Utahn running to be second in command of national Republican Party

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Former Utah Republican Party Chair Bruce Hough, right, has his photograph taken with Matt Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, Tuesday, August 28, 2012.

What happens to the Republican Party once President Donald Trump leaves office in January? Does it continue to be the “party of Trump,” or do party leaders chart a new course?

A Utahn on the Republican National Committee, Bruce Hough, says, why not both?

“President Trump has expanded and diversified the party base,” he said. “The Democratic Party used to be the party of the working class, but Trump has become very popular in that area. He’s also pushed very far into the Latino community, which had not been done before by our presidential candidates.”

Hough, who holds one of Utah’s three RNC spots, has eyes on the party’s No. 2 leadership position.

Hough explains, “One of the reasons I’m running for co-chair of the Republican National Committee is I really want to be prepared not only for 2022 but also 2024.”

Party leadership elections are structurally different than races for public office. These positions are voted on by the 168 members of the RNC. Each state gets three seats, with the others held by people from the District of Columbia and various territories like Guam and American Samoa.

Current Chair Ronna McDaniel, who is Sen. Mitt Romney’s niece, was elected in 2017 and has been endorsed for reelection by President Donald Trump. His backing almost assures she will serve another term.

There are four candidates for co-chair. Along with Hough, the candidates are current co-Chair Tommy Hicks, Jay Shepherd from Vermont, and Doyle Webb, who is the chairman of the Arkansas GOP.

Hicks, from Texas, was elevated to his current position by the Trump White House, and he’s been a longtime hunting buddy of Donald Trump Jr. But Hough says since Trump is already backing McDaniel, it would be wise to have a co-chair who is independent from the Trump orbit, especially since Trump is already making noise about running for president again in 2024.

“I think it’s absolutely incumbent on the party that we are independent and neutral in the process over the next four years,” Hough cautioned.

He is worried that there could be a perception that the national GOP would have its thumb on the scale for Trump, much like many thought the Democratic National Party “fixed” the 2016 primary elections to help eventual nominee Hillary Clinton.

Hough is adamant. “Even if Trump or a family member decided to run for president, we can’t be ‘the party of Trump.’ We have to be a fair arbiter of that process.

“The question is who should be sitting in that chair? Should you have both the chair and co-chair having been picked by the Trump folks?” he said. “It would be suspect in the eyes of some people. You have to provide a level playing field for anyone who wants to run, including the president if he runs again. It can’t be an automatic. If we don’t do that, then we’re losing our relevance as an institution.”

Hough would not be the first Utahn to hold a top Republican Party position if he’s elected. Richard Richards was the RNC chairman from 1981 to 1983.

Current Utah Republican Party Chairman Derek Brown, who also holds a position on the national committee, said Hough would be a good choice to help guide the party through the next few years.

“There are a couple of things that the position entails that Bruce would do well,” Brown said. “The first is fundraising, and the second is Bruce understands the dynamics of the RNC environment. He’s someone who has been around long enough that he could bring an outsiders view.”

Hough was the Utah party chairman from 1991 to 1995, then served as one of the members of the national committee from Utah during the presidency of Barack Obama. He returned to the national committee earlier this year when Thomas Wright resigned to run for governor. He co-founded Nutraceutical in 1993 before retiring from the company in 2018. Now he’s the managing director of his management consultant firm. Hough also was the president of the Great Salt Lake Council of Boy Scouts of America.

Hough jokes he’s never held a top party job with a Republican in the White House, so why should 2021 be any different?

“I certainly think I can help the party do a lot of things,” he said. “I speak Spanish. I’d love to do Latino community outreach. We need to keep that momentum moving forward.”

The Republican National Committee will elect its new leadership in early January.