U.S. Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney voted different ways in the Trump impeachment trial, and that’s just fine with the Utah Republican Party.

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The Utah Republican Party is getting both praise and condemnation from Cache Valley residents this week for its statement in support of both Mitt Romney and Mike Lee after the two senators cast conflicting votes in former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial.

“I am glad that they can each vote their conscience,” said Sharon Stratford Johnson in a Facebook comment thread initiated by The Herald Journal. “Using the party to censure and force elected representatives into one side of the political spectrum is wrong. Many moderate Republicans are glad to see some balance in Washington.”

Jamie Transtrum was among several local residents to disagree with this assessment.

“They (Utah’s senators) should vote what Utah tells them to vote. That is why they were elected. They were not elected to vote how they feel about the situation. They were elected to vote on how Utah as a whole feels about the situation. They are mouthpieces for Utah, not individual free thinkers. That is what a private citizen is but an elected official is a servant of the people who was elected by the people and must always bend to the people’s will,” Transtrum said.

The statement by the Utah GOP came in the midst of an online petition to censure Romney as other state parties have with congressional Republicans who broke ranks and voted against Trump. The first target was Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, followed by Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina. Other censures are being considered.

“The differences between our own Utah Republicans showcase a diversity of thought, in contrast to the danger of a party fixated on ‘unanimity of thought,’” the Utah party statement read. “There is power in our differences as a political party, and we look forward to each senator explaining their votes to the people of Utah.”

The declaration attracted nationwide attention and drew comparisons to a political ad last year featuring Utah gubernatorial opponents Spencer Cox and Chris Peterson. The two candidates took the unusual step of appearing together in the ad to encourage civil debate during the extremely divisive 2020 campaign season.

But, of course, fierce divisions have persisted in Utah as elsewhere, as reflected by many of the comments on the Herald Journal Facebook thread.

“Mitt is a low life traitor!” wrote Bart Benson.

“Romney is part of the cabal and their evil cabal satan worshipping ways will soon be exposed,” wrote Nancy Hansen, echoing elements of the viral QAnon conspiracy theory.

Remarks of this sort were countered by comments like these from Jennifer Bodrero and Mary Morgan respectively:

“It’s a disgrace how the GOP have let Trump hijack their party. The Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves how GOP worships Trump like he’s a dictator (which he wants to be).”

“This is the stupidest thing ever. God forbid someone doesn’t agree with the Trump cult.”

Some of the local remarks centered around the intent of the Founding Fathers in regard to representation and the responsibility of members of Congress.

“James Madison wrote extensively about this very thing,” Braden Fuller said. “The long terms of a senator and difficulty recalling them were specifically put in place to protect against the emotional nature of democracies. Censuring of senators is a dangerous move and a degradation of how our gov is set to operate. Love that they voted different ways, means the system is working.”

Jamie Transtrum took an opposing view, commenting, “Not all the Framers believed this however. That’s the reason the Framers did not form a direct democracy and instead formed a republic. Madison and Franklin both believed in a republic and convinced the other Framers to form a republic. … This is the reason all officials are mouth pieces and not ruled by their own couscous. They represent the people as dictated by a REPUBLIC system.”

To demonstrate Romney’s vote didn’t reflect the will of Utah voters, Transtrum cited a recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll that showed Romney has a 64% disapproval rating among Republicans in Utah and an 84% approval rating among Democrats.

“Since Utah is a deep red state and has been for over half a century (the last time Utah voted for a Democrat president was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1952), I find it hard to believe Romney is representing the will of the people in Utah,” she wrote.

Overall, the same poll found 50% of Utahns approve of Mitt Romney’s performance while 46% disapprove, while 3% were not sure. Meanwhile, 45% approved of Mike Lee’s performance, 41% disapproved, and 13% said they were not sure.

Commenter Michael Easley offered this rebuttal:

“I think you would find that the founders of our republic were not of a like mind with you on how elected representatives should vote. If they were but the mouthpiece of the mob, then why not have direct democracy? Ideally, as public servants they use their time to be informed on and use their judgement for the benefit of their constituents, because I don’t have time to learn all the ins and outs of policy ramifications, etc. I expect my doctor to use her knowledge in the narrow field in which I employ her precisely so I do not have to learn medicine myself.”

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