Jeff Strong: Utah Republican Party is led by people who live in fear

“The world is ruled by those who show up.”

This old axiom was the most true utterance at the Utah Republican Convention this past Saturday. I attended my first one to see for myself this grand spectacle I had heard so much about. I am disturbed about who is showing up in our political process in Utah.

Utah, we are in trouble, and the wrong people are in charge because they care more and they show up more than we do.

The delegates love Mike Lee, who now symbolizes what is wrong with our politics. He received a standing ovation and 71% of the vote for the party’s U.S. senate nomination. I am bewildered why the bar for this kind of admiration and a third term in the U.S. senate is so low. For people who are actually paying attention to his 12 years in the seat, it is really hard to be impressed. He should have been booed, even if just for the recent revelation of his well-documented role in the nefarious post-election efforts to overturn the 2020 Presidential election.

We boo Donovan Mitchell for missing a 30-foot contested jump shot, but cheer Mike Lee for shooting air balls. Something is wrong with our standards for politicians.

Lee has a track record. There is so much negative stuff, I’ll have to limit this to just a few of my favorites that define him as a senator.

First, we got a glimpse of who he really is in 2012 when Mr. anti-big-government-corruption accepted an unethical short-sale buy-out offer on his Alpine home from Bank of America, one of the big bank bailout recipients (they got a cool $45 billion in taxpayer-funded bailout money). He received $400,000 in loan forgiveness in what amounted to a kick-back that allowed him to walk away from a huge debt free and clear. This, while hundreds of thousands of honest and hard-working Americans, including some of your friends and neighbors, continued to make their mortgage payments and got no such sweetheart deal from a big bank.

Second, his penchant for the theory of politics rather than the actual work of politics is evident in the fact that he has written more books (six) than he has passed meaningful legislation.

Third, his lack of priority and principle was on display in 2020, when the U.S. Senate passed a bi-partisan bill with a 96-1 vote to expedite access to health care benefits for patients suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was the one senator who voted no, no to Lou Gehrig’s disease patients because the bill didn’t quite suit his tastes.

Fourth, in his 2020 Arizona stump speech for then President Donald Trump, he broke the world record for the most inept metaphor ever when he made the ridiculous comparison of the president to The Book of Mormon prophet and inspirational and noble hero Moroni. No big deal, right? Well, is speaks to Lee’s judgement, character, and what he is willing to do to curry political favor. It reveals his heart. Yes, a big deal.

Fifth, we all got to see the stark contrast between the public Lee, who is a tiger in advocating for the Constitution, and the real Lee, who was, according to his own words, “working 14 hours a day” trying to find a legal technicality that could be used to overturn the rightful will of American voters in a presidential election.

And if that isn’t enough, a sixth! Just this April, Lee teamed up with the great Texas statesman Ted Cruz to write a threatening letter to Yale University Law School demanding that students there who disrupted a conservative political event on campus be punished. I do not condone what those students did, but I do question where this same freedom-of-speech outrage was when Trump used violent force to steamroll peaceful protesters in June of 2020 between Lafayette Square and St. Johns Church and Lee said and did nothing. I guess even in his constitutional wheel-house, he is just a paper tiger that only growls at people who won’t or can’t growl back.

At this great convention, the party of personal responsibility, the one I have supported nearly my entire life, blamed everyone else for everything wrong in the world. Here were the themes of the day: Stop tyranny! Stop indoctrination! Stop big tech! Stop big pharma! Stop Mitt Romney and Spencer Cox! Stop critical race theory! Stop ESG (look that one up for a good laugh)! We alone can save the soul of America! We alone can strike back at the evil liberals who are the sole cause of all of our problems!

A liberal, by the way, is anyone, including life-long Republicans, who doesn’t love Trump and, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, still think he won the election. And we, your elected Republican leaders, the champions of small government, fiscal prudence and personal responsibility are the only ones who can save you from these terrible things being hoisted upon you by the evil overlords on the left, because you are helpless and weak souls who certainly can’t do it yourselves.

Then it all suddenly made sense. It was like the clouds parted, the sun broke through, and inspiration from heaven flowed into my mind, like, I’m sure the Trump/Moroni metaphor flowed into Lee’s mind back in 2020. There were good people at the convention, people who love Utah and love the United States, our friends and neighbors. They actually believe all of this, what these politicians are telling them, the fear mongering, the idea that everyone hates them and is coming after them and their way of life, and that it’s a war. They are sincere. They are afraid and angry. And because they are unable to deal with their fear in any other way, these peace-loving, good people are preparing for a war.

When you think life and politics are war, then you pick people to represent you who you think will fight for you, warriors you think. You are so afraid that you don’t really care if they are just pretending. You look past their character flaws, their lack of leadership and their dishonesty. You don’t take the time to examine what they actually did or didn’t do because you are afraid of what you might find out. You just believe them and believe what their media promoters tell you about them.

You rationalize that they are OK because the ones on the left are even worse. You want someone you think will protect you because you think you need it. You are even willing to team up with dubious people who are clearly full of darkness, rage and hate. And you certainly have no use for real leaders, statesmen, problem-solvers and any other form of “RINO” who doesn’t acknowledge your fears are the country and world’s biggest issues and pretends to solve them. After all, it is only about what side you are on. And your side is good and everyone else is evil.

One of the many good things that was missing on Saturday was a single substantial and serious conversation or speech on the real problems our state and nation face. How to manage our increasingly dangerous water situation in Utah? How to deal with a sky-rocketing federal budget deficit (which exploded during the Trump administration)? How to ensure the Russian invasion of Ukraine doesn’t turn into World War III? How to deal with the declining longevity of our people due to exploding drug, alcohol, and mental health related deaths? How to deal with the great complexities of immigration with real immigration reform? And how to prepare our children and grandchildren for an increasingly difficult and challenging world we will hand over to them? How can we help them with affordable education and housing? How can we strike the right balance in protecting and preserving our environment while ensuring a healthy economy and good jobs for all. Yes, the kind of issues we actually need political leaders to tackle! Nothing, not a word.

But there was plenty of time for “Let’s go Brandon”, an agonizing self-aggrandizing partisan speech in which Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes told us all how great he is, an appearance and speech from convicted felon and vile person Roger Stone and several special musical numbers from a Nashville country music performer (who was the highlight of it all and a much-needed relief from all of the nonsense coming from “the party”).

And, we got a grand total of six minutes to hear from Lee’s only credible challengers, Ally Isom and Becky Edwards, both of whom actually had something important and valuable to say. This is our Republican party, Utah. This is who we have handed the reins to. Not because they are great people and leaders, but because they showed up and we didn’t.

The Republican Senate primary is in June. The only recourse we citizens have in dealing with elected leaders who represent us in Washington and do it poorly and selfishly is to hold them accountable by voting them out of office. There is still time to hold Mike Lee accountable and put one small but important brick back in the wall of representative government.

I am supporting Ally Isom for the U.S. Senate. I know her well. She is everything Utah needs in Washington right now. And she won’t play the partisan political games that are killing our country, causing unnecessary hate and division, and manipulating honest and good voters as Lee and others like him do. If you care, then show up and do something constructive with your voice and your vote.

Jeff Strong

Jeff Strong

Jeff Strong is a Utah native and resident, registered Republican, a graduate of Brigham Young University and the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University, a former LDS mission president, former global president/chief customer officer of Johnson & Johnson, father and grandfather.

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