Top GOP officials head off embarrassment at Saturday’s Republican Convention

Want to learn how to head off an embarrassment in the Utah Republican Convention when you really believe your man will be booed by upwards of 4,000 hard-core delegates?

You organize your man’s appearance very carefully. And you make all kinds of preemptive plans.

That was done by Sen. Orrin Hatch’s staff and presumed 2018 campaign manager Dave Hansen at the South Towne Convention Center on Saturday.

Hatch was not booed in the convention. So success!

Well, mostly. But therein lies a tale.

Likewise, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, for different reasons than Hatch’s, was worried about a hostile reception in the before the delegates.

But in the end, both men were met with polite applause – but little else.

Hatch’s anti-booing plans were the more elaborate than Herbert’s, that was clear.

UtahPolicy prides itself in showing politicos how the art of politics and campaigning can be managed – and behind the scenes in the Hatch case Saturday that was done well.

Not so much with Herbert, but the governor still avoided catcalls.

Here’s what they did for Hatch:

  • Changed the agenda to have him and Sen. Mike Lee, both R-Utah, address the delegates just after the 10 a.m. convening in the convention hall.

    Some delegates weren’t even in the hall yet, but all present were fresh-faced, and not angered by time and/or fights over rules and other stupid stuff.

  • Have Vice President Mike Pence – still popular in Utah – give a video praise of Hatch, saying how important he is in Washington, how he has GOP President Donald Trump’s ear, has passed twice as many critical bills last year than the average senator, and on and on. All that was missing from Pence’s praise of Hatch was the laying on of hands.

Then, out comes Hatch, now 83 years old, with just a slight stumble at the top of the stairs.

And there were no boos – none. But only a few delegates in the hall stood as most gave polite applause, others sitting on their hands.

Behind Hatch came San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, who went to jail briefly for fighting federal overlords and land bosses – who got more cheers than did Hatch.

Hatch then gave Lyman a signed copy of Trump’s national monument investigation order – which could lead to the scaling down or even rescinding of the Obama-created Bears Ears National Monument.

And Hatch then walked from the stage – he didn’t give a speech, probably the first time that has happened in the half-century Hatch has been coming to Utah state GOP conventions.

So success – Hatch is not booed, although he wasn’t roundly cheered, either.

  • Lee sure was, interrupted half a dozen times by loud cheers and applause.

Herbert faced, possibly, even more hostile faces.

But the temporary convention chair helped out Herbert.

Current Utah national committeeman Thomas Wright, who is also a past state party chair, conducted the meeting — as (now former) state chair James Evans was running for re-election and so couldn’t chair the convention as he normally would.

And Wright, a personal friend of Herbert’s, came through for the governor – by listing many of the governor’s and Utah’s successes over the last eight years before asking Herbert to walk on stage and address the delegates.

It worked. I mean, how can you boo a guy after the master of ceremonies recounts Utah’s low unemployment rate, great business climate and leading state economy?

Still, Herbert’s support of SB54 and the governor’s refusal to call a special legislative session to outline the voting process to replace U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who will resign June 30, was a shadow over the whole meeting.

A new bylaw was overwhelming adopted by delegates that says only U.S. House district GOP delegates will pick the party’s nominee in a special election.

But that will be ignored under Herbert’s election plan, unveiled Thursday.

SB54 signature-gathering candidates will go on the GOP primary ballot if they qualify by getting 7,000 Republican voters on their petitions.

Both Hatch and Herbert dodged what could have been a black day politically for them both – with a little help from their friends.

Some other points in the convention:

  • GOP leaders announced that on June 17, at Timpview High School, 3rd District GOP delegates will be called into convention to vote on candidates who seek the delegate-approval route to the Aug. 15 primary election to replace U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who will resign June 30.

    This is important, for signature gathers will have to have their petitions in by June 12 – so the GOP is NOT violating the SB54 compromise.

  • Poor turnout by delegates, likely because of the disillusionment over the chair’s race – which has been a bitter one.

    Only 2,066 delegates voted in the chair’s race, or just over 50 percent of the 4,000 delegates elected in the spring of 2016.

  • After a bit of confusion and arguments, delegates decided not to allow a Lowell Nelson (a former state GOP officer) to introduce an anti-SB54 resolution. The dispute was not over the resolution – it was never voted on – but the fact that the was some confusion in the resolution filing deadline, and Nelson’s resolution came in too late.
  • By a 2-1 margin, delegates refused to endorse a resolution calling for the legalization of medical marijuana.

Several delegates gave tearful recounts about family and friends who died or continue to suffer with cancer and seizures – and they believe they could have been helped by medical marijuana.

While it was emotional testimony, the libertarian side of the GOP delegates didn’t gain favor over the anti-drug element.