The red-state governor who's not afraid to be "woke"

Even as the words come out of his mouth, the governor of Utah knows his outburst is out of character. “There is nobody more cowardly than Tucker Carlson,” Spencer Cox says, gesturing with both hands over his plate of puntas de filete a la norteña. “This idea that you’re a coward for being kind, it’s so anti-Christian. It’s so anti-American. I mean that.”

Over lunch at the Red Iguana, Salt Lake City’s most famous Mexican restaurant, the Republican governor of one of America’s most conservative states is trying to explain how he came to be accused of the gravest sin on the right these days: being “woke.” In March, Cox vetoed Utah’s proposed ban on trans girls in sports, expressing sympathy as he did so with “Utah’s female athletes and our LGBTQ+ community” and adding, “To those hurting tonight: It’s going to be OK. We’re going to help you get through this.”

In response, Carlson, the top-rated Fox News prime-time host, devoted his show’s 10-minute opening monologue to Cox, whom he ridiculed as a “low-IQ weekend MSNBC anchor” and “cut-rate Gavin Newsom imitator,” over a chyron reading “HOW DID UTAH GET SUCH AWFUL, LIBERAL LEADERS?” and a graphic of a puzzled-looking elephant. The conservative National Review accused Cox of “a pedal-to-the-metal zeal for many of the most corrosive and radical aspects of left-wing cultural ideology.”

Cox’s veto was merely symbolic, as the GOP-dominated legislature quickly overrode it by a wide margin. But the governor tells me he has no intention of backing down. “It’s the epitome of cowardice, you know, this idea that we use fear and demagoguery and lies, outright lies, to tear people down to try to build ourselves up,” Cox says. “And that’s the kind of stuff that’s destroying our country.”