- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Flirting with what some may see as political treason, bigwig Trump loyalists led by Stephen K. Bannon, Dave Bossie and Tony Perkins are considering “Never Trump” former Senate aide Boyd Matheson to replace Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch next year.

Mr. Hatch, 83, has acknowledged thinking maybe it’s time to hang it up after 41 years in the Senate. Mr. Bannon has said he is determined to help show Mr. Hatch the door — maybe by backing Mr. Matheson, 51, for a primary run.

Boyd is considering it, regardless of Sen. Hatch’s decision (or anyone else’s decision for that matter),” Matheson spokeswoman Kelsey Köenen Witt said.

Mr. Bossie is on record as liking the idea, telling Politico Mr. Matheson “is going to be the consensus conservative candidate among all the outside groups and will have a lot of the financial support that’s out there. He’s going to be someone people coalesce around very quickly.”

Well, maybe — and then again maybe not.

Boyd did visit with me in my office last week, but he has not announced he’ll run, nor have I announced an endorsement for him,” Mr. Perkins told The Washington Times. “I am for what Bannon is doing, but we are deciding race by race.”

What Mr. Bannon is doing, as he told Sean Hannity, is collecting candidates to “primary” every non-Trumpian Republican in the Senate.

With President Trump about to address Mr. Perkins‘ annual Values Voters Summit in Washington on Friday, Mr. Perkins is not fully on board for a Matheson run — yet.

“I am not ready to announce my support in the Utah Senate race,” Mr. Perkins said.

Mr. Bannon has been, at various times, Mr. Trump’s philosopher-friend, campaign manager, campaign chairman and chief strategist for the Trump White House — until he exited said house a while back.

Mr. Bossie was at one time deputy Trump campaign manager.

But it’s Mr. Perkins who is the biggest deal in social/religious-conservative/GOP circles.

Mr. Matheson, who owes his political creds mainly to having been chief of staff to “Never Trump” Sen. Mike Lee, now heads a Salt Lake City think tank called the “Sutherland Institute.”

The internal GOP argument isn’t over whether Mr. Lee and Mr. Matheson are conservatives — they are — but over the degree of active disdain they have for our current president.

Trump supporters say he doesn’t need another Republican senator sniping at him for the second half of his first term in the presidency or for the whole of his hoped-for second term.

There are bitter memories of Mr. Matheson’s participation in the “Never Trump” cabal to force the man who had vanquished 16 nomination rivals to quit the race just before the mid-July GOP nominating convention in Cleveland.

Pro-Trump Republicans’ anger burns red-hot over Mr. Matheson’s connivance in the anti-Trump convention protest from the floor, which protest his spokeswoman denies.

Boyd’s focus at RNC convention was on the platform committee,” she said. “He did not play an active role on the convention floor in the Never Trump movement. His focus was on a one-page party platform.”

A month after Mr. Trump formally won the GOP nomination, however, Mr. Matheson trashed the GOP presidential nominee, telling Business Insider that “Mr. Trump’s lack of respect for other people, be it his competitors, the media or anyone who has criticized him, doesn’t fly in Utah.”

That was then, said the spokesman, who added: “Since Trump has been sworn in, Boyd has not spoken against him directly per se, but has challenged President Trump to focus on agenda, to bring country together. Boyd has been far more critical of Republican leadership in the Senate — he believes they are the biggest obstacle to the President’s agenda.”

The spokeswoman acknowledged Mr. Matheson has both praised and been critical of the president depending on the policy issue.

Mr. Matheson nonetheless dumped on his party’s presidential nominee throughout the fall general election campaign, claiming he alienated men as well as women and was giving the GOP a black eye with both.

Three weeks before the Nov. 8 election, Mr. Matheson seared opinion pages of the Salt Lake City Deserert News, writing about his conversations “with men from every region of America. … When I ask them about the GOP and its presidential nominee, they overflow with disgust and disdain for the abhorrent words and actions of Donald Trump.”

Many Trump enthusiasts in the GOP were similarly distressed by Mr. Trump’s words about women as expressed in a damaging video, but these same voters stuck with Mr. Trump as the one man they figured they could trust to match words with deeds once in office.

As for Mr. Bannon, his aide said on Friday morning said he would return a phone call on this reporter’s query. Day turned to night, and Mr. Bannon had not called. Nor did Mr. Bossie.

Mr. Perkins did respond, explaining that it could now make some sense for Trump loyalists to embrace Mr. Matheson. Why? Because Mr. Matheson backs the Trump agenda and could be expected to do so vigorously if he replaces Mr. Hatch.

Mr. Hatch, who has almost always supported Mr. Trump’s policies this year, has strayed from the right’s path occasionally in past years. He won a limp 62 in his American Conservative Union rating last year, 65 the year before but has accumulated an 88 lifetime rating. By contrast, Mr. Lee, the other senator from Utah and the one said to have a particularly keen comprehension of conservative policy, scored 100 last year, the year before and for his lifetime rating.

If Mr. Matheson had ever been a lawmaker and at least come close to matching his old boss’ legislative rating, might some “Always Trump” holdouts find a way to warm up to him? Probably not.

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