Bob Bernick’s notebook: Romney and Cox get surprising support from Utah Democrats

In this era of Trumpism, with its tough, some may say cruel, populism, are Utahns looking for a Republican who shows a softer side of partisan politics – even a caring side?

When the hard-core, anti-SB54 wing of the Utah GOP is battling the more traditional Republican establishment, rank-and-file GOP voters, and Utahns as a whole are giving high marks to two men who have criticized Trump and talk about more inclusive politics:

GOP U.S. Senate candidate and 2002 Olympic-saver Mitt Romney and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who has openly embraced the inclusion of gay and lesbians and the homeless, or the better angels of our nature.

Here are some interesting internal demographic numbers on two different recent polls by Dan Jones & Associates:

An approval rating of Romney measured in November 2017 and a similar approval rating just taken in a May 2018 survey about Cox.

The polls show unique ratings for both men – by Democrats and liberals, not the normal feeding ground for Utah Republican candidates.

Some of the numbers:

— Among all Utahns, Cox gets a 57-17 percent approval rating, with 27 percent not having an opinion of an officeholder who is not regularly seen by most citizens.

— Romney is, of course, much better known. He has an approval rating of 69-22 percent, with only 9 percent don’t know.

Among just Republicans, Cox is at 64-7 percent.

Romney, 81-13 percent approval over disapproval.

Those numbers are not that surprising, perhaps.

After all, Romney and Cox are both well known as being Republicans.

But look at these numbers:

— Among Democrats, Cox has an APPROVAL rating of 43-38 percent. More Democrats like him than don’t.

— Romney does even better, an approval rating of 50-39 percent.

You usually don’t find so many members of the opposition party liking other party candidates/officeholders.

— Among those who told Jones they are independent voters – they don’t belong to any political party — Romney is 61-26 percent approval, Cox at 51-19 percent.

For me, here is the real shocker:

— Among those who told Jones they are “very liberal” in their politics, 41 percent approve of Cox, 39 percent disapprove.

— Romney, much better known than Cox and the 2012 U.S. presidential GOP nominee, still finds that a third (33 percent) of Utah Democrats approve of him. While 56 percent disapprove of Romney.

What do these numbers mean to me?

Utah Democrats, even liberals, are willing to give a Republican a good look as long as he does not talk like Trump, walk like Trump, nor act like Trump.

With Utah having an alternative route to the Republican Party’s primary ballot – the SB54 signature-gathering process – it is no longer required that GOP candidates appeal only to the party’s right wing – those who in years past could kill your candidacy in county and state delegate conventions.

You can be an inclusive, nice guy – what used to be called a Ronald Regan “Big Tent Republican” – and still survive – even thrive – politically.

I’m not saying that Cox and Romney are just playing the game.

I give them credit for following their natural political beliefs.

In Utah, a GOP candidate can’t allow himself to be called a moderate.

So they call themselves “practical conservatives,” or “mainstream conservatives.”

Whatever, so that they have the C-word in there.

But Cox and Romney are showing – via Jones’ polling results – that you can be a “caring conservative” – appealing to reasonable immigration actions, gay and lesbian civil rights, compassion for the homeless, the poor, equal pay for equal work for women – a whole slew of issues that one expects Democrats and liberals to advocate, and still come out OK among your own Republican and conservative base.

Romney’s election to the U.S. Senate this year is a given, a shoe-in.

He beat a man who bested him in the state GOP convention this spring, 71-29 percent, in the late June primary.

Cox will face a bunch of well-qualified, well-funded GOP opponents in the 2020 governor’s race.

And, yes, only registered Republicans can vote in the party’s closed primary election.

There will be plenty of hardcore Republicans vying for the archconservative vote in the 2020 gubernatorial primary.

Cox may be the smart guy going after the more moderate Republican vote in 18 months.

Corner that bloc, while the other right-wingers battle over the archconservative scraps.

In any case, at present, Cox is standing pretty close to Romney – and that’s not a bad place to be, for a “mainstream” Republican in Utah.