Candidate Trent Staggs blames Dems, 'establishment' Republicans for what's ailing Washington

Trent Staggs, running for U.S. Senate, speaks at the Utah Republican Party state nominating convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on April 27.

Trent Staggs, running for U.S. Senate, speaks at the Utah Republican Party state nominating convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on April 27. (Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)


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Editor's note: KSL.com is featuring stories about the four GOP candidates on the June 25 primary ballot who are seeking to replace Utah Sen. Mitt Romney. Today, a look at Trent Staggs. Jason Walton was featured Tuesday; John Curtis on Wednesday; and Brad Wilson on Thursday.

RIVERTON — "Trent Staggs is 100% MAGA, and is running to fill The Mitt Romney, a Total Loser, Seat as the next Senator from the Great State of Utah! A Highly Successful Entrepreneur, who has served brilliantly as Mayor of Riverton for the past six years, Trent knows how to Create Jobs, Stop Inflation, Grow the Economy, and Secure the Border.

"As your next Senator, Trent will help us Unleash American Energy, Support our Military/Vets, and Protect our always under siege Second Amendment. Trent Staggs has my Complete and Total Endorsement - He will be a GREAT Senator, and never let you down!"

That's how former President Donald Trump expressed his support for Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs' U.S. Senate campaign in a surprise post on Truth Social just hours before the start of the Utah GOP nominating convention in Salt Lake City on April 27. Staggs, a self-described "America First" candidate went on to easily clinch the delegate vote with nearly 70% support.

Trump's pronouncement likely gave the Staggs campaign a significant boost heading into the convention, but Staggs is confident he would have won even without the former president's support. He has long tried to appeal to the Trump wing of the Republican Party and staked his entire campaign on the 4,000 or so delegates — he decided not to gather signatures to qualify for the June 25 primary election, so a loss at convention would have meant an end to his run.

Though Staggs prevailed, three opponents qualified for the primary, forcing Staggs to take his message to Republican voters at large. Staggs often paints a bleak portrait of the current state of affairs in the nation, blaming both Democrats and what he calls "establishment" Republicans — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a frequent target of his ire — for the national debt and other issues.

Staggs was greeted at convention by a chorus of cheers, proclaiming that "this American dream is in jeopardy for my children and yours."

"Enough is enough," he said.

First into the breach

It's been more than a year since Staggs proclaimed his candidacy on May 23, 2023. Though one of his eventual opponents opened an exploratory committee the month before, the Riverton mayor was the first to officially enter the race, at a time when it was still unclear if Romney would seek another term — something Staggs brings up often.

"We wanted to primary Mitt Romney," Staggs told KSL.com at a candidate barbecue at a Taylorsville park one evening last week. "That was the stated goal was to come out and say we don't believe we're getting the representation that Utah needs through Mitt Romney. So, we wanted to be able to paint that contrast."

From the start, Staggs positioned himself as a Trump-aligned candidate taking on Romney — who he believes is the embodiment of the Republican "establishment" — a tact that drew attention from national conservative news outlets like Fox News and Newsmax.

For Staggs, his early entrance is also a singularity in the race; an act of "courage," as he puts it, to take on a well-known incumbent.

"That's really what was the distinguishing factor, that was a main reason why I demonstrated an ability to take on the establishment in Utah," he said.

Although Romney bowed out of seeking another term in office, Staggs still regularly focuses his campaign messages on the outgoing senator and tries to cast his opponents as cut from the same cloth.

Staggs' message

Trump is far from the only prominent national Republican to support Staggs' campaign. The mayor is backed by conservative radio personality Mark Levin, Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake and has held rallies and town halls in Utah with Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, and conservative activist Charlie Kirk.

A pair of rallies ahead of the convention filled high school auditoriums with delegates and other supporters, many of them wearing "Make America Great Again" hats or shirts emblazoned with the former president's mugshot.

Staggs touches on a plethora of issues in his stump speeches, including seemingly niche topics such as rules of Senate procedure, which are met with enthusiasm from his supporters.

Staggs takes stances on bigger issues as well. He has called to defund the FBI, cut funding to the United Nations and Ukraine, and has said prisoners convicted of entering the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, should be freed. He believes life begins at conception, but also describes himself as a "federalist," so he's open — but not committed — to a national 15-week abortion ban.

Alisha Staggs, his wife, said she's impressed by the breadth of Staggs' message each time he takes the stage, and said the couple's two children, 14 and 12, are keenly aware of how many supporters he has.

"It's fun for them to see him on stage and see him speak," she said. "And we're actually very proud of him every time he speaks, it's not the same message that he's portraying. I walk out of there just in awe of how well he conducts himself."

Staggs has been in politics for most of his kids' lives, so he said they're fairly used to city parades and the other pageantry associated with elected office. Although the Senate campaign is the largest stage he's had so far, it's just another day in the life of his kids.

'He carries this thing'

Staggs takes a generally uncompromising tone on the campaign trail, and dismisses the idea that bipartisanship is inherently a good idea. He's not opposed to working with Democrats on issues where there is common ground, but is primarily relying on Republicans retaking all major branches of government in order to get his agenda through.

Though liberal or moderate Utahns may not like the stances he takes on many issues, he said, "I think it really is going to benefit the entirety of the state."

He fondly recalls getting a text from his campaign manager about 6:30 a.m. on the morning of the Republican convention telling him to "pick up the phone on the next call." He and the former president only spoke briefly, but Staggs said the "complete endorsement" from Trump reassured him he would have people to work with in Washington.

"I think to be able to communicate that to Utahns, that I've got his phone number, I've got a relationship" with Trump, Staggs said. "He's endorsed me, I've wholeheartedly endorsed him. We're going to be able to work together. ... I've got a coalition of support that nobody else in this race has. So that will enable me to represent Utah at a level that I think nobody else in this race can and what we've been able to in years past."

Alisha Staggs said she initially couldn't believe that her husband was endorsed by Trump, but admitted she was concerned "because I do know people love him or hate him."

"All I said is, 'As long as you lead with God, it won't matter. It will work out exactly the way it should,'" she said. "Having a Trump endorsement is fantastic, but it's really him. He carries this whole thing."

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Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for KSL.com. He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.

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