WASHINGTON — Donald Trump continues to lead in national polls among the many GOP contenders for president, but members of Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation said they believe voters will make a different choice.
"It's a problem because he's both an asset and a tremendous liability," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of the possibility the billionaire businessman and reality TV star could become the Republican nominee in 2016.
Trump is attracting huge crowds, "telling people what they want to hear, and they're all mad at everybody here" in Washington, Hatch said. "But you still have to be responsible, no matter what the polls show or anything else."
Hatch and other members of the delegation expressed concern about Trump's call in early December to bar Muslims from entering the United States in light of terrorist attacks here and abroad.
A UtahPolicy.com poll conducted after Trump's controversial statement had him languishing in fourth place among Republican candidates, behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Pollster Dan Jones said Utah voters already disliked Trump's "too boisterous" style and were put off by the idea that faith should be used to decide who is allowed into the country.
"Some of the things he's said, they curdle my blood," Hatch said. "I don't want to lose the tremendous advantage the United States has being the nation of freedom, especially freedom of religion and freedom of thought."
Hatch, who endorsed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for president earlier this year, said Trump should have narrowed his focus to keeping "radical Muslims out, the radical terrorists out. Who would disagree with that?"
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also suggested Trump went too far.
"I think you've got to be very, very careful when making comments like that," Lee said of Trump's call for a ban on all Muslims. "And he's not known for being really careful."
Lee has not endorsed a presidential candidate because three of his close friends in the Senate are running: Cruz, Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. He said it's still early in the race.
"Look, I have great confidence in the American people to choose their president," the first-term senator said. "Polls are often wrong at this point."
Still, he said he has concerns about Trump.
"He's getting a lot of people excited on a lot of different issues," Lee said. "I can't yet say where he stands on a whole host of issues, and that makes me a little nervous."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the only other member of the state's delegation who has not made an endorsement in the presidential race, said he worries about the impact Trump is having on the Republican party.
But Chaffetz also said he believes Republicans will come around, citing his experience as a key surrogate for Mitt Romney in 2012. Romney had to fight off a string of challengers before eventually clinching the GOP nomination.
"Finally, the party got rational," Chaffetz said. "I think they will pick the best one this time, too."
As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, however, Chaffetz said he's staying out of the nomination race and plans to endorse the party's pick.
Rep. Rob Bishop, who recently joined fellow Utah GOP Reps. Chris Stewart and Mia Love in endorsing Rubio, said Trump's lead is "not a mandate," especially since the first votes aren't set to be cast until the Iowa caucus in early February.
"There's so much time. It is too soon necessarily to be talking about these things. It's too soon to be caring about somebody. It is too soon to have a stop-anybody campaign," Bishop said.
He said he has faith that primary voters will make the right choice.
Stewart, who has campaigned with Rubio in New Hampshire, said the election may end up being won or lost on national security issues and whether that's good or bad for the GOP depends on who is nominated.
"No one knows the future," Stewart said. "But right now, I can't imagine any other topic taking its place atop people's concerns."40 comments on this story
Hatch said he suspects Trump won't be able to win over a majority of Republicans.
"But you never know. I know him personally. I like him personally," Hatch said. "I think he adds a dimension to the whole debate. Would I want him to be president? Probably not. Because I think he'd find himself in deep doo-doo from Day One."