Pignanelli and Webb: Can Trump win? Can Biden beat the arch-liberals? We have answers.

In the 2020 presidential election, a flawed Donald Trump will go up against a flawed Democratic candidate — either an older fellow whose time seems to have come and gone, or an extreme liberal (or even a socialist) who would try to push the country far to the left. This raises important questions.

Why are Americans and Utahns once again likely to have an unpleasant choice of candidates who are outside the mainstream in conduct or policy?

Pignanelli: “This game didn’t start with Don­ald Trump. Decades of cyn­i­cal, game-play­ing failure pro­duced him.” — Chuck Todd, NBC News

We have all attended events with unappealing choices of entrees. This dilemma may mirror the next election.

We are amidst a major transformational era in American politics and society. Those who understand social media (Trump, AOC, etc.) are driving the discussions. Well-funded and tech-savvy special interest groups hold massive power in the nation’s capital, with chapters throughout the country. Congress appeals for succor from these organizations. This explains why the top tier of Democrat presidential candidates are former or current members of Congress, and not a governor (very unusual). Unfortunately, this dynamic signals most Americans are outside the sphere of influence.

The election dilemma creates an interesting environment for Utah next year. Candidates will paint their opponents with the blemish of their party nominee — each unpopular with voters — and respondents will be forced to straddle the fence.

Discerning event participants can deflect an unappetizing meal and catch a burger afterwards. Too bad this alternative does not exist for voters.

Webb: Personally, I find the choices unattractive. But I have to keep reminding myself that there’s a reason Trump was elected, and there’s a reason that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders attract adoring crowds.

Perhaps I don’t “get it” because I’m part of the old-fashioned, mainstream political establishment that is being disrupted by Trump’s brand of chaotic conservatism and Sanders/Warren’s brand of leftist liberalism.

As a longtime communications industry worker, I’ve been disrupted before, which explains why I’m not a billionaire co-owner of Google, Facebook or Amazon. It’s entirely possible that a bottom-up political disruption is occurring that is hard to see and understand by an old traditionalist like me.

President Trump’s polling numbers are bad (even in Utah). He seems not inclined to do politically fashionable things to appeal to a broader electorate — even risking an economic downturn with his trade wars. Can Trump win when he seems indifferent to the political consequences of his actions?

Pignanelli: Although Trump disapproval ratings are high, the Democratic candidates are equally disliked. So, the playing field is even. If the economy is sound next fall after China agrees to trade demands, Trump’s position is strengthened. But there is another dynamic — unique to 2020. For over 225 years, presidents spoke directly to Americans on rare occasions through traditional media. Because of Twitter, we know what this president is thinking almost every hour of the day. This could alter the outcome, with enough voters declaring “I don’t like what he says but at least I know his mind.” Trump’s ubiquity solidifies his perception as an outsider, disrupting a system that many despise.

Democratic presidential candidates need to alter the tenor and focus of their candidacies to counter these potential Trump advantages.

Webb: I gave a speech recently at a service club and was asked what I think about Trump. I said I dislike Trump’s demeanor, erraticism and a lot of other personal traits — but I like some of his policies. I also said I would vote for him over one of the leftist Democrats. That drew the ire of one audience member who said Trump is a racist, bumbling idiot who is destroying the country and the world.

Later, I walked out to the parking lot with a nice, reasonable, normal person. He said he doesn’t talk about it much, but he really likes Trump. He said Trump is exactly what the country needs to disrupt Washington, fight the liberals, return the U.S. to global preeminence.

So don’t underestimate Trump. He has some quiet support out there that may not show up in polls.

Joe Biden, a political moderate, leads all the younger, more liberal Democratic candidates. Can he maintain his lead and win the nomination, or is his candidacy doomed?

Pignanelli: Americans don’t care about Biden’s good-natured gaffes. They actually increase his appeal. But elections are about the future, a territory unknown to Biden. Therefore, he is unlikely to be nominated.

Webb: I don’t believe Biden can win the Democratic nomination or the presidency. Mainstream Democrats may support him, but they aren’t the most active in primaries and caucuses. Once the candidate field narrows, the liberal vote will consolidate around Warren or Sanders and Biden’s lead will dwindle. Besides, he’s not energetic enough to face off against the irrepressible Trump.

Pignanelli & Webb: Time for politicians to report summer vacation fun

We can’t say goodbye to summer without answering the burning question so many inquiring minds want to know: What did politicians do on their summer vacations?

Pignanelli & Webb: If summer is over, why is it so hot outside? Hot or not, the Labor Day weekend marks the traditional end of summer. The youngsters are back in school, the pigskin is flying.

But we can’t say goodbye to summer without answering the burning question so many inquiring minds want to know: What did politicians do on their summer vacations?

Pres. Donald Trump: “I lounged at one of my many beach houses and read a great self-help book, ‘How to Cause Chaos Nationally, Internationally, Economically and Militarily — and Make it All End Well.’ As the Chosen One, I had already mastered most of those skills, but I commend the book to anyone who likes to blow things up.”

Presidential candidate Joe Biden: “I spent most of my vacation time strategizing how to defend Obamacare, but I did read a few snippets from ‘How to Campaign like a 30-Year-Old.’ The main thing is to take a lot of naps.”

Gov. Gary Herbert: ”I spent my vacation thinking up new ways to describe how Utah is the best-managed state with the strongest economy in the country. I realized I only have 16 more months to make the case ... unless Spencer appoints me as advocate-in-chief. By the way, did you know that Utah’s economy is really, really strong ... ?”

Tax Reform Task Force Members: “We spent our summer enduring two months of heated town hall meetings throughout the state listening to suspicious citizens tell us they don’t want taxes changed. Of course, we responded with smiles and courtesy. Truly, such patience deserves a guaranteed spot in heaven.”

Losing Salt Lake City mayoral candidates: “What could be more fun than spending a summer knocking on doors, debating, and bragging about accomplishments? The only downside was ... we lost.”

Congressman Rob Bishop: “It was the best summer in decades. Because I’m not running again next year, I did not have to make that one fundraising call I usually make each summer. It’s great to avoid that horrific ordeal.”

Democratic Party Chair Jeff Merchant: “My summer vacation was spent looking under rocks and sticks all over the state in search of a sentient organism that resembles a human being willing to run as a Democratic candidate for governor. Please advise if you are aware of such a creature.”

Republican Party Chairman Derek Brown: “I spent my summer vacation studying one of the most difficult challenges in politics — how to convince 4th District voters that Ben McAdams is a flaming liberal and secretly part of ‘The Squad’.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski: “I’m glad for my decision not to seek reelection. But watching the primary election, I couldn’t help spending summer weeks wondering if all those pundits were wrong and I could have walloped Jim Dabakis.”

Congressman Ben McAdams: “My staff and I had great fun this summer. We disguised our voices and called Bishop’s, Curtis’ and Stewart’s offices asking for the member of the Utah House delegation from the majority party. Then we would laugh and laugh.”

Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr.: “Summer is a lovely time. It provides the opportunity to think great thoughts and develop important priorities and fashion Huntsman 3.0. Stay tuned.”

Erin Mendenhall and Luz Escamilla: “It was a great summer, emerging from the mayoral primary election. Now we have to figure out how to answer those pesky Inland Port questions.”

Congressman John Curtis: “I’m doing my best to get around to other parts of the district, hopefully with some publicity. Otherwise, when I go back to Washington in September everyone will still call me that Congressman from Bears Ears.”

Sen. Mike Lee“I had great fun on my vacation reading the Constitution backwards into a tape recorder. When I played back the result, I think what I heard was a recipe for bundt cake.”

Sen. Mitt Romney“I went to many community celebrations throughout the state and had a great time. But I’m still in pursuit of the perfect deep fried Twinkie. Can’t wait for the State Fair.”

Most of the potential candidates for governor in 2020: “We spent the entire summer not bothering any voters, media or anyone else with real politicking. We’ll pretend this was an actual strategy. You’re welcome.”

Attorney General Sean Reyes: “My office sued the federal government over Obamacare this summer. What does it take to get noticed for that?”

Congressman Chris Stewart: “I had great fun this summer giving speeches and media interviews blasting socialism and socialists. It’s always good to have an existential threat to the nation to campaign on.”

Deseret News management: “We spent the summer as we do every other season of the year: trying to keep Pignanelli & Webb from embarrassing the newspaper. It’s a really tough job.”

By Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb, Sep 1, 2019

Lessons learned from Mendenhall’s surprise win in Salt Lake primary

We explore the results of the Salt Lake City mayoral primary election and why it demonstrates interesting dynamics in Utah politics.

By Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb, Contributors Aug 18, 2019

Well, no one predicted this outcome. We explore the results of the Salt Lake City mayoral primary election and why it demonstrates interesting dynamics in Utah politics.

With more than 37,000 ballots counted, Salt Lake City Council member Erin Mendenhallcaptured the top spot in the primary. State Sen. Luz Escamilla bumped presumed favorite James Dabakis out of the final election. What are politicos saying?

Pignanelli: “Money doesn’t win elections. Votes do.” — Dan Backer

Councilwoman Mendenhall deserves “Teacher of the Decade” for her campaign that brilliantly reminded politicos of unwavering rules and explained new trends.

Tuesday night reaffirmed to the political community that municipal primaries cannot be purchased through campaign contributions. Success in the Salt Lake City primary is dependent upon grassroots, shoe-leather campaigns, along with smart messaging. Mendenhall was outspent by most of her opponents and still prevailed.

Dabakis developed an impressive network of progressive supporters and was viewed as invincible. But Mendenhall and Escamilla ignored the perception and the conventional wisdom of his strength. Both campaigns took nothing for granted, to their benefit. Mendenhall and Escamilla adhered to progressive principles but exhibited stability. Thus, this is another lesson to progressives that they can make a difference in Utah politics — if an acceptable persona is developed.

With just the basics, Mendenhall (and Escamilla) taught us Utah politics is still adhering to a rational course. She deserves an apple.

Webb: Nothing replaces hard work and grassroots organizing in a low-turnout, mid-summer primary election. Mendenhall got her voters to vote. That takes skill and managerial prowess, and it bodes well for Mendenhall in November’s final election.

The primary got a little chippy at the end, with some charges flying around, but for the most part it was a clean race focused on issues. That was, no doubt, partly because most candidates were smart enough to know that if they made it through the primary they would need the support of losing candidates and their supporters to win the final election. One thing to watch will be how many endorsements Mendenhall and Escamilla pick up from the losing candidates.

The conventional wisdom had the flamboyant Dabakis winning. While he has many solid supporters, he also has many detractors. He was the most polarizing candidate in the field.

Mendenhall is now the frontrunner, but Escamilla will be a tough competitor in the final election.

In the final weeks of the primary, some candidates were openly criticizing others for having received the support of Republicans and developers. Did this have an impact?

Pignanelli: Some politicos conjectured this tactic guaranteed a bump to progressive candidates who had no relationship with Republicans. But the exact opposite may have happened. Because right-of-center residents did not have a horse in the race, learning that certain Republicans (e.g. Mendenhall, Escamilla) were liked by some GOP officials may have attracted them to vote for their candidacies.

Mendenhall and Escamilla, by not running from these silly accusations, connected with residents who want their officials to reach across the aisle for solutions. They understand the importance to have officials who can build pragmatic relationships with others. It’s nice to know that some Salt Lake City residents are pushing against the nasty partisan trap of Washington, D.C., politics.


Webb: I haven’t quite sunk to the low of being a Dastardly Developer, but I certainly am a Reprehensible Republican. Good thing I didn’t endorse anyone or I would have single-handedly doomed the candidate.

That talking point was rather silly and it had no impact. Only among some ultra-liberal city partisans would attracting a bit of Republican support be considered bad.

The reality is the next mayor will need good relationships with the Republican governor and the Republican Legislature — and even with those Dastardly Developers.

Mendenhall ought to stop criticizing Escamilla for her legislative service. If Mendenhall becomes mayor, she’s going to need plenty of legislative help.

The primary election turnout was low, even with mail-in ballots. Can anything be done to get more people to vote?

Pignanelli: For decades, studies have consistently documented that voters are more willing to participate if a campaign has contacted them personally on several occasions. Television, radio and social media bombardment does not motivate 21st century participation in elections. Candidates and operatives must be consistently reminded of this.

Further, there needs to be a greater emphasis in our culture on the fact that municipal elections have a greater impact on the day-to-day lives of residents than any other political activity.

Webb: Summertime, and the livin’ is easy — and folks ain’t thinkin’ about politics. I don’t worry too much about low turnout because informed, engaged people voted, and the uninformed didn’t. I’d rather have knowledgeable people choosing our leaders than someone making a wild guess at the ballot box or voting for a candidate with the same name as her cat.

Some things worth watching: Rep. Rob Bishop's next move, 1st District contenders and GOP unity


By Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb, Contributors Aug 4, 2019, 9:00am MDT

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, leaves a meeting with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards at the Deseret News offices in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 29, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Partisan politics are getting more interesting as the 2020 election year nears. Here are some of the dynamics we’re watching.

Congressman Rob Bishop will retire at the end of his term next year. What is his legacy and does his future include running for governor?

Pignanelli: “Going home (from Washington) is being rooted back in the people and finding out what they are actually saying to you. Staying away makes one squirrely.” — Rep. Rob Bishop

The real-life modern version of the 1939 movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is Rob Bishop. He was a popular high school teacher and debate coach (I first met him when competing against his students). A leader of young conservatives amidst the Reagan revolution, Bishop was propelled to the Legislature at age 27 and eventually chosen as speaker. GOP activists loved his folksy style, electing him party chairman and then nominee for Congress in 2002.

Bishop’s laid-back manner and dry wit disguises a strong grasp of parliamentary procedure, congressional procedures and American history. His love of baseball, political minutia and Diet Dr. Pepper (along with family and faith) defines him. He treasures his education background and relishes lecturing opportunities before students.

The congressman does suffer from a serious health issue — fundraising and media appearances cause him extreme physical pain. Despite these disabilities (some describe them as virtues) he scaled House leadership and passed significant legislation. He enjoys countering his local and national liberal detractors. Thus, Bishop remains popular with activists and could be a serious contender for governor.

Friends and honest critics agree — like the Jimmy Stewart character in the movie — Bishop never forgot his roots.

Webb: Bishop had a terrific congressional career. He was low-key (for a number of years he barely sent out a press release) and entertaining with his dry wit. He was a conservative stalwart on public lands and a protector of Hill Air Force Base.

Many politicians who retire at the height of their political careers regret doing so and want to get back into the action. Bishop will be tempted by the prospect of running for governor, but he has said he would have to have a compelling reason to do it.

So, here’s a compelling reason: Federalism. Restoring balanced federalism has long been a passion for Bishop. He and other top leaders I respect believe it is the solution to many of the nation’s problems, including the burgeoning federal debt.

As one of 535 members of Congress, Bishop wasn’t able to move the needle much on federalism. As governor, he would be able to rally other governors and state legislators and have a real impact.

As a young governor in the early '90s, Mike Leavitt led the most effective federalism initiative since the nation’s founding. (I don’t count the Civil War as a federalism initiative.) With the federal government in far more disarray today than in the '90s, Bishop as governor could be an effective crusader to restore proper balance in the federal/state relationship.

Bishop’s retirement creates a wide-open race to replace him. Are there any early frontrunners?

Pignanelli & Webb: Let the fun begin. The “great mentioners” are already making long lists. Viable contenders include: Davis County Commissioner Robert Stevenson, Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt, Morgan Councilwoman Tina Cannon, Clearfield Mayor Mark Shepherd, businessman and former GOP state chair Bruce Hough, credit union association CEO Scott Simpson, state Sens. Scott Sandall and Todd Weiler, andstate Reps. Paul Ray, Stephen Handy, Lee Perry and Logan Wilde. State agriculture commissioner Kerry Gibson is another possibility. Because of their positions and popularity, Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson occupy every list.

Under the leadership of new chair _Derek Brown_, the Utah GOP is more united and functional than in many years. What does this mean for next year’s elections, and especially the 4th Congressional District?

Pignanelli: Brown brings to the chair position important and varied political experiences. These advantages fostered success toward mending party wounds and reestablishing some financial security. Therefore, the party is better positioned to focus resources on recapturing seats lost in the last election cycle. His long-term challenge is establishing a Republican Party that is acceptable to Utah voters 18-34 years old — who possess concerns with the president.

Webb: The quality of candidates remains the biggest factor in winning elections. But if Brown can reinvigorate a strong grassroots organization, the GOP could win more close races. For example, 4th District Rep. Ben McAdams won by only 700 votes in 2018. Had Republicans turned out better in conservative Utah County, Mia Love would have been reelected.

As an incumbent, McAdams will be a lot tougher in 2020. But with a unified party and an aggressive, disciplined and well-funded grassroots machine, Republicans will be better positioned to win the close ones.

Pignanelli and Webb: Trump, more Trump and term limits

In the last several weeks, the country has endured incredible searing heat. But that’s not just the record-breaking weather — it’s the never-ending political controversies: Allegations of racism, immigration pressures and dramatic congressional investigations. We explore the impact on Utah.

Recently, a poll conducted by UtahPolicy.com and reported in the Deseret News indicated a majority of Utah voters disapprove of Pres. Donald Trump’s job performance and only a plurality of voters support his reelection. What does this mean for “red state” Utah politics?

Pignanelli: "Trump has a tendency to make his own weather” — Maggie Haberman, The New York Times

This poll is extremely valuable to politicos as a treasure map, detailing land mines and obstacles lurking along an election path. Obviously, Trump is the antithesis of the average Utahn in so many ways — explaining why 53% disapprove of him.

These dynamics are challenging for all candidates of either stripe in 2020. Republicans cannot be viewed as too close to the president. Yet, the survey subtly reminds Democrats to establish clear distance from their party nominee — especially if debate statements indicate campaign promises.

The GOP should be concerned as this poll highlights that 67% of millennials and Generation Z dislike the president. Also, 18-34 year-olds really do care about tolerance and diversity, demanding such behavior in officials. This is especially reflected in the younger 4th Congressional District and its lower acceptance for Trump. However, most older Utahns support the president — and they vote.

Although the poll provides a path, implementation is difficult. Republicans who stiff-arm Trump face outcry from the right as will Democrats confront criticism when maintaining distance from the other presidential candidate.

Trump wins Utah again, while smart politicians in tougher races follow the map, thereby deftly avoiding land mines and shrewdly maneuvering through obstacles.

Webb: Trump isn’t going to lose Utah to one of the very liberal Democratic presidential candidates, but he also isn’t going to be any real help, and he might hurt, in the 4th Congressional District where Republicans hope to defeat Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams.

Attitudes about Trump basically split three ways: His base absolutely loves him and will stick with him no matter what he does. They love his political incorrectness, his brashness, his certainty, and especially his willingness to take on the news media, the establishment, illegal immigrants and foreign countries.

Another group absolutely hates everything about Trump. They hate his personality, his policies, his cockiness, his arrogance. To them he’s a juvenile delinquent.

A final group is in the middle (me among them). Most of the people in this group don’t like Trump’s personality, his incessant tweeting, his name-calling and the way he mocks other people. But they do like most of his policies, his economic success and many like his tougher stance against America’s adversaries and trade fairness.

I don’t believe Trump can win only with his base. But he seems not interested in appealing to anyone else.

For those of us in the middle group, the choice comes down to whether we like Trump’s policies enough to vote for him, despite his character flaws, or will we take a chance on an arch-liberal whose answer to every problem is more government and higher taxes.

While most Utahns were celebrating Pioneer Day last Wednesday, former special counselRobert Mueller testified before two congressional committees. Does anyone in the Beehive State care?

Pignanelli: Although a weird news junkie, even I could not stomach the entire ordeal, and often switched channels for glimpses of parade floats and bands. Mueller’s testimony did not provide any clear winners and losers. One media pundit conveniently observed Mueller was neither a punching bag nor a pawn.

Muller is a decent person who cares about his country and holds concerns about foreign governments corrupting our election process. Hopefully leaders take heed. Otherwise, the greatest tragedy is allowing these attacks on America to continue.

Webb: Here’s how to reelect Trump: Continue investigating every detail of his life. Keep holding hearings. Start impeachment proceedings. Ignore the problems facing the country and obsess about Trump. Make every news story every day about Trump, Trump, Trump.

Voters aren’t paying attention. Voters are much more concerned about health care, immigration, the economy and taxes.

Attempting to leverage frustration with politics, the United Utah Party launched an initiative petition to impose term limits on state officials. Does this effort have a chance?

Pignanelli: The biggest lesson learned from the unprecedented number of initiatives filed in 2018 is success depends upon money — mostly from out of state. Unless these resources materialize, this effort gains little traction. Further, Utah defeated the 1994 Term Limit Initiative and no one raised a peep when the statutory limitations were erased nine years later.

Webb: Successful or not, proposing a ballot measure is a good strategy to draw attention to the United Utah Party and give it a reason to exist. The party can ride this ballot proposal, get some visibility and make it an election issue if they can get it on the ballot.

Summer Newsletter

Firework shows, BBQ’s, and baseball games can mean only one thing; it’s summer time in Utah! Your Foxley and Pignanelli team is working just as hard as any other time of the year but we are putting a little more zest into our days. Each member of the firm has unique hobbies and interests and is diligently putting the office hours in while still finding time to pursue our personal interests. Here is a mid year update on what the firm is up to this summer solstice.