Governor candidate + GOP unity? Here’s a guy who might pursue both

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Is it possible that the far-right and mainstream factions of the Utah Republican Party could come together to elect Republican candidates and work together in at least semi-unity?

In my mind, that’s something of a stretch, considering the how far apart the factions are and the hard feelings that exist over Count My Vote, lawsuits, and control of the party nomination process. 

But one prominent Republican, Thomas Wright, believes it can be done, and he’s in a position to know. He led the party as state chair and is now Utah’s GOP national committeeman.

And uniting the party could also be something he pursues as a candidate for governor. There is chatter that he is being asked by some to get in the race.

If he decides to do it, he would be following in the footsteps of a very influential figure in his life – his father, Bob Wright, who also served as GOP state chair, and ran for governor against incumbent Democrat Scott Matheson in 1980.

“My father taught me to be bold and strong,” Thomas Wright said. “Stand up for what you believe in — but always be respectful and try to unify, not divide.”

Thomas Wright served as state GOP chair from 2011 to 2013 and today serves on the executive committee of the Republican National Committee. He’s also the elected western region vice chair, so he spends time in western states helping GOP leaders prepare for the 2020 elections  

Even Wright has had trouble wrangling the ultra-conservatives in the party. He tried hard, but failed, to get them to accept some relatively modest reforms to the caucus/convention system. Had those reforms been accepted in the 2013 state convention, the entire Count My Vote movement may not have been launched and SB54 likely would not ever been introduced.  

He has also had a brief clash with the far right in convention in 2013. In that convention, state delegates elected two ultra-conservatives as his vice-chair and secretary.  When Wright reminded the delegates that they had elected plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the political party they were now elected officers of, some of the delegates took exception.

“I was booed by some delegates for bringing up the lawsuit.” But, he says, “After the convention, I listened and learned. I talked to them a lot and we became friends. We worked things out. We don’t always agree, but we are respectful.”

Some top Republicans have encouraged Wright to run to become state chair again. But while he would like to help unify the party, he’s not interested in seeking the chairmanship. “No, I’ve been there and done that. But I do want to help get all Republicans working together.” 

He said the Republican Party has always been fractious and probably always will be. “The party today has the same factions and groups that it has always had. People will have different opinions and priorities, but we have to be willing to work together.”

Bringing the party together shouldn’t be very difficult, he said. “We just need to listen to each other. Talk a lot. Understand each other. The various factions actually agree on most things.” He said he’s willing to mentor and help Republican leaders who want the help and who are truly seeking unity.

Wright has a unique perspective on the national political scene as he participates in Republican National Committee meetings and focuses on helping western states prepare for the 2020 elections.

He believes former GOP National Chair Reince Priebus “saved the party after bruising losses in 2008 and 2010” by building a strong ground and data game. Ronna McDaniel, who succeeded Priebus in 2017, “has taken it to a new level.  She’s been exceptional and effective.  We have a significant advantage over the Democrats in our ground and field operations, and in data and targeting.” Local and state Republican parties and candidates should take advantage of the party resources, he said.

Pres. Donald Trump has worked well with the national party, Wright said. “He’s very supportive of the RNC.”

Wright believes Republicans will retain the presidency and have a good chance to win back the U.S. House, based on two factors: 1. The economy is strong, giving Republicans an advantage. The economy plays big in presidential years. 2. The Democrats are taking a hard-left turn, promoting liberal, socialistic policies. Swing state voters won’t go for big-government, arch-liberal and even socialist candidates, Wright believes.

Some political insiders are saying that Wright is seriously contemplating a run for governor. I believe he will be a formidable candidate. He is smart, no-nonsense, works hard and gets things done. He appears to be very willing to take on tough issues. He believes Utah has been well-governed, but there are new opportunities emerging to take the state to a new level.

Wright said he enjoyed watching and participating in his father’s involvement in politics, but he wasn’t politically ambitious as a young man. “I loved being with my father at county parades, going door-to-door, and meeting Ronald Reagan in the 1980 state convention. My father taught me by example the importance of public service.”

But he didn’t get involved in student government, or pursue a career in government or public affairs. Instead, he developed a successful real estate business and volunteered at the grassroots level of Republican Party politics, winning praise for his work as Salt Lake County GOP chair and then state chair. 

Wright doesn’t view a possible run for governor as any sort of “vindication” for his father’s loss in 1980. “It’s always tough to lose, but I was more proud than disappointed,” he said. “Scott Matheson was a very popular incumbent and my dad ran a very good race. He brought a lot of important issues to the forefront and he came close.”

If anything, running for governor “would be more about living what my father taught me than anything else. He taught me to be bold and brave. But I never heard him once say anything negative about opponents or detractors. It was never personal, but always about the pursuit of good public policy and what’s best for Utah. He taught me you can be bold, but do it with respect and listen to other points of view.”

If he runs, Wright will be a real contender. He has the capacity to invest significant personal resources in the campaign, which is a real advantage, especially in the early going.