Trump not the best way for the GOP to win back the White House, Utah Gov. Cox says

Cox also defended his decision to sign legislation banning gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth in Utah.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox holds a monthly news conference in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says the Republican Party should nominate a governor for president next year because it gives the GOP the best chance of winning.

“There are some amazing governors out there, and having that chief executive experience in a state is a really big deal,” Cox said, pointing to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson as possible candidates.

So far, the only declared candidates are former President Donald Trump and former South Carolina Gov. and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Sen. Mitt Romney said Thursday that Trump was the “most likely” candidate to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. Cox was noncommittal when asked if he would support Trump should the former president be the party’s standard bearer next year.

“I don’t know. I’m really interested in winning back the Senate next year. I’m interested in increasing our margin in the House and I would really, really like to win the presidency, and I don’t think he (Trump) gives us the best chance to do that,” Cox said.

Cox addressed a number of other issues during his monthly KUED press conference on Thursday.

Transgender health care

Cox also defended his decision to sign a bill banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors, saying it was necessary to “press pause” on the issue and take a hard look at the data surrounding it.

“It’s really hard to have a conversation and to get good information on either side of this debate,” Cox said. “I want to be very clear, pushing pause does not mean that we abandoned these kids who are struggling deeply.”

Cox is pushing legislators to commit significant funding toward increased mental health resources in next year’s budget.

Cox lamented the debate surrounding transgender rights during a recent interview, saying it had become a “toxic issue.”

“If we could get outside of the culture war piece of this and have these kind of rational conversations, I would feel much better,” Cox told NBC’s Meet the Press.

Cox said SB16, which the GOP majority in the Utah Legislature railroaded through in less than two weeks, was “not a perfect bill.”

“I would have designed this bill a little differently, but I don’t get to do that. At the end of the day, I either have to sign or veto it, and in this case, it had a veto-proof majority,” Cox said.

Despite his decision to sign the bill, Cox rejected any suggestion that transgender youth are under attack from the government.

“It’s really easy to focus on one thing and make the narrative that your government hates you. I know there’s no place for nuance in this conversation, but I pray we get back to a day when we can have a little more,” Cox said.

Abortion Legislation

Cox unequivocally voiced his support for a bill to ban abortion clinics in the state that is currently being fast-tracked through the 2023 session.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox holds a monthly news conference in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023.

Rep. Karianne Lisonbee’s HB467 also requires all abortions in Utah to be performed in hospitals, bans the use of abortion drugs and only allows exceptions for rape and incest before 18 weeks.

“I think that gives plenty of time for a decision to be made, and people will have an opportunity to get an abortion,” the Republican governor said.

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No “magic mushrooms”

Cox said he opposed a bill to legalize psilocybin, or “magic mushrooms,” to treat depression, PTSD or other mental conditions, preferring to delay any decision until federal regulators weigh in on the idea.

“I’m just not there yet,” Cox said. “I’d rather wait for the FDA.”

Water Legislation

The governor said he was not worried about the seeming drought of legislation to address water issues and the Great Salt Lake so far this session.

“Come back and ask me that question in two weeks and I’ll be able to give you an answer,” Cox said.

Cox was clearly annoyed when questioned about the failure of a resolution to set a target level for water in the Great Salt Lake, saying it was much ado about nothing.

“The target goal was a dumb thing. We don’t need a target goal; we need a range. We already have that range,” Cox said.