Much has been said about the economic hollowing out of the middle class. One might say the same about the Mainstream Voter Class.
Over the last 25 years, unaffiliated voters and ticket-splitting Democrats and Republicans have given the country divided government. Our national elections have been fluid. Neither side has dominated for long. President Obama enjoyed Democratic control of the Senate and House in only the first two years of his first term. Since 2010, he has had to work with majority Republican leaders in the House, and since 2014, in the Senate as well.
Utah did not follow suit in such bipartisanship. During this same period, the vast majority of Utahns has been faithful to the GOP. Nothing the Democrats have tried has loosened the GOP’s seemingly unbreakable hold on Utahns, especially LDS voters. We don’t have to go to yesteryear, however, to find when this wasn’t the case. Just a generation ago, Utah had a vibrant two-party system. Two popular Democrats, Calvin Rampton and Scott Matheson, Sr., served as governors back to back for 20 years, from 1964 to 1984. That’s only 30 years ago. Democrat Frank Moss served as U.S. Senator from 1964 until 1976. Other Democrats have kept the flame alive through the years: Wayne Owens served as a Congressman from Utah until 1993, and Jim Matheson served from 2001 until 2015. Utahns have been willing to listen to reasonable center-based Democrats.
Still, nothing has dislodged Utah’s Republican faithful … until recently. Two major causes have brought that on. In recent years, the Utah GOP has witnessed increasing schisms between mainstream Republicans, including most elected office-holders, on the one hand, and the ultra-conservative, libertarian wing of the party on the other hand. The former have the influence, money and incumbency in many local, state and national offices. But the inside party people control the conventions, the central committee and other party organs. Chairman James Evans has cast his lot firmly with the latter. Over the bitter opposition of the ultra-conservative wing, the Count My Vote Initiative got the law changed to allow a candidate to get on the ballot through the traditional convention route or by getting signatures and going to the ballot directly. Candidates can pursue both routes, as well. The party, its officers and central committee fought Count My Vote bitterly. However, Count My Vote is the law.
While rank-and-file Republicans may not be able to tell you what all the behind-the-scenes fuss is about, they do know the Utah Republican Party has left them, and they feel deserted. Add to this the remarkable antipathy Utah Republicans have developed toward Trump, the national Republican standard-bearer, for his immoral, spiteful, nasty campaign and his bankrupt character. The combination has many rock-ribbed Republicans distancing themselves from their Utah and their national party. Not in my lifetime have we seen so many Republicans searching for a political home.
The same may be said about huge numbers of independent voters. They reject both Trump and Clinton.
And not a few Democrats feel the same.
One Utah pundit, whose judgment is as good as anyone’s, has said the extremes of both the Democrat and Republican parties have hijacked their parties. The Democrats lost LDS and like-minded mainstream voters when they became exclusively pro-choice, pursued a national agenda of expanding the federal government, bulking up entitlements, embracing identity politics, and adopting other positions inimical to Utah’s Middle Voter Class. Grand County Democrats may find themselves identifying with those positions; however, the truth remains that the Democrats have become a decidedly minority party in Utah because they have alienated the mainstream voter.
What once seemed unbelievable is now playing out before us. We are watching the mirror image of that phenomenon as Republicans flee a party driven by loudmouth extremists on Fox News and talk shows, whose companionship with truth and reality has been seriously impaired.
Will a new party of the mainstream voter emerge? Will center-left Democrats, independents and center-right Republicans find that they hold many views in common: like bringing sense to Washington, D.C.; curbing and reducing the federal debt; preserving religious freedom; making sense of our tattered immigration system which will give law-abiding people a path to legal residency while securing our borders and sending bad guys home; working on healthcare costs so that normal people and employers can afford it without the federal government taking it over and further gumming the works? Most important, will Americans of good will join together to stand against racism, nativism, isolationism, federal dependency and a weak international presence for America? We can do it. I hope and pray we will.
Greg Bell is a former lieutenant governor of Utah and the current President/ CEO of the Utah Hospital Association.