John Dougall rejects Donald Trump and MAGA. Will it lead to a 2024 congressional GOP primary win?

Ahead of the June 25 primary, Dougall stands out as the only GOP candidate willing to criticize the former president.

For the last several weeks, the face of John Dougall, one of the contenders for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District seat, has smiled down from a billboard in Murray, arms folded defiantly across his chest next to the message: “MAINSTREAM NOT MAGA.”

In the current political climate, where candidates for governor and U.S. Senate are competing to see who can be the biggest fan of former President Donald Trump, Dougall is rejecting the “Make America Great Again” bandwagon, distancing himself from the party’s presumptive presidential nominee and appealing to that segment of the party — however big it is — that is disenchanted and fed up with the former president.

“The [goal] is to let folks know I’m not one of those MAGA guys, the bomb-throwers wanting to tear everything down, the obstructionists,” Dougall, who is the current state auditor, said in an interview. “There are serious problems back in Washington, D.C. That’s why I’m running. I want to go back there and fix those problems.”

Dougall is the only one of the five GOP congressional candidates to publicly criticize and disavow Trump — although Stewart Peay, who is endorsed by Sen. Mitt Romney, one of Trump’s leading critics, has avoided questions about whether or not he is a supporter.

The other three — Michael Kennedy, Case Lawrence and J.R. Bird — have all voiced support for Trump becoming the next president, even after he was convicted of 34 felonies by a New York jury last month.

[READ: Utah candidates divided over Ukraine aid. Here’s how the 3rd District Republicans would have voted in Congress.]

“Clearly everyone is trying out-MAGA themselves. Look at lots of the races,” Dougall said. “That’s not me and I’m not going to change who I am to try to get elected.”

It’s not the first time that Dougall has gone against Trump. After the Jan. 6 insurrection, Dougall called the president’s actions that day “seditious and treasonous” and said he should resign or be removed from office — a statement that he said he stands by today.

(Spenser Heaps | Pool) Candidates in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd congressional district take part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. From left to right are JR Bird, John Dougal, Mike Kennedy, Case Lawrence and Stewart Peay.

But will the gambit actually work?

Marty Carpenter, who ran former Gov. Gary Herbert’s 2016 campaign, said that in a crowded five-person field, where the winner is likely to only receive between 30 and 35 percent, it could give Dougall a way to distinguish himself from the rest of the field.

“If you were running in the convention thats a suicide mission with that slogan,” Carpenter said. “But in the broader [electorate] you can say, ‘Hey, if all you get to know about me is I’m the mainstream candidate, not the MAGA candidate, and there are potentially 35,000 to 50,000 people who say, ‘I don’t like Trump but I want to vote Republican … then it’s not necessarily a bad way to carve out a lane for yourself.”

Trump’s performance in Utah has been lackluster by typical Republican standards.

In the 2016 presidential election, Trump received 45.5% of the vote in a race that included independent candidate Evan McMullin — the worst showing by a Republican since 1992, when 43% of Utah voters cast a ballot for George H.W. Bush in race that included Ross Perot.

Four years later, 58% of Utah voters cast a ballot for Trump. The incumbent’s showing was an improvement, but still the worst showing in Utah by a Republican presidential candidate in a two-way race since Barry Goldwater’s loss to Lyndon Johnson in 1960.

[READ: Five Republicans vie for Utah’s empty seat in Congress. Here’s their views on abortion, immigration and water.]

At the Republican caucus in March, Trump received a paltry 56% of the vote from GOP attendees against his lone remaining rival at the time, Nikki Haley. In January, with three Republicans still in the race, 49% of Republican voters supported Trump in a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) A billboard supporting John Dougal’s run to represent Utah's 3rd district in Congress is visible from Interstate 15 near South Salt Lake on Thursday, June 13, 2024.

At the same time, GOP candidates who have run anti-Trump campaigns, as Becky Edwards did against Sen. Mike Lee in the 2022 primary election, have not fared well in primaries.

Dougall said he doesn’t worry about whether his stance is a winner politically — it’s a matter of principle and the future of his party.

“The Republican Party used to be the party of big ideas,” Dougall said following the GOP debate Wednesday. “Sadly it’s not anymore. It has become the party of vengeance and retribution, and that is a problem. America is a grand experiment … We’re at a critical point it’s up to us to determine what is the future. Is that grand experiment going to be successful.”

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