In a staggering yet not at all stunning turn of events in Utah’s GOP primaries on Tuesday, Mitt Romney and John Curtis obliterated their respective opponents, Mike Kennedy and Chris Herrod, each earning approximately 75% of the vote.
As I say, each was a staggering defeat, even embarrassing. Certainly, for me, the results are also disappointing. After all, Romney and Curtis are not conservative or anything resembling it. Of course, neither is Kennedy, as I’ve repeatedly warned, but he was far more likely to govern appropriately than Mitt Romney. Chris Herrod, though, is a genuine believer in constitutional principles, so his loss is painful, even more than it was when he fell to Curtis by a 9% margin just one year ago.
Curtis is virtually guaranteed reelection at this point, and Romney will just as likely assume the Senate seat. I see no purpose in fighting against the current for the next four and a half months, and among the many things I learned from the 2016 election is that there is no hope nor desire nor momentum for a viable third party in Utah. These two RINOs will win, they will do so handedly, and I see no reason to talk about it anymore.
Instead, let’s reflect on the recent past in order to course correct for the future of conservatism — and yes, how that applies to elections. Just not these two.
What did we learn from this experience? What might we do differently in the future to avoid this embarrassment, which frankly has done more damage to the brand of conservatism within Utah than the entire 2016 presidential election, and arguably anything else Trump has done?
From start to finish — largely thanks to the poor articulation of issues wherein I firmly believe conservatives are correct in principle but abysmal in rhetoric and application — conservatives came across as whiny, stubborn, incompetent, holier than thou, unreasonable, unfeeling, and robotic. Not to mention the inability of conservative candidates to realize that running as the “pro-Trump candidate” is not nor has ever been a winning strategy in Utah. Conservative candidates have shown pervasive miscalibration when it comes to what voters want to hear.
On The New Guards Show a couple weeks ago, when asked whether conservatives still had a place in the Republican Party, I responded that it’s hard to get upset with Republican voters when conservatives have been so outrageously incompetent at running a solid candidate with a solid campaign. Those who could’ve stepped up as conservative ringleaders — ideologically and articulately — simply didn’t have the name recognition, and those powerhouse options with a built-in following had zero idea of how to communicate conservatism — they had no clue what voters wanted, and they were even worse at convincing them that conservatism was the answer.
I sat with fellow delegates at the GOP convention in April who strategized that they would vote for Mike Kennedy, because even though they knew he wasn’t the ideal representative, he was our best hope for beating Romney. Seemed just as silly then as it does now.
Herrod likewise was our superstar conservative who’s gone head-to-head with Curtis twice and fallen embarrassingly short both times. And it’s hard to blame the voters when these hotshot candidates legitimately ran the worst campaigns I have ever seen. I saw zero ads on any social media platform, they held almost no events and didn’t advertise the ones they did put on, they managed to raise peanuts compared to their opponents’ funding, and they had no idea how to spend it.
Watching Herrod squander so royally the best shot at Curtis he could’ve ever hoped to have is a particularly tough blow. I know Chris. I like Chris. He’s usually pretty solid, and he’s a bold guy. But he’s fired. He’s terrible at running a campaign, he has no sense of how to communicate to voters, and I’ve had enough of him. Fool me twice, Chris. He’s clearly not the answer.
Conservatives are like parents who find out their teenager drank alcohol at a party who then say, “But I don’t understand, I told them so many times not to!” But the parents never gave a good enough reason, they just said it over and over again hoping that it would eventually stick. And “my mom doesn’t want me to” has a hard time holding up to “all my friends want me to” in social calculus.
We expect conservative principles to resonate with the masses, but they don’t. Not inherently. We have to give a reason. Otherwise we look like ideologues while so-called “compassionate conservatives” actually look like they’re trying to get something done. Moreover, they can act like they have the moral high ground, because they’re not the ones supposedly hanging on to antiquated mores and dogmatic purity tests while real people suffer because of inhumane laws and demagogic gridlock.
These claims are, of course, patently false, so who’s going to disprove them? Chris Herrod? Mike Kennedy? Apparently not. We need conservative candidates who know how to help people see that conservatism, natural rights, free markets, and individual liberty are not only desirable but practical, virtuous, and praiseworthy — advocates like Ben Shapiro, Reagan, Goldwater, and Buckley. Sowell, Friedman, Hazlitt, and Bastiat. Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, Smith, and Locke.
Fifteen years after the start of the the Iraq War, we should’ve learned by now that freedom isn’t the cry of every human heart — it should be, and I wish it were, but it’s up to us to make that case in a compelling, articulate, and relatable way. Herrod and Kennedy went 0 for 3 in that regard, which is why, although Tuesday’s results are massively disappointing, they are not in any way surprising.