Utah is the most Republican state in the nation, based on quadrennial presidential election voting. That's why examining the Utah Republican Party and state-wide races might yield some clues into the current quandary about the heart and soul of the national party.
The typical Utah Republican says, “Why would the national party even consider nominating a candidate like Donald Trump?”
Utah Republicans soundly rejected him on March 24, voting 69 percent for Ted Cruz, 17 percent for John Kasich, and only 14 percent for the New Yorker. Wisconsin has continued the pro-Cruz, anti-Trump momentum, effectively ensuring a contested national convention in Cleveland.
Pondering the issues of concern to Utah Republicans might help provide some lessons and advice on how a national tea party movement needs to grow up.
Or in other words, can the anger-filled movement inspired by the Boston revolt eventually mature into a Philadelphia vision of constructive constitutionalism?
In the Utah gubernatorial contest currently underway, we are seeing a contest between the conservative and the very conservative. But the challenge is being waged Utah-style: No anger here.
Gov. Gary Herbert can boast a red-hot economy, the fastest-growing in the nation, and a government generally regarded as well-managed. But challenger Jonathan Johnson, chairman of the Utah technology success story Overstock.com, has his own slogan: "Good enough" isn't good enough for Utah.
Recent debates and forums have highlighted areas of agreement. They both favor limited government, support religious freedom and want power devolved from the federal government to the states.
Where do they differ? Johnson wants Utah to take a more aggressive stance to take control of public lands, denounce what is known as "common core" standards and wants the governor's office to push for legalizing medical marijuana. Herbert says each of those issues is more complicated than Johnson's rhetoric.
Nationally, the website FiveThirtyEight has articulated a "five-ring circus" with a Republican Party of the five Olympic rings: Moderate, establishment, Christian conservative, libertarian and Tea party.
Cruz straddles the Christian conservative and Tea party rings, while Kasich straddles the moderate and establishment rings. For comparison, Mitt Romney sits at the center of the establishment ring. And FiveThirtyEight places Trump as beyond the Tea party ring.
I would argue that the Utah Republicanism philosophy instead looks primarily to three core touchstones — social conservativism, liberty and a pro-business reflex. You might look to three Utah think tanks for representative approaches and styles: The Sutherland Institute, the Libertas Institute, and the Utah Foundation.
Yet the five-ring circus metaphor resonates nationally because of the battle being played out within the national Republican Party this political season. In Utah, the Reaganesque fusion of libertarians and social conservatives still hangs together.
But Herbert plays well in the "establishment" mold, and played well at the April 2 luncheon at which the Utah Foundation released its top priorities. The foundation's top 10 list was heavy on education, environment, the economy and infrastructure projects like water supply. Herbert speaks well to his message that with Utah doing so great, why change things?
But at Monday's gubernatorial debate co-moderated by KSL's Doug Wright and the Sutherland Institute's new president, Boyd Matheson, Johnson emerged with a bolder vision. He's ready to take Washington on, whether there's a Republican or a Democrat in the White House next year.
Johnson’s stances on issues from Common Core to medical marijuana speak to the libertarian element that, in modest garb, is never far from the surface in a state as Republican as Utah.
"There is an appetite for significant changes in the way we manage public education to better involve and empower parents and local districts in the educational process, and to be more boldly resistant to the strings of the federal government," said Josh Daniels, a policy analyst with the Libertas Institute.
But in prosperous Utah, even in 2016, social conservative and libertarian voters may not be enough to dislodge an incumbent that speaks so well to the economic establishment.
And that may be the ultimate message that Utah Republicans have been and will continue to communicate on the national stage: Tea party protests are the beginning but not the end of political action. Ultimately, citizens and their elected representatives must stop revolting and start governing.
"The original Boston tea party was a protest," Matheson said in an interview. "But it would have been a footnote in history if we did not get to a Philadelphia vision" and the crafting of a Constitutional approach to government.
Speaking of the March 24 presidential caucuses, Matheson said, "In Utah, where things are working, Utah resoundingly rejected the anger, fears, angst and frustration mantra of one of the presidential candidates."
Win or lose in Cleveland, the responsible forces in the Republican Party must turn their party from the Tea party and to a party about constitutional government.
Drew Clark is of counsel at the law firm of Best Best and Krieger, where he focuses on technology, media and telecommunications. Connect on Twitter @drewclark or via email at [email protected].