The four Republicans competing for the nomination to replace Rob Bishop in Utah’s 1st Congressional District struggled to answer questions about race relations and criticism of President Trump from fellow Republicans during their second debate on Tuesday evening.
The four Republicans expressed support for the peaceful nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. But, they struggled to find their rhetorical footing when discussing the best path forward.
Former Utah Agriculture Commissioner Kerry Gibson attempted to address the calls for reforming or overhauling police departments and lamented what he saw as an attack on law enforcement that has arisen from the demonstrations.
“I support the change that has come about because of this. But, I find a lot of things have become an attack on our police forces. I’m grateful that so many men and women put their lives on the line to protect us,” said Gibson.
Businessman Blake Moore brought up the efforts by NFL players to address police violence by kneeling during the national anthem, claiming that those protesters bore some of the responsibility for finding a solution.
“If I were Roger Godell, I would have begged the players to stand for the national anthem. Then, I would ask them to spend time in the community with citizens and the police, and come back with ideas on how to address the issue,” said Moore.
Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson acknowledged that there are larger problems in regards to race relations in America that extend beyond police violence, but said there’s no federal role for addressing the problem.
“Racism is something that exists in this country, but it’s not something the federal government should get involved in. This should be addressed at the local level,” he said.
When the conversation turned to President Trump’s threat to use the U.S. military to quell violent protests by invoking the Insurrection Act, Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt said she would not be supportive of that move, unless it was a response to the threat posed by Antifa groups.
“I can see the possibility it would be needed with Antifa, which I believe is a terrorist group,” said Witt.
Republicans have attempted to put the blame for the violence that erupted last week in several cities on outside agitators, specifically Antifa. President Trump said he would move to label Antifa as a terrorist organization, which would be difficult as the U.S. government can only deem foreign organizations as terrorist entities. Additionally, Antifa is not an organized group as they have no leaders, no defined structure and no membership roles. Additionally, several law enforcement officials say they’ve found more proof that white supremacist groups are responsible for the violence than Antifa.
The other candidates said they disagreed with Trump’s threat to use the military, saying state leaders and the national guard did a sufficient job addressing the violence.
Last week, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis denounced President Trump as a threat to the Constitution and someone who has divided the American people. The four Republicans twisted themselves into rhetorical knots as they tried to avoid addresing Mattis’ concerns while swearing their allegiance to the president.
“We’re in a better place in this nation because of this president,” said Gibson. “After 8 years of liberal policies that hindered our ability to grow our businesses. I support the president, but there are certainly some things I would do differently.”
Moore retreated to the well-worn response that he does not always agree with the president’s style, but he appreciates the results.
“He’s appointed conservative justices and judges. We now have a corporate tax rate that is competitive with the rest of the world. Our country does feel divided, but everybody has a part to play in rising above that,” he said.
Witt, who describes herself as pro-Trump, heaped praise on the president.
“President Trump has done so much for our nation. He’s reduced regulations. He’s pro-life. He’s strong on China,” she said.
Stevenson brushed off Mattis’ criticism, blaming the division on Congress.
“I’m a supporter of the president. His ways are not my ways. But, when it comes to the division we’re seeing, there’s a big divide between the right and left in Congress. We need to step in and bring people back together,” he said.
The quartet of Republicans said they would focus on protecting Hill Air Force Base during their tenure in Washington, with all four saying they would lobby for an appointment to the influential Armed Services Committee.
The candidates decried the ballooning national debt and criticized the avalanche of government spending as a response to the economic damage from Covid-19. Only Witt said she would have voted against the multi-trillion spending bills passed by Congress, but all four criticized the process that led to such massive government spending in the first place.
Unsurprisingly, all four candidates said they support term limits in Washington, but only if it were implemented across the board, meaning they would impose those limits on themselves unless everybody had to play by the same rules.
The winner of the Republican primary will be a heavy favorite to replace Rob Bishop in Congress next year as Utah’s 1st District is one of the most Republican in the nation. The last time the district elected a Democrat was K. Gunn McKay in 1978, which was 42 years ago.
Ballots for the June 30th primary started arriving in mailboxes on Tuesday.