While supporters in a 20,000 seat stadium in Orlando, Florida, cheered President Donald Trump’s official kick-off of his 2020 campaign, a flag-waving party of roughly 50 people celebrated in Western Salt Lake City.
The gathering, hosted by the Salt Lake County GOP, was one of several watch parties taking place across the state, which voted for Trump by 45.5% in the 2016 presidential election. It was the lowest percentage any Republican nominee had received in Utah since George H.W. Bush’s loss in 1992.
But some attendees at Tuesday’s watch party said, while they were initially hesitant about the unorthodox nominee, his first few years in office have fortified their support.
"In 2016, some people didn’t know what we were going to get. They weren’t sure if he was even really Republican. He didn’t have a long political resume,” said Republican state legislator Kim Coleman, who represents parts of West Jordan, South Jordan and Herriman. "Now that they’ve seen him step in and do the job he said he was going to do — and he’s Republican all day long."
Coleman says she was originally a Ted Cruz supporter, but quickly came around to supporting Trump as the Republican’s “team captain” when her candidate lost the primary.
“Our American political system is a two-team sport right now,” she says. "I’m a Republican; that’s the team that I chose.”
Matthew Burbank, an associate professor with the University of Utah’s political science department, says that based on the state polling he’s seen, Trump may be enjoying more acceptance among voters than he had three years ago.
“I think a number of people in Utah said, ‘Well, he is president; I’m going to support him. He’s a Republican.’"
However, Burbank says support of the president might still be more tepid than expected due, in part, to two big thorns in the side of Utah Republicans: his stances on immigration and free trade.
“Neither one of those issues fits very well with the way many Republicans and conservatives [in Utah] like to look at politics,” he says. "In general, Utah Republicans are pretty [pro-]free trade, and that hasn’t been Trump’s approach. And again, Utah Republicans — somewhat in contrast with other Republicans — are much more sympathetic to immigrants.”
Vincent Wetzel, a 26-year-old Republican who handed out red, white and blue beads at Tuesday’s festivities, says border security and a strong economy are top priorities for him, two areas in which he believes Trump has excelled. But on trade, he and the president diverge.
“Free trade is one where I don’t understand Trump," says Wetzel. But “even if that’s an issue that I don’t understand, there’s enough things with Trump where he has won our trust — whether it’s the economy or the Supreme Court."
The Republican National Convention, where the party is widely expected to nominate Trump, will take place August 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina.