Bryan Schott’s Political BS: Orthodoxy and Heresy

So long to the litmus test in Utah politics.


The compromise between “Count My Vote” and lawmakers, which will establish a dual-track nominating system, should bring an end to the tribalism in Utah politics.

No more crucifying candidates because they fail to adhere to an extremely narrow orthodoxy.

The dustup in Iron County where GOP party chair Blake Cozzens is challenging Rep. John Westwood is puzzling, but not atypical. Most people are focusing on the controversy of a sitting party chair may be violating the party bylaws by becoming a candidate.

But, I’m told one of the main reasons Cozzens is in the race in the first place is the perception that Westwood is not “conservative” enough. Westwood received failing grades on a number of legislative report cards from right-wing groups like the Libertas Institute.

In most cases, “not conservative enough” is simply a dog whistle to the right wing of the GOP that a candidate or politician has stepped out of line with an extremely limited world view.

One Republican official I spoke to said it’s telling that, out of 30,000 constituents in House District 72, only one of them felt Westwood’s leadership was lacking enough to take him on. Anyone certainly has the right to run for any office, but if your sole rationale for running is the incumbent isn’t far enough to the political right for your taste, that is exhibit “A” as to why our politics are dominated by extremists.

A litmus test is not confined to the Republican party. Democrats have their own version, but it’s a little less extreme given their smaller numbers.

There’s plenty of hand wringing among Democrats who are worried the current crop of candidates for party chair are too “moderate.”

It makes sense that these groups would hold sway in the parties. They are the ground troops for elections – so why wouldn’t you cater to them?

But, that’s what the caucus system has wrought – extremism masquerading as mainstream in Utah. One of the favorite jokes on the left is a Utah Democrat would be thought of as a Republican everywhere else. Taken to the logical conclusion, that means a Utah Republican…well, it’s best not to pull at that ideological thread.

We all lament the “echo chamber” that seems to determine our political discourse. If you want to know why that echo chamber is so large, this is the reason. Step out of line and you are branded a heretic.

George Orwell warned us about this sort of thing. “Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness,” he wrote in his novel 1984.

All it takes is the perception that someone is not adhering closely enough to orthodoxy to precipitate a challenge.

The caucus system is going the way of the dodo. It’s almost certain that moving to the dual-track nominating system will end the caucuses.

What will be left should be cause for cheer in Utah.

Imagine a political system where candidates decide to run because they have better ideas, not because they fit into an increasingly narrow definition of political ideology.

Imagine elections where candidates have to appeal to a broad cross section of voters instead of those who demand philosophical purity.

Orwell would approve.