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Trump 2024? Cox says he wants a Republican presidential candidate who can win

Aug 17, 2023, 1:49 PM

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox...

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during his monthly news conference. (KSL TV)

(KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — Policy positions and experience certainly matter for politicians, but voters often gravitate toward candidates who they can relate to, someone they can imagine getting a beer — or a dirty soda — with.

That’s true even for Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who said he hopes to cast a ballot for a fellow governor in the 2024 presidential election. When asked during his monthly PBS news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday morning, he declined to throw his support behind a single candidate, instead endorsing the six current or former Republican governors who are in the race.

But the governor is troubled by the support being lavished upon the GOP’s leading candidate, Donald Trump, for a simple reason: Cox wants Republicans to win and doesn’t think the twice-impeached former president is the person for the job.

“I like to win elections. I like when Republicans win elections. I desperately think we need a Republican president and I would like the next president … to be a Republican,” he said when asked if it’s appropriate for Trump to run given the numerous felony charges levied against him. Trump faces charges in Georgia and in Washington federal court of illegally attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election, as well as charges in Florida in a classified documents case and in New York in an alleged hush money payments scheme.

Trump is “entitled” to run again and the electorate can choose to accept or reject any candidates, the governor added, but he hopes Republican delegates in key early-voting states will opt for a candidate with less baggage and more appeal to independent and swing voters. He said it’s unlikely Trump will be able to improve his low approval rating enough by next November to win a general election.

“I think we have some incredible candidates … and I hate the system by which we nominate candidates. I hate that Iowa and New Hampshire kind of get to decide for the rest of us. That doesn’t make any sense to me and I certainly don’t think … any logical person would design a system like that,” Cox said. “But right now, I’m desperately hoping that our good Republican friends in Iowa and New Hampshire and in South Carolina and Nevada will take a good hard look at some of the many other candidates we have and choose someone else.”

While Cox called the most recent charges against Trump — involving alleged efforts to overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory — “much more serious and deeply concerning” when compared to the first indictment over alleged hush money payments, he wasn’t ready to convict or acquit the former president.

“I will say the same thing I said on another case earlier. There is a presumption of innocence in our country, and that applies to the president of the United States,” he said. “And I’m grateful for a legal system that has withstood some very significant challenges over the past couple of years.”

Cox has “an immense amount of faith in the legal system,” and said he looks forward to seeing what happens when Trump gets the chance to defend himself in court.

“I will say, though, it is a very dark day for our country — a very sad day — anytime that we have these types of allegations and anytime we have an indictment of a former president,” he added.

Cox hints at preferred candidate in special election

The presidential election is still more than a year away, but Utah has a special election coming up to fill outgoing Rep. Chris Stewart’s 2nd Congressional District seat. Cox again declined to offer an official endorsement, but strongly hinted that Stewart’s former chief legal counsel and Republican convention winner Celeste Maloy is his preferred choice in next month’s GOP primary.

Still, he praised longtime national Republican committeeman Bruce Hough and former state lawmaker Becky Edwards, saying voters are lucky to have “three candidates that are just that capable.”

“I certainly have a preference. I would just say that I would love to have some representation off of the Wasatch Front,” he said. “I’m a rural guy. … I just think it’s good to have representation of the Wasatch Front once in a while.”

While Cox acknowledged that his comments may sound like an endorsement — Maloy is the only candidate not from the Wasatch Front — he reiterated that it’s a “rural geography thing,” not official support.

Ballots for the primary elect were sent out to 2nd District voters beginning on Tuesday. The winner of the Sept. 5 GOP primary will advance to the Nov. 21 general election, where they will face state Sen. Kathleen Riebe, a Democrat; United Utah Party nominee January Walker; Libertarian Bradley Garth Green; and Constitution Party nominee Cassie Easley.

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Trump 2024? Cox says he wants a Republican presidential candidate who can win