Tribune Editorial: Utah Republicans should shake social media and build center-right party nation needs.

Refusing to condemn Trump’s continuing candidacy is not rising above the fray.

“I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

— Liz Cheney

Many of Utah’s leading politicians are engaged in an embarrassing dance of either supporting the multiply indicted inciter of an attempted overthrow of the U.S. government or displaying a wan hope that the former president would just, somehow, go away.

This is not the leadership that Utah deserves.

Our elected officials and our dominant political party should shake off the outsized influence of social media and conspiracy theorists and build the kind of center-right political party the nation needs. A party that believes in law and order, individual responsibility, a small, trustworthy government and that works to boost America’s standing in the world.

Yet we get exactly the opposite of that from Utah’s senior U.S. senator, Mike Lee. The man who spent “14 hours a day” trying to drum up support for a false elector scheme cooked up by a handful of people who are now under indictment in Georgia now says that, while it is too soon to actually endorse any candidate, the nation would be better off if Donald Trump were to be president again.

Lee’s residency in the world of fantasy has also led to him repeating groundless scare stories about new rounds of COVID restrictions gleaned from such discredited sources as Alex Jones’ InfoWars. The same Alex Jones who was ordered to pay nearly $1 billion for spreading vile falsehoods about the Sandy Hook school shootings being a hoax.

The Utah Republican Central Committee recently passed a resolution calling the federal and state charges — four indictments totaling 91 counts — against the former president “political persecution.”

Trump, like every other defendant in the United States, has the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. It will be up to the various juries to decide whether his actions amounted to criminal acts or were merely a historic stain on the office of the presidency.

But if anyone is worried about politics becoming more important than justice, the real crime would be to let anyone walk away from evidence of this many violations of the law just because they happen to be a former government official.

There is some evidence that a few Utah Republicans are at least embarrassed by their party’s continued association with Trump, though they have not yet worked up the courage to actually stand against his efforts to resurrect himself.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox only managed to go as far as doing a little political calculus — devoid of any ethical considerations — when he said the other day that Trump probably could not win if the Republicans were to nominate him for president again in 2024.

That’s a reasonable conclusion.

But what Cox’s party and state really need to hear from their governor is a firm statement that he would oppose Trump’s return. Cox should speak, not just as a political handicapper, but as a moral leader who doesn’t want his nation or his party to be dragged any further down into the mud of Trumpism.

Concern for what might be said about him on the fringes of social media also seems to have caused Utah Rep. John Curtis to avoid talking — or, he claims, even thinking — about the elephant in the room.

Curtis recently ducked questions about Trump’s criminal cases by claiming he hasn’t “been paying attention” to the growing stack of indictments against someone who remains far and away the front-runner to be his party’s presidential nominee. Given Trump’s ability to dominate the national discussion, it is hard to believe that someone as politically aware as Curtis has been truly out to lunch on this.

The congressman from Provo did have some useful things to say about the growing tribalism in American politics. About how folks in both parties seem all too willing to forgive all bad behavior from politicians who are of their party and favor some of their same policy goals.

Again, a reasonable conclusion.

But Curtis could demonstrate that he is not one of those go-along-to-get-along politicians were he to forcefully state his opposition to Trump again gaining his party’s nomination.

Curtis and Cox build much of their political personas on an image of being calm people who want to drop the mud-slinging and have reasonable discussions about important issues. But refusing to condemn Trump’s continuing candidacy is not rising above the fray. It is being complicit in the face of unforgivable behavior.

Of Utah’s Republican leaders, only Sen. Mitt Romney is brave and honest enough to call out the threat of a third Trump nomination and seek ways to prevent it.

The ongoing influence of media channels such as Fox News, NewsMax, OAN and others has taken the backbone out of too many Republicans on the state and national level.

This was evident in a move, which ultimately failed, to amend Utah Republican rules to give the party control over which journalists will be allowed to cover its activities.

The kind of journalism some in the state party wanted to ban is exactly the kind of reporting that is necessary to help Republicans, and the rest of the nation, see a path out of the media sewer of conspiracy theories, threats of violence and denial of facts that endanger everything from public health to education to democracy itself.

Utah political leaders should make clear that they understand that, and that they will not be cowed into either support for Trump or mealy-mouthed neutrality by the purveyors of false media.