Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Washington circus impacts public policy and Utah delegation

Your columnists have made every effort (and sometimes achieved the impossible) to avoid discussing the presidential circus. Well, it’s impossible after last week. We review the impact of all the fun in Washington on Utah politics.

Can the Donald Trump administration pull itself together, exercise discipline and focus on the nation’s problems, or are Utahns in for one long series of White House crises (mostly self-inflicted)?

Pignanelli: “The great question in Washington, the country, and the world is, what's inside Trump? It is a mystery that just doesn't go away.” — Bob Woodward

In dealing with stressful situations, psychiatrists recommend working through several steps to achieve the final stage of acceptance. Trump supporters and detractors frustrated with him must get to this level fast. They need to accept he will never change. Never.

Acceptance requires understanding the country elected, and wanted, a leader without any political experience or sensitivities. Of course, Trump’s attractions for many Americans (i.e., tenacity, unorthodox style, snubbing the establishment, rebuffing political correctness, creating a separate reality, etc.) are also preventing his progress.

Polls indicate a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump, but even more maintain an animosity toward Washington — which keeps Trump buoyed for a long time. Many citizens view Trump’s troubles as insider politics. Even after Trump asked FBI Director Jim Comey to drop the Russia investigation, and then fired him, this dynamic won't change.

But acceptance is also comprehending Trump will be in trouble with his political base only if the country suffers a recession in the next three years. Historically, we are overdue for an economic downturn.

Finally, acceptance suggests Utahns should add neck stretches to their exercise routine to avoid cramps, as they will be shaking their heads for years.

Webb: The real tragedy is that the Washington circus detracts from solving the nation’s problems. I had high hopes that with Republicans in charge, they would enact pro-growth tax reform, reduce regulations, improve health care and even get control of entitlement spending.

As long as the White House and Congress are completely preoccupied by the crisis of the day, not much will get done, especially because Democrats will have an excuse to resist everything — they'll become the party of no.

Even if many of the accusations against Trump are untrue, and much of the media coverage is unfair (and it is), Trump’s random tweets and undisciplined statements exacerbate the situation and add one controversy on top of another. Any smart politician has to anticipate how a statement or action will play out and act accordingly. Trump has no ability to think through the consequences, the optics, of firing the FBI director, revealing information to the Russians, etc.

Trump doesn’t care about political correctness, doesn’t care about how things look. That can be endearing. But when you’re the leader of the free world you have to worry about those things. Will Trump change? Probably not.

If and when will Utah’s members of Congress begin to distance themselves from the president? Does the Trump meltdown open opportunities for Democrats in congressional races even in Republican Utah?

Pignanelli: Many local officials began dissociating themselves from the president with subtle statements months ago. As the tone changes in congressional hearings and Special Counsel Robert Mueller ramps up his investigation into Russian interference, most of our delegation will paint the president as a separate entity who will not stop their individual efforts.

A recent national poll demonstrated despite Trump’s issues, Americans are unsure about national Democrats. So far, just being against Trump is not enough to change political dynamics — especially in Utah. Local Democrats must establish identity distinct from the national party to capitalize on any Trump-created opportunities.

Webb: The approval ratings of all of Utah’s congressional delegation have taken hits in the wake of the insanity going on in Washington. Some of it is, no doubt, related to Trump’s problems. Still, Utahns aren’t going to abandon Republican candidates because of Trump. Utah Republicans will be smart enough to distance themselves from Trump if he continues to implode.

With the imminent departure of Congressman Jason Chaffetz, will his replacement be selected via Utah’s current election process, or will party delegates choose nominees for the final ballot?

Pignanelli: This important question will only be answered when the Congressman actually leaves office (currently scheduled for June 30). The Congressional hearings concerning Comey, Russia and classified secrets will require extraordinary attention from Chairman Chaffetz and I predict he alters the departure date to fulfill this responsibility.

Webb: Gov. Gary Herbert is right on this issue. It’s more important to do the replacement process right than to do it fast. All voters should have the opportunity to select party nominees, not just a handful of delegates. We’ve crossed a threshold here in voter expectations. Utahns want their vote to count. They don’t want to be disenfranchised.