SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Republican leaders are in "full-scale revolt" against their party's presidential nominee, Donald Trump, taking the lead nationally in condemning his vulgar statements about women in a newly leaked video.
"It's essentially a complete disaster for the Trump campaign in the state of Utah," Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said Saturday.
The Deseret News posted an editorial Saturday stating, "In our opinion: Donald Trump should resign his candidacy." The LDS Church-owned newspaper, neutral on matters of partisan politics, did not make an endorsement in the race.
"Throughout the presidential campaign, our house editorials have expressed concerns about discrete issues raised by both major candidates — Trump's tacit acceptance of violence at his rallies, or Clinton's reluctance to engage with the press. But (Friday's) revelations were beyond the pale." said Paul Edwards, Deseret News editor and publisher.
"My very first concern was how to share accurately the tawdry news on our pages without violating our own editorial standards for decency. But as the evening wore on and we wrestled with how to editorialize about this most recent outrage, we came to the collective decision internally that the only real remedy was the one we wrote about — to have him step down from the race," Edwards said.
Karpowitz said it was "stunning" to see Utah leaders turning on Trump after the 2005 video that surfaced Friday of Trump talking in an off-camera conversation with a TV host in graphic terms about making sexual advances on a woman.
The political science professor said Trump's profanity-laced description is "just so completely offensive in every way. I mean, he's bragging about sexual assault. It's hard to imagine Utah voters believing this is acceptable behavior."
Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the scale has tipped for many Republicans in the state who stood by Trump out of party loyalty to the point that they no longer feel they can be associated with him.
Now, Perry said, their concerns over Democrat Hillary Clinton winning the White House — even the balance of power on the Supreme Court — may be less compelling compared with Trump's "unconscionable" statements.
"They are not going to be apologists for him," Perry said, because character is what Utah voters care most about in a candidate. "There comes a point where you can no longer rationalize your support."
The reaction from GOP leaders in Utah was swift and continues to receive national attention even as Trump insisted in a Wall Street Journal interview there's "zero chance" he'll end his bid for the White House.
Gov. Gary Herbert and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, announced they would not longer vote for Trump and have been joined by others, including Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.
Stewart said he wants Trump to get out of the race and allow his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, "to lead our party." He also took a jab at the email controversy surrounding Clinton.
"And unlike the Democrats who have proven completely unwilling to hold (former Secretary of State) Clinton accountable for her illegal activities that endangered our national security, I am willing to hold Mr. Trump accountable," Stewart said.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said while he can't "condone the attitude toward women and the institution of marriage expressed by Mr. Trump," he'll continue to back him.
"The reality is, today my options are limited and Hillary Clinton is unacceptable as a potential president. Unless he resigns, I must support the Republican nominee as my only option," Bishop said in a statement.
The two members of Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation who had not endorsed Trump, Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Mia Love, are also calling for the GOP nominee to step aside.
Lee used Facebook Live late Friday night to call for Trump to make way for a yet-to-be determined candidate, saying, "It's time for us to expect more. There's no need for us to settle."
Lee's Democratic opponent, Misty K. Snow, questioned why Republicans took so long to come out against Trump.
"I'm surprised that's what finally got Republicans to be outraged," Snow said. "Haven't you been listening for the last year or so? How is this any worse than some of the other things he said?"
Love, who faces a tough re-election race, initially said that Trump's statements were "disappointing and disgusting." On Saturday, she said in a statement it was time for him to step aside "for the good of the party and the country."
Her Democratic opponent, Doug Owens, said like 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and others, he is "appalled" by Trump using language "in direct opposition to the values with which I was raised and which Utahns hold dear."
Romney, a longtime Trump critic, repeated his condemnation of the statements made by the candidate on the video at a campaign appearance in Nevada on Saturday for a GOP Senate candidate.
"I sincerely hope that we will come together as a nation and stand as firmly as we possibly can for the principles that have made us the shining city on the hill" around the world, said Romney, who calls Utah home.
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, stopped short Saturday of withdrawing his endorsement of Trump, saying he was waiting for Sunday's presidential debate to see how Trump responds.
"I’m looking for the debate to really understand how he wants to walk us as Americans through those comments,” Hughes said. "They were 11 years ago, but there were as disturbing as anything I’ve heard."
Hughes, one of the first Utah leaders to get behind Trump, said he found the candidate's comments surprising.
“I’ve heard this narrative that this is the guy we always thought he was,” he said. "I didn’t. I’ve met his family. I’ve met his son. I’ve met his grandchildren. I would not make that assumption, and I did not think that is consistent for a person that’s running for office.”
Karpowitz said in such a reliably Republican state, it's notable that many GOP elected officials have said "this is enough, and we can't go along. There’s a point at which party ties have been strained too far."
He said the strong stand many in the GOP have taken against Trump amounts to a "full-scale revolt" against their party's nominee, sending "the unmistakable signal that it's OK to move on to other candidates."
Utah's predominant faith may be a factor in the response to Trump, even though his behavior would be offensive to people regardless of their beliefs, Karpowitz said.
"Trump's behavior is so clearly opposed to LDS Church teachings about marriage, family and fundamental respect for each other that it is especially repulsive to Mormon voters," he said.
Trump has led Clinton in Utah in recent polls, but both independent candidate Evan McMullin, a Utah native, and Libertarian Gary Johnson are pushing hard for support in the state.
With so many of the state's Republican leaders backing away from Trump, the race in Utah has become "much more competitive," Karpowitz said, with McMullin and Johnson the likely beneficiaries.
"That is likely to take a serious toll, but it's hard to tell exactly what’s going to happen," he said. "I think it's now a four-way race."
Longtime Clinton supporter Jenny Wilson, a Salt Lake County councilwoman and a Democrat, said she believes the race is over for Trump.
"This is game changing, clearly. This is so offensive and so extreme that there’s no chance he can recover," Wilson said. She said while she empathizes with the frustration of Utah Republicans, "they have to own this problem."
The head of the Trump campaign in Utah was redeployed recently to Michigan, leaving the director of social media, Easton Brady, to field questions about the candidate Saturday.
"He apologized. We need to move forward. It was 11 years ago," Brady said. "They were words, not actions." But he said he is a new married man who loves his wife "with all my heart" and was "stunned" and "disgusted" by Trump's comments.
Brady said the Trump campaign will continue to work hard to keep Utah Republican red in November.
"We are projecting possibly a swing state at the moment," he said, but are hopeful Trump will visit Utah and "show who he really is."
Contributing: Dennis Romboy, Daphne Chen
Email: [email protected]