SALT LAKE CITY — Jason Chaffetz, a former Utah congressman turned Fox News analyst, says outgoing Rep. Mia Love can't blame her election loss on how Republicans view minorities.
"There are lots of reasons that she did well and lots of reasons why she didn't do well. But I don't think the minority card held her back," Chaffetz told the Deseret News. "She broke a lot of barriers."
Utah GOP Chairman Rob Anderson also disagreed with Love's assessment, saying the state Republican Party is already reaching out to the Hispanic community with a town hall meeting in West Valley City planned before the 2019 Legislature.
"I don't want this to come across as we're catering or pandering to minorities as much as I want every single voter in the state to have a voice," Anderson said. But he didn't fault Love for expressing her opinion.
"She just got done with a campaign that was particularly harsh and brutal. It was full of sour grapes," he said. "Elected service comes with a lot of sacrifice and dedication and commitment. I appreciate that and I look forward to supporting Mia in her future endeavors."
Love, the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, made national news earlier this week by delivering a concession speech that took on President Donald Trump and other members of her party about their attitudes on race.
Those comments come as Love's political future is in question after her narrow loss to Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams in the 4th Congressional District became final nearly three weeks after the Nov. 6 election.
The two-term congresswoman has not offered any details about her plans once she leaves office, telling CNN recently that's going to be between "Heavenly Father, my family, and I'm leaving all options open."
In her speech, she appeared to suggest race may be the reason that Trump publicly mocked her earlier this month for losing — before McAdams was declared the winner — because she hadn't accepted his support.
When Trump said at a White House news conference that the congresswoman "gave me no love and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia," Love said that helps show "the problems Washington politicians have with minorities and black Americans."
The relationship, she said, is "transactional. It's not personal. You see, we feel like politicians claim they know what's best for us from a safe distance, but they're never willing to take us home."
Daryl Acumen, chairman of the Utah Black Republican Assembly, said he appreciates what Love had to say about the party's relationship with minorities, even though he sees that as an issue only with some members of the GOP.
"When she first started, I thought, 'I don't know if that was the speech I would have given if you want to run again,'" Acumen said. "When she started talking about blacks and how the party treats us, I liked that part."
He said her statements reflect the trouble he's run into with a faction of the Utah GOP that's continuing to battle the law allowing candidates to bypass the party's traditional candidate nomination process.
"I see where she's coming from. The Republican Party tends to keep blacks — I don't want to say at arm's length — but it's the kind of thing, 'We like having you around. It's great you've convinced people we're not racist,'"Acumen said.
But black Republicans are treated differently "if you open your mouth and try to make some changes," he said, citing what he feels has been a "racial undertone" to his role in the ongoing rift within the GOP.
"We'll talk about it among ourselves. We generally don't talk about it with white folks. It's not a Republican issue, I don't think. But there is a group of people, they have this attitude," Acumen said.
Those people, he said, aren't likely to get the message that Love was trying to deliver. Still, Acumen said he sees her finding a platform like Fox News to continue to speak about her concerns rather than running again.
"I think it's going to be too intoxicating for her to put the muzzle back on," he said. "I think she can do a lot more good getting out there and preaching the word, 'It's OK to be a black conservative.'"
Chaffetz, a former House Oversight Committee chairman who stepped down to join the conservative cable news network six months into his fifth term in 2017, said he doesn't see that Love was treated differently because of her race.
"She was very well-embraced by the entire cross-section of Congress," he said, noting he and other Republicans regularly had dinner with Love. "She was just well-integrated, as she should be. There was no holding her back."
Love was also given "a plum committee assignment, the one she wanted," on the House Financial Services Committee, Chaffetz said, while outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., "was a friend and helped her immensely with fundraising."
He said he doesn't believe Trump singled Love out for criticism because she's a minority.
"Absolutely not. Donald Trump does that equally, across the board. There was nothing special about that," Chaffetz said, adding that her re-election chances may have been hurt by her not embracing the president and his agenda.
"That may have caused the problem. It probably did," he said, along with other factors including ballot initiatives that brought out more liberal voters, particularly Proposition 2 that legalized medical marijuana in Utah.
Chaffetz joked that while Love shouldn't "be waiting by the phone for a call from Donald Trump to be an ambassador," there are plenty of doors open to her in both the private and public sector, even possibly joining him as a TV commentator.
"She still has a bright political future if that's the way she wants to go," he said, noting that many Utahns did want her to stay in Congress. "No doubt, some of those statements may pop up again if she chooses to go back in public life."
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, suggested Love's concession speech may have missed the mark if it was intended to signal she'll be back in 2020 to try to win back her seat.
"If what she hopes to do is be a voice for people of color in the Republican Party, that speech was a good springboard," he said, because it "expressed the frustration that she has felt with her role in the Republican Party and in Congress."
But he said if Love was taking a first step to another run in the 4th District, "it was a little more curious" to hear her say after losing her seat, "I am unleashed, I am untethered and I am unshackled, and I can say exactly what's on my mind."
Karpowitz said it's not clear why she couldn't talk about her concerns sooner.
"If she wanted to be that powerful voice, why didn't she do those things when she was a member of Congress?" he asked. "Many people thought she would play that sort of role as the first African-American Republican woman elected to Congress."
However, he said, that's not what Love did.
"Whether that was her choice, whether there were individuals within the party encouraging her not to play that role or something else, is a question I'd like to know the answer to," Karpowitz said.
He believes Love still has time to figure out her future.
"It's early enough that she doesn't have to decide at this moment," Karpowitz said. "I could imagine her playing a more prominent public role in some way that doesn't involve being an elected official."
For now, he said, "the Republican Party is the party of Donald Trump. That's not the speech you give if you have a future lined up in Republican politics or want to play a role in Republican politics at the national level."75 comments on this story
Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Love sounded to him like she was more interested in becoming an advocate, using "a position or a microphone or a podium" to help reshape the GOP.
Love is likely looking "for an opportunity to have a voice, whether that's through national TV channels or some other organization that she starts or joins" that's relevant to her cause, he said.
"If she does intend to run for some office in the future, I think there are some fences to mend. She'll have to spend some time with the party she claims to be loyal to," Perry said. "I think it will take some time for voters to forget this election."