Utah: Red State, Moderate GOP Leadership

October 14th, 2009 at 1:18 pm | 9 Comments |

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Utahns are not people of moderation.  Instead of having two kids, we have five or six. Instead of having two or three drinks a week, we prefer a lifetime of abstinence. Instead of buying a flashlight, we prefer to store a month’s worth of food in case of emergency.

Our politics run a similar course—we are an immoderately red state.  Republicans have won every Senate election since 1970. More than 77 percent of us voted for Republican Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. in 2008.  We have voted for the Republican candidate in the last 10 presidential elections, and we hold the dubious honor of being the only state to give more votes to Ross Perot than to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election.

But as of late, Utah is at the vanguard of moderate Republicanism. Senator Bob Bennett, a consistent recipient of high ratings from conservative groups such as the American Conservative Union and the Christian Coalition, recently teamed up with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden to write the “Healthy Americans Act. The compromise bill called for universal health coverage administered through private and public insurance institutions, and it mandated that employers increase salaries to offset the new taxes employees would pay for coverage. In fact, the bill had so many Democratic measures in it, that the right-wing Club For Growth attacked Bennett for his sponsorship.

Senator Hatch has put a similar leftward-spin on some of his recent activities.  Just last June, Hatch reached out to the Liberal Lion himself, Senator Ted Kennedy, to expand and enlarge SCHIP, the federal program for uninsured children.  Hatch also continues to champion stem-cell research, a subject on which he finds more common ground with Democrats than with his fellow Republicans.

Last, but certainly not least important, in this move toward moderation, is former Governor – now Ambassador – Huntsman.  Huntsman has always focused more on economic liberties and business development than he has divisive social issues, but his decision to support civil unions and to relax Utah’s liquor laws, put him squarely in the moderate Republican camp.  Had Huntsman not moved to China, centrist voters would still be listing him as a top pick for the 2012 presidential elections.

These three statesmen — Huntsman especially — are now hallmarks of moderate Western Republicanism.  Best embodied by Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and, slightly less so, John McCain, Western Republicanism is distinguished from its Southern counterpart by its ideology of strict limited government and its willingness to compromise.  Western Republicans appreciate that Democrats are usually working toward the shared goal of national prosperity, and as such, they are more apt to reforming and moderating Democratic positions than they are to shouting “you lie” and calling it a day.  Not only does this give Western Republicans real power in influencing the current majority’s policies, it also earns them credibility with the American public.  A “no” vote to a Democratichealthcare measure is much more telling if it comes from a lawmaker willing to compromise than it is from a lawmaker who votes against anything that has a Democratic sponsor.

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9 Comments so far ↓

  • DFL

    Conservatives got Cannon and they’re going to get Bennett. Huntsman has no future on a national ticket. Perhaps he’ll get Hatch’s senate seat and perhaps not.

  • wsnw

    As a Utah resident, I don’t really understand this post, either. The Republican establishment in this state is absolutely savaging these politicians for being too moderate, even though by all national standards they are some of the most extreme right wing conservatives in government today (well, except for Huntsman, who was wisely co-opted by the Obama administration).

    To illustrate, right now it looks like Bennett may not hold his position because he has been successfully labeled a Democrat loving liberal. As stated above, Chris Cannon — highest on all conservative meters in the land — was tossed out for being a pork living commie.

    Utah isn’t a guiding light for moderate Republicanism. Its a written warning for what happens when extremists and zealots are allowed to take over an entire region, and the crazyland it has produced should be carefully studied.

  • Observer

    Ok, so dfl, *why* does Huntsman have no future on a national ticket?

  • noufa

    wsnw-how is UT a cautionary tale? Cannon was replaced with a Republican.

  • Utah: Bastion of Moderate Republicans | Republicans United.

    [...] Stephen Richer over at New Majority explains how one of the reddest states in the Union is able to elect reasonable Republicans. [...]

  • DFL

    I can’t see a moderate Utah Republican who had served the Obama Administration as an ambassador winning a Republican nomination as president. As for being asked to be a vice-presidential nominee, I can’t see that any politician from Utah being added to a national ticket. Utah hasn’t been in play since 1964.

  • sinz54

    richer: Best embodied by Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and, slightly less so, John McCain, Western Republicanism is distinguished from its Southern counterpart by its ideology of strict limited government and its willingness to compromise.

    The hallmark of Goldwater-style Republicanism was social libertarianism –that the government should do nothing to invade personal privacy. For example, Goldwater, slammed in 1964 for being an “extremist,” was in favor of gay rights and gays in the military. Goldwater wasn’t known for being a compromiser (“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”). Libertarians aren’t compromisers. They are just unyielding in their defense of personal privacy.

    Utah is a poor exemplar of that, with its strict Mormonism.

    The best example of that is Arizona, the home of both Goldwater and McCain.
    Another example is Nevada, where by state law, brothels are legal if counties choose to allow it.

  • DFL

    The Goldwater that was for gay rights and abortion rights as a retired 80 year old ex-senator in the last decade of his life would never have been nominated by the Republicans in 1964 supporting either proposition. I can’t think of any politician in 1964 who advocated gay rights, gays in the military or abortion rights. George McGovern in 1972 was the first major presidential candidate to hint at abortion rights and he was wiped out by Richard Nixon.

  • sinz54

    dfl: I can’t think of any politician in 1964 who advocated gay rights, gays in the military or abortion rights.
    Sure, but that was a different time entirely.

    Times change.

    And Goldwater showed he could change with the times.