Spencer Cox hopes MAGA beast will eat him last, George Pyle writes

Utah governor calls out Republican extremism. Sometimes.

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

Spencer Cox certainly doesn’t come across as a fascist.

Utah’s Republican governor often asks for a more friendly and peaceable kind of politics. He calls out social media and cable news as sources of damaging division and anger. He made a joint ad with his Democratic rival in the 2020 governor’s race in which they both stood against hostility and division.

As recently as this week, Cox took to Twitter to call out a fellow Republican, in this case Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. When Greene bluntly called for the nation to split up, for the red states and blue states to get a “divorce,” Cox didn’t hesitate to say her idea was “evil.”

“We don’t need a divorce,” Cox tweeted, “we need marriage counseling. And we need elected leaders that don’t profit by tearing us apart.”

Any elected official who moves at the speed of social media to call out members of his or her own party is showing some guts.

But where were those guts when Cox recently offered a disconcertingly waffly answer to the question of whether he would support Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential race? Passing on the opportunity to say that Trump is a fascist, traitor, insurrectionist and friend of Vladimir Putin, all Cox could manage was a weak statement about how The Former Guy would probably not offer Republicans their best chance to reclaim the White House.

The implication clearly being that if Trump does become the 2024 nominee - as Utah Sen. Mitt Romney predicts - Cox would back him. As he shamefully, though quietly, did in 2020. As Romney, at least, will not.

Cox says he is inclined to back some other governor for president. That’s a common and reasonable view among politically active people of all persuasions who see the proven executive skills of a successful governor as the best resume for the national chief magistrate’s job.

But Cox dug himself a deeper hole when he mentioned Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as a good candidate. Cox made a similar statement during a recent appearance on “Meet the Press” and ruined a mostly reasonable interview by saying DeSantis has “a great record.”

DeSantis’ record - especially the parts of it he brags about the most - is a racist, sexist, homophobic abomination. He crusades against teaching honest American history on the grounds that it hurts the feelings of white kids. He does all he can to make “gay” a dirty word and purge his state’s universities of real scholarship. He is being mentioned as presidential timber only because he’s seen as a smarter, more disciplined Trump.

It may be Cox is still stung from Time magazine calling him “the red state governor who’s not afraid to be woke,” when he vetoed last year’s bill to ban transgender youth from school sports. A veto that was promptly overridden.

But woke is not a title properly applied to a governor who signed more anti-transgender legislation, as he did this year. Who indulges the anti-democratic urges of the Republican super-majority in the Legislature when he signs bills that shamelessly gerrymander the state’s congressional districts, allows those same lawmakers to tie his proposed raise for public school teachers to their most recent plan to divert public money into private and religious schools and joins his state’s baldly Trumpist attorney general in threatening to sue social media platforms.

The Republican legislative junta will override just about any veto Cox might issue. Which can’t be anything but painful. But he still could make a lot more noise, rally the people - who would be more likely to agree with him than with lawmakers - and look for some executive hammers to use against the lawmakers who so enjoy ignoring him.

To pick up the governor’s analogy of America needing a marriage counselor, that’s an image that works when you have two equally unhappy people who still want to work out their differences. But what we have now is more like the pairing of a drunken, violent spouse with a partner who is just too terrified to get out of the relationship.

And that’s just among Republicans.

Political leaders who reach toward the center, hoping to find common ground and move ahead wherever and whenever they can, are, in normal circumstances, the ideal. But such leaders can be basically useless, if not outright harmful, when that other side would lead your nation to overt fascism, riding to power by playing up an older generation’s fears of losing superiority over other types of folks.

Cox may hope that by alternating criticism of some of the more absurd Trumpist claims with Neville Chamberlain moments of appeasement, the MAGA beast may eat him last. He might be right about that. Fat lot of good that does the rest of us.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, has a lot of problems. But the bothsidesing virus is not among them.


Twitter, @debate state