Jeff Merchant: Utah Democrats want to see Mike Lee gone, not for the party’s benefit but for the country’s.

It was painful for many Democrats to back Evan McMullin over Kael Weston, but it is for the best.

(Briana Scroggins | Special to The Tribune) Joshua Rush, a volunteer with the McMullin campaign, hands out placards during the Utah Democratic Convention at Cottonwood High School in Murray, Utah on Saturday, April 23, 2022.

As the chair of this year’s Utah Democratic Party Convention, I found April 23 to be bittersweet. As is always the case, there was a kerfuffle or two, but for the most part (and particularly in comparison to our Republican counterparts), delegates handled themselves with poise and dignity. Shouting happened, but the debate was honest, straightforward and civil.

As a life-long Democrat and former party chair, I am heartbroken that for the first time in my life Democrats are not fielding a candidate for the U.S. Senate. That most delegates chose to join Evan McMullin’s bipartisan coalition to unseat Sen. Mike Lee, however, is significant and telling.

As a party official, I often heard people complain about how the “party” was doing this and that wrong. I often wondered to myself, “Do these people think I am the ‘party?’” The reality is, the delegates are the party and, whether individual Democrats like it or not, a clear majority of delegates decided on that day that removing someone like Mike Lee was just too important to ignore.

Make no mistake, Kael Weston is an amazing human being who has dedicated most of his life to the American people. If even a handful of members of Congress were like him, we would be on a very different trajectory as a country. I voted for Weston against Chris Stewart (another Utah politician who doesn’t seem to care much for American democracy) in 2020. I would have voted for Kael in 2022 and I am sure I will get the chance to vote for him again one day. I know that for most Democratic delegates voting to have no candidate, there was pain in doing so.

At the same time, as we have seen over the last few weeks, Mike Lee’s unhinged support for Trumpism must be stopped. Whether he, as Sen. Mitt Romney has said, has not done anything “illegal” is less relevant than the fact that he really did attempt to overthrow what every credible election official in the country has said was a fair and free election. What true American spends 14 seconds, let alone 14 hours, thinking of a way to stop the legitimate outcome of a legitimate election?

Mike Lee’s moral turpitude is no longer something any Utah voter can deny. He is not a force for good in the United States Senate, but a source of divisiveness and disunity. He has intentionally attempted to overturn a presidential election, tried to instigate a constitutional crisis, helped subvert the efforts of election officials throughout the country and to this day refuses to acknowledge his role in perhaps permanently damaging democracy at home and abroad.

As seen on April 23, the will of Utah Democrats is to see Mike Lee gone — not for the party’s benefit, but for the country’s benefit. To be sure, Evan McMullan is not the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. There is plenty for the average Democrat to be wary of when talking policy with McMullan. But, like Weston, he has dedicated much of his life to his country, putting others before himself and seeking common ground. I know it is hard for Democrats to accept but, like it or not, someone who is with us 50 percent of the time is probably better than someone who simply doesn’t care.

Being without a candidate is indeed a great, new experiment for Utah Democrats. It is historic, and it is risky. While some will lament how this weakens the party even more, I would say it only weakens us if we let it. Democrats, if we are unified and work together, have the chance to help overcome the nearly unbearable weight of Trumpism that this country has borne for far too long. That can only happen if we remove Donald Trump’s supporters, including Mike Lee, in Congress.

We’ve made the choice to join Evan McMullan’s coalition, let’s make sure that choice was worth it.

(Photo courtesy Jeff Merchant) Jeff Merchant

Jeff Merchant, Salt Lake City, is former chair of the Utah Democratic Party.