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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Bill Kristol, editor at large of The Weekly Standard, arrives at a meeting with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards at the Deseret News offices in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — An outspoken conservative critic of President Donald Trump says it would take an economic or a foreign policy crisis to keep the GOP from nominating him for a second term.

There will be a challenge in 2020 because there are enough Republican leaders who think the party can do better than Trump, said Bill Kristol, a political commentator and founder of the Weekly Standard political magazine. But it would be an uphill battle to defeat a sitting president in a party primary.

If Trump were to win the nomination again, the Republican Party really would belong to him, he said.

"I don't think it's his party now. It is temporarily but it needn't be his party," Kristol told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards. "Renominating someone really is a different moment. Then it is his party."

Kristol came to Utah to be the keynote speaker Friday at the Sutherland Institute gala held at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City. The conservative public policy think tank also honored Matthew Holland, Utah Valley University president, and Sheri Dew, Deseret Management Corp. executive vice president with New Birth of Freedom Awards, recognizing them for their committment to constitutional freedoms.

Dan Clark, CEO of Clark Success Systems, was given the U.S. Air Force American Spirit Award for his dedication to the men and women of the U.S. military in a night filled with flags, patriotism and encouragement to protect the freedoms America has fought for.

Among the audience were notable Republicans, including former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, and Utah State Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, said Boyd Matheson, Sutherland's president, who drew on the words of Abraham Lincoln to encourage those attendees to serve and to engage in the cause of freedom

Dew said in the wake of recent tragedies, including hurricanes across the nation, the Las Vegas shooting and the terrorist attack that killed eight in New York this week, Americans showed "an outpouring of compassion, service, kindness and generosity. And it’s remarkable."

But she's also seen signs "that our collective morality ... is beginning to unravel a little bit," she said. Dew urged people to focus on each other and on the legacy they'll leave behind, even though they may feel consumed each day by Twitter, selfies and of-the-moment technology focused on self-promotion.

In his keynote speech Friday night, Kristol said “we shouldn't say we’re in terrible shape, our country’s on the wrong track, we're in a desperate moment,” adding Americans are faring relatively well.

He criticized liberals, saying they perpetuated a line of thought that everyone has their own narrative, and that "helped produce the climate to allow the president to get away with what he says."

Kristol said young members of the military are “where I take my faith in the future,” and that he was encouraged by those who have served in the wake of 9/11.

In his visit with the Deseret News earlier in the day, Kristol said Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich appears go be gearing up for another run at the presidency, but might not be the strongest candidate. He said others will likely emerge.

With Trump in office, Kristol, a strong proponent of limited, traditional values and hawkish foreign policy, wonders where the GOP is headed.

"Is the Republican Party the vehicle for ideas and principles I believe in? I'd say it's a question mark for me now," said Kristol, who helped recruit BYU graduate Evan McMullin to run as an independent candidate for president last year. "I'm not writing it off by any means. I think the answer is probably yes."

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Kristol said there could be "Bannonite" or "Trumpite" break-offs along with a more traditional GOP.

Still, the principles of conservatism remain sound. "But obviously you need to adjust them to a very new moment and in some respects there, we have been coasting a little bit on some of our views."

The irony of Trump is that he saw a new moment and that the parties were a little exhausted from the Bushes and the Clintons, but his solutions aren't really solutions.

"So, can someone else lead us in a better way? That's the question," Kristol said.