Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says conservatism has to be more than ‘owning the libs’

Cox says the GOP needs to abandon ‘fake controversies’ and start focusing on issues affecting everyday Americans.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Gov. Spencer Cox holds media availability at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, March 5, 2021, during the final day of the Utah Legislature’s 2021 general session.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said “fake controversies” drummed up by Republicans are keeping the party from pushing for conservative policy solutions.

During an interview on the “Matt Lewis and the News” podcast, Cox explained the constant culture wars gleefully pushed by many in his party are nothing more than a distraction from the real issues that should have a more prominent role in the consciousness on the political right.

“There’s more to being a conservative than just ‘owning the libs,’” said Cox. “I believe in a Republican Party and a conservatism that is about opportunity for everyone. We don’t do that with these fake controversies, these false choices we keep presenting people.”

Cox worried about the current state of the GOP, saying its leaders have “lost their way” and have been unresponsive to what is happening with everyday Americans.

“There’s not much interesting policy work going on on the right. It seems we’ve just defined ourselves in opposition to whatever it is the left is doing,” he said. Cox also weighed in on the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress on Wednesday, saying he has many concerns about some of the provisions in the bill and the massive amount of money the government is spending. Cox says many of those who have problems with the bill have little room to criticize because the party surrendered the moral high ground on government largesse during the four years of the Trump administration.

“We spent money like drunken sailors, and then we’re surprised when the other team is spending money like that. Those are the conversations we should be having, but unfortunately we’re spending more time on Dr. Seuss. But this stuff matters and has long-term implications,” lamented Cox.

The discussion also turned to HR1, the massive voting and ethics reform package approved by the House this week. The package aims to expand voting access by requiring states to allow all voters the option of voting by mail, a system Utah has used to great success for years. Former President Donald Trump and his allies alleged, without proof, the switch to mail-in balloting in many states due to the pandemic was rife with fraud. Trump, and others, also made baseless claims the election was stolen from the GOP nominee.

Cox said there are some legitimate concerns about vote-by-mail, Utah phased the practice in over a number of years which allayed fears about the system’s reliability. But, he said those criticisms were drowned out by other fantastical conspiracy theories.

“I don’t think it was wise to implement an all vote-by-mail system in a matter of just a few weeks, and those are legitimate concerns,” said Cox. “Now all of the crazy stuff about machines changing votes and trucks bringing in ballots and dumping them at night. None of that stuff happened. Yet, it’s being mixed in with the truth. That’s where I’m really frustrated.”

The wide-ranging conversation also touched on several other topics.

Lifting Utah’s mask mandate on April 10

“There’s been a lot of discussion over whether that’s too soon or too late. Probably a little too soon. We’d love to give our people an opportunity to get vaccinated, but we’re going to be really close. By mid-May, everybody should be fully vaccinated or close to it.”

How the state’s LDS population responded to the pandemic

“If I’m being candid, there’s probably been some disappointment, even among Church leaders. And they told me specifically they’ve been disappointed in some of the response that has come. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints required masks before it was mandated by the state, and there was a tremendous amount of pushback for that.

“I hate to judge anybody or any group or any religion by the way they respond to something that happens once every 100 years. Global pandemics tend to bring out the worst in us. It’s been a trying time, and I don’t hold that against anyone. But I do think that generally, people in Utah would probably tell you that they were maybe a little underwhelmed by the kind of care we showed about our neighbors.

“On the health side, there’s still a distrust of government, which is understandable and that’s historic in our nature from a religion that was kicked out of Missouri and our houses were burned and people sent away. But, there’s also a little distrust of the science around these types of things. Everybody’s trying to figure this out, and I’m trying to have enough grace for those that disagree on both sides.”

Working with the state’s Democratic minority

“I think Democrats will tell you that I’m very collaborative and I work hard to listen and learn to understand. During the legislative session, I met every week with Democratic leaders in the state. But I’m still a conservative Republican. I don’t apologize for that, and I make decisions based on that core philosophy. There are many times when our interests overlap and most of the time we want the same thing. I don’t believe that I or my party has cornered the market on all the good ideas yet. If our philosophy is let’s do the right thing and accomplish good things, then oftentimes there is room for compromise and for working together.”