Tribune Editorial: Utah officials should be standing up for our republic

Reyes and Lee take the side of an would-be authoritarian coup.

Benjamin Franklin’s oft-quoted answer to the question of what the Constitutional Convention of 1787 had come up with — “A republic, if you can keep it” — has been trotted out so many times over the years that it has almost become a joke.

After more than 230 years, who really thought we would do anything other than maintain our democratic form of government?

But 2020 will be remembered as the year we came close to losing it. And that the survival of our republic was threatened by people who call themselves Republicans. Some of them from Utah.

There is absolutely no doubt who won the 2020 presidential election. It was former Vice President Joe Biden. The Democratic nominee not only carried the popular vote by a resounding 7 million ballots, but also, as we’ve known for more than a month now, won a firm victory in the Electoral College, 306 to 232.

It is no surprise that the incumbent president has not been willing to accept the results. He has followed his habit of the past four years or more, spinning lie after self-serving lie, claiming fraud, fixes, late-night “dumps” of ballots, painting himself as a victim of an insidious, international conspiracy.

But this isn’t only about the outgoing president. It is about far too many Republican officeholders, including some of Utah’s top officials, taking the side of an authoritarian push to invalidate the results of a free and fair election.

If they do this now, and aren’t held to account for it, there is every reason to fear that they will do it again. And the next time, the daylight coup they join may be mounted by someone who actually knows what they are doing.

Among them was Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. First, he took a side trip to Nevada to inspect a fanciful story of voter irregularities in a state that Biden won. He followed that up by attaching Utah’s good name to a failed petition initiated by the Texas attorney general asking the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the election results in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia.

For a state with the motto “Don’t mess with Texas” to so brazenly try to mess with legal elections in other states is Texas-sized hypocrisy.

Rep. Chris Stewart voiced support for Reyes’ adventure, though he didn’t go as far as 106 other Republican House members in formally signing onto the lawsuit. And Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee was among those who refused to recognize the winner of the election until the Electoral College vote was formally cast Monday.

Too many others at the federal, state and local levels stood by the false push to get the election results overturned, thrown out, invalidated, ignored. In so doing, they inflamed a few fully irrational, and sometimes heavily armed, malcontents to threaten election contractors, state officials, even members of the Electoral College, to the point that some electors had to meet under heavy security or even in secret locations because they reasonably feared for their lives.

There haven’t been this many elected officials willing to violate their oaths to support the Constitution of the United States since the Civil War. These politicians clearly put the desire to keep their favored candidate in the White House ahead of the whole concept of representative democracy.

The good news is that Utah’s other senator, Mitt Romney, wanted no part of the president’s plot, rightly dismissing calls for members of the Electoral College to go against the voters of their states as “madness.” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Gov.-elect Spencer Cox were also among the far-too-few Republicans to cop to the truth and congratulate the true president-elect.

It is clear that, had the electoral vote come down to a single closely divided state instead of the five states that the Democrats flipped this year, the nation might well be dealing with a constitutional crisis that would threaten our entire system of government and could easily result in widespread violence.

Utahns should demand that their elected officials stand against this attack on our nation’s — and our state’s — fundamental principles.