrageous things that would doom other candidates. His questioning of a judge’s fairness because of his Mexican heritage has caused great alarm among national Republicans. How should Utah politicos deal with this potential disaster?

Pignanelli: “In this election the vote should not be for the lesser of two evils, rather a vote against the more evil of the two lessers.” — Bruce Baird, prominent Utah attorney and veteran political activist

National Republican leaders are demonstrating a unique talent when queried by the media about Trump. While excruciatingly squeezing muscles in their foreheads, eye sockets, jaws, hands and other undisclosed places, they carefully and deliberately articulate disgust with Trump’s recent infamous slander while mumbling commitment to his candidacy. This often-repeated event last week would be amusing if it wasn’t so painful to observe.

This is the Trump blunder that will not disappear — it is too outrageous. Utah Trumpeters must consider how to inform friends, neighbors and colleagues of Mexican heritage about their presidential preference without causing personal offense. Not easy.

Local Republican officials can avoid the physical torture their national colleagues are enduring, because few Utahns want them to express any sentiment for the billionaire. Further, half the membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Hispanic and many will hope their prominent Utah brothers and sisters construct significant distance from Trump.

So I generously offer the following solution to my GOP friends when quizzed about the “Orange One.” First perform a major eye roll followed by a loud exhale. (This is when Italian body animation really pays dividends.) Second, state with conviction you abhor almost everything about the man. Conclude with the emphatic statement that you will hold true to your conservative principles at the ballot box. If that doesn’t work, tell your audience you carry the Zika virus. They will forget everything else while running away.

Webb: Maybe it’s just a collective bad dream. Perhaps we could get in a time machine, go back 15 or 16 months, put Trump and Hillary Clinton under house arrest at one of Trump’s resorts where they would star in a special edition Bachelor/Bachelorette/Celebrity Apprentice reality TV show, and start this whole nomination thing over again (without them).

Daydreaming aside, the two terribly flawed candidates at the top of the ticket are simply going to cancel each other out as far as any impact on Utah races. In fact, their brawl is going to be so personal and dirty that we’re all going to sit back in shocked awe, eyes averted, as they crawl through the gutter slime. Utah politicians should just stay as far away as possible.

Gov. Gary Herbert is leading in the polls. However, he faces a spirited challenge from Jonathan Johnson for the Republican nomination. Does Johnson have some momentum with the primary election a little more than two weeks away?

Pignanelli: There is whispering among politicos Johnson is riding a small wave of momentum among ultraconservatives. Utah political history provides an interesting guide. Congressional Republican incumbents, who did not capture a majority in their convention, were defeated in the primary. However, the last time Utahns deprived a governor of re-election was 1956.

Webb: On paper, Herbert should easily win. The only question is how good a ground game the Johnson campaign has put together to get archconservatives to the polls in what might be a relatively low-turnout primary.

Some Republicans have told me they’ve received calls from a supposed polling firm. The caller makes negative statements about Herbert, then asks if the respondent will support Johnson. The respondent then gets follow-up communications encouraging him or her to vote for Johnson.

With Herbert’s big lead and continued popularity, he will be very difficult to beat, even if Johnson puts a lot of money into such tactics. But I expect the race will tighten, with Herbert ultimately prevailing.

The Republican Party is continuing its battle against SB 54 — the Count My Vote compromise legislation allowing candidates to gather signatures to get on the primary ballot. Could a bus be filled with those Utahns who think this is a good idea?

Pignanelli: If, and only if, every candidate who exclusively relied on signatures for placement on the primary ballot loses, will the GOP litigants enjoy any real support. Practical Utah Republicans suffer bigger concerns (aka Trump).

Webb: Some Republican Party leaders at both state and county levels are alienating good Republicans, shrinking the tent, damaging fundraising, and generally looking small-minded, elitist, exclusionary and foolish. Other than that, these Republican leaders are brilliant.