The year in preview: Some bold predictions for 2019

As we greet the new year in the Beehive State, let’s take a moment and peer into the murky mists and see what 2019 might hold for us in the coming 12 months.

The following predictions are mine and mine alone. some are based on what I know or have been told by sources I trust. Others are informed guesses from covering politics for most of my adult life.

Ready? Here we go.

Mayor Dabakis? Probably

If Jim Dabakis makes it through August’s primary election, he will be Salt Lake City’s next mayor. I give him the best chance of winning, but the top-two primary is such a crapshoot that’s not a sure thing.

It all depends on how many candidates ultimately get in the race. So far there are 5, which is a manageable number. If it balloons to 7 or more, then it gets much dicier.

Remember 1999, when there were several viable candidates in the race. Dave Jones was the heavy favorite to be the next mayor. But Rocky Anderson ran to the political left and Stuart Reid ran to the political right and both advanced to the general election while the remaining candidates picked each other off.

Eight years later in 2007, There were 4 very good candidates in the race, with Jenny Wilson as the favorite to win. She didn’t get out of the primary election as Ralph Becker and Dave Buhler advanced to the general.

Dabakis, along with incumbent Jackie Biskupski and Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold are progressive candidates who could cannibalize support from each other in the primary, which could open the door for a moderate Republican to get through the primary.

However, I think Dabakis will be one of the top two in August and go on to win in November.

The Republican field for governor in 2020 will be mostly set by August

The fight for the 2020 GOP gubernatorial nomination will be an expensive one. Utah GOP chairman Rob Anderson says he expects the total cost for all candidates to be somewhere between $10 and $15 million.

That means, if candidates are going to jump in, they’ll need to start raising money, and soon…unless they have their own cash to spend. Plus, getting into the race early might discourage others from running.

Here’s my list so far of who could jump in:

  • We already know Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox is raising money, so he’s running. The moment he makes it “official,” he’ll become the prohibitive front-runner. I’m told Cox wants to run a non-traditional campaign, with a focus on social media as a means of voter communication.
  • Former House Speaker Greg Hughes is all but in the race as well. He has repeatedly said it would be an 18-month campaign, so expect him to make it official in April or May of this year.
  • Businessman Greg Miller is telling people he’s going to run. He won’t need to raise much money unless he decides to not invest his considerable financial resources into the race.
  • Rep. Rob Bishop wants to run. He was polling last year to gauge interest. He’ll be looking for a repeat of his 2002 run for Congress when he advanced to the GOP primary out of a field of 7 candidates at the GOP convention. He later beat Kevin Garn for the GOP nomination to replace Rep. Jim Hansen. But, this time around, the SB54 route for candidates makes a repeat of that strategy much more difficult.
  • Jeff Burningham, the founder of a Provo multi-billion dollar real estate investment firm, I’m told is actively planning a campaign in 2020. Burningham could easily self-finance a campaign, but he’ll struggle with name recognition. If he’s running, the sooner he gets into the race, the better.
  • Jason Chaffetz. I personally believe he’ll opt against running because his gig at Fox News and a budding career as a right-wing author are too lucrative, but Republicans in the know say it’s much more likely than not that he runs.
  • Sean Reyes. There’s a chance he ends up running, but Republican insiders don’t expect him to be among the top tier of candidates in 2020, and he may be slowly coming to this realization, too. That’s why they expect him to explore other possibilities. His inclusion on a list of possible replacements for Ryan Zinke as Interior Secretary surprised many people, and there are whispers Reyes’ allies may have been behind it, hoping to find him a gig somewhere in the Trump administration.

You’ll notice the scarcity of Republican women on the list of potential candidates. Expect that to change soon. Some Republicans expect Mia Love to explore a run in 2020, while other women in the GOP are taking a very hard look at the race. 

Stay tuned. The field could get crowded fast.

Moving on up?

Sen. Mike Lee has been on President Trump’s short list of Supreme Court nominees since he took office, and that would be a dream job for Lee. And, if another slot opens up, I think Lee would be at or near the top of Trump’s list.

But I think there’s another possibility for Utah’s senior Senator with Trump.

I think Mike Lee will get some serious consideration as Donald Trump’s running mate in 2020, if Trump ends up surviving this year (more on that below).

Sorry if you just spit your drink out all over your computer or phone screen when you read that. But, it’s not as far-fetched as you might think.

The growing consensus in Washington is Trump is more likely than not to dump Mike Pence from his 2020 ticket. If that does happen, and I believe it will, Trump’s new running mate would have to be someone who Trump likes, and will help fire up his base.

Several names jump to mind before Lee even enters the conversation. It would make much more sense for Trump to pick a running mate from a state that would boost Trump’s campaign, say Florida or Texas or Ohio. Utah is hardly a key electoral state for the GOP.

But, Trump is unpredictable and often makes decisions based on loyalty and whether he likes someone. Lee is working his way into Trump’s good graces, which is a reversal from 2016 when he attempted to derail his nomination at the GOP convention. Recently, Lee was one of the only members of Congress to applaud his surprise decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Lee also was part of a White House strategy meeting during the current budget impasse, and he said in a recent interview he planned to back Trump’s re-election in 2020. He’s 100% on team Trump.

Lee is also tight with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Lee and Kushner worked together on the First Step Act, which made modifications to the federal criminal justice system. Kushner could be a powerful ally for Lee.

It makes more sense for Trump to pick someone like Sen. Lindsey Graham, but Graham would be up for election in 2020, so he would have to decide whether he wants to remain in the Senate or take a flyer on a presidential campaign.

Lee doesn’t have that problem. He won’t face re-election until 2022. 

Do I think Lee will be the #2 man on the Trump ticket in 2020? No. But I predict you’ll hear his name come up as a possibility.

But, that’s only if Trump is still around to run in 2020. Which leads me to…

Mitt Romney’s time to shine

I believe the Trump administration won’t survive 2019. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will end this year, and I believe the revelations contained therein will be more shocking than anything we can imagine right now, which will force Trump from office. Trump has so far defied political gravity, but his luck will run out this year.

Mueller’s devastating report, coupled with continuing investigations in New York, and congressional investigations will lead to the unraveling of Trump’s presidency.

Trump will fight tooth and nail to hang on, much like President Richard Nixon in 1974, but as the legal peril to himself, his family and his businesses grows, I predict he will suddenly resign hoping for a full pardon from President Mike Pence. Either that or Republicans in Congress will decide life under a President Mike Pence will be easier politically and will assist Democrats in removing Trump from office.

In the aftermath, a fractured and devastated GOP will need a calming and steady influence to lead them out of the political ruins. That means Mitt Romney.

Romney will become the de facto leader of Republicans in Congress who will be looking for an “adult” to lead the party following the chaos and turmoil. With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, “Mitt Romney, the GOP turns its lonely eyes to you.”

Romney is well respected and his gravitas and reputation will immediately make him the “adult in the room” who will help lead the way forward for Republicans. He will be better situated to take on the mantle of GOP leadership than others, say Jeff Flake or John Kasich who are both out of Washington.

You’ll even hear his name as a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2020.

On the flip side, if Trump leaves office, it will be very uncomfortable for his most ardent defenders in Congress, including our own Rep. Chris Stewart.

Stewart will face some tough questions, particularly about his insistence that the CIA “got it wrong” when they concluded Russia was trying to help Trump win in 2016.

The Republican field running for Congress in Utah will get crowded early

There are two open primaries for Republicans hoping to run for Congress in 2020. Rob Bishop is retiring in UT01 and UT04 is held by Democrat Ben McAdams. Already, there are a number of Republicans champing at the bit. Openings like this don’t come around that often, so I expect a lot of Republicans to explore running, with several getting out early in a bid to go to Washington.

Utah GOP National Committee member Bruce Hough is quietly making moves to run for Bishop’s seat in 2020. Other Republicans rumored to be considering a run include Sen. Todd Weiler and former Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson.

Republican insiders say State Sen. Dan McCay is taking a hard look at challenging McAdams in 2020, and there will likely be others who will jump into that race, possibly Rep. Kim Coleman and Rep. Ken Ivory.

But don’t expect Mia Love to run again. She won’t have the fundraising machine she built at her disposal anymore, which will make it hard for her to run a campaign.

Rob Anderson will win another term as chairman of the Utah GOP…if he wants it.

Anderson has been battling with far-right hardliners on the State Central Committee since he beat Phill Wright for the post in 2017. The “Gang of 51” as they are known has worked to frustrate Anderson at every step, hoping to either force him out or make him resign.

If Anderson runs again, he’ll probably win by a narrow margin. There are several prominent right-wingers contemplating challenging him, including current party secretary Lisa Shepherd. There are also rumors that many of the hardliners on the Central Committee are recruiting Jonathan Johnson, who lost his bid to stop Gov. Gary Herbert from winning the GOP nomination in 2016.

But, I think Anderson may be itching to run for elective office instead of the party chairmanship. It will all depend on how much conflict he wants over the next two years, because the dissidents on the Central Committee aren’t going anywhere, and there’s very little chance they’ll reach a detente with Anderson.

Quick predictions:

  • Expect lawmakers to slap a work requirement on Prop. 3 (Medicaid expansion) or even delay implementation over worries that the program will cost too much or until they see the outcome of a federal court ruling that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.
  • Legislators will either make changes to Prop. 4 (Better Boundaries) that will render the voter-passed initiative establishing an independent redistricting commission toothless, or they’ll sue claiming the new commission violates the Utah Constitution.
  • Utah’s economy will slow, but not as much as the rest of the nation. Unemployment in the Beehive State will jump by at least a point as the nation begins to slip into a recession toward the end of the year.