Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes has no regrets for backing Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination – probably the highest-ranking Utah Republican to do so.
With a smile, he’s hinting he’s glad he took a chance and went with his gut while others shied away.
Hughes points out to UtahPolicy that he was co-chair of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s Utah campaign before Rubio dropped out of the race after losing his home state.
But Hughes says he was blindsided by the dismay, even anger, from many of his Draper district constituents, GOP state delegates and public at-large when Hughes jumped on the stage the Friday before Utah March caucuses and endorsed and stood next to Trump.
As you may recall, Utah was scheduled for a GOP presidential debate the Monday before the Tuesday March caucus votes for president.
But Trump refused to debate, saying he didn’t see the need. And so the debate was called off.
Still, Hughes says, he talked to Trump campaign staffers and told them Trump needed to make a campaign stop – that delegates were at stake.
Hughes says he got to know Donald Trump Jr. when the namesake son visited Utah during the 2016 Legislature. Trump Jr. sat next to Hughes up on the House podium for a bit, and Hughes says he still exchanges texts with Jr.
“We even exchanged texts today,” Hughes said Wednesday afternoon – following Trump’s convincing win in Indiana Tuesday night, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz quitting the race Tuesday night, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich following exit Wednesday.
“I actually told people Tuesday night, after Cruz got out, that Kasich would follow Wednesday night – (Kasich) just beat me by a couple of hours” Wednesday, Hughes said.
Hughes was a Trump candidate for national delegate in the April 23 state GOP convention – where 40 delegates were picked along with alternates.
Most of the national delegates went to the official Cruz slate – Hughes not one of those, of course.
Hughes didn’t win a slot, and this even after he was called to the Salt Palace stage by GOP state chairman James Evans and given a special award for his willingness to stand with the party over SB54.
“I’m going to the (National) convention, anyway,” Hughes told UtahPolicyWednesday.
“Maybe I can get a floor pass from the Trump campaign for my support” for the much-disliked GOP candidate in Utah.
Trump finished a distant third here with only 14 percent of the vote. Because Cruz got over 50 percent of the ballot (69 percent, actually), Cruz gets all 40 of Utah’s national delegates.
Still, Hughes thinks “many of the so-called “establishment” will come over” and support Trump, said Hughes, now that he is the GOP standard-bearer.
An acute political observer, Hughes said he decided to go with Trump after Rubio got out of the race for several reasons – the main one being he believes the GOP Washington, D.C., establishment is as much responsible for the $19 trillion national debt as are the national Democrats.
“Deficit spending is a cottage industry back there” in D.C., said Hughes.
As bad as national Democrats can be for America, the “cronyism” of D.C. Republicans can be bad, as well, he said.
Something has to be done. And Trump and his GOP voters shaking up the establishment is a good thing, not a bad thing.
The campaign against Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, “will be a lot of fun,” said Hughes.
The Trump/Clinton race “will be a lot closer than some may imagine.”
“I’m not as offended by Trump as some; he can be boorish, his comments offensive. But he is speaking to middle America, and we have so many real problems that his decorum is not the highest priority.”
Clearly, the national GOP/D.C. establishment in not in step with primary voters said Hughes.
“We need to change the trajectory” of the national party, and some “difficult conversations” have to take place this election year.
Those talks, behind closed doors and in public, will now play out through the July national GOP convention.
And Hughes is not too afraid to say a bit “I told you so.”
After his March endorsement of Trump, Hughes said he could have endorsed the Devil and some Utah Republicans probably wouldn’t have treated him any harsher.
“I don’t shy away from a fight. I needed to justify why I did it with a lot of folks. And I’m fine with that; glad to do it.
“Now it’s on to” the national convention and a showdown with Hillary Clinton in the fall.