Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee told an audience at Washington’s Heritage Foundation Wednesday that he is aligned with President Donald Trump’s populist conservatism and the president’s concern for “The Forgotten Man”–a full reversal from stances he took in the presidential campaign when he adamantly opposed Trump’s candidacy.
“Donald Trump’s tabloid and reality-TV persona may be an artifact of America’s glib celebrity culture, but his presidency represents a substantive indictment of Washington’s political and policymaking consensus, very much including the consensus within the GOP,” Lee said. “It’s an indictment I co-sign.”
Lee, who was associated with conservative holdouts, said it was time to get with the program and recognize that Trump is working on the same problems they are working on.
“Almost seven years ago, I first ran for the Senate as an anti-establishment challenger against an incumbent of my own party,” he said.
Four years ago, I first came to the Heritage Foundation and urged conservatives to reconnect with the working families and struggling communities our party had too long ignored and I spent the bulk of my first term in the Senate advocating for policy reforms to help and empower the “Forgotten Americans” that Washington’s broken status quo was leaving behind.
“President Trump’s peculiar brand of populist, nationalist politics is not what I had in mind. But nor must his election be the existential threat to conservatism, republicanism, and constitutionalism that many of his critics on the Right fear,” the senator said.
The speech marked Lee’s progress from the loyal supporter of his best friend in the upper chamber, Sen. Ted Cruz (R.-Texas), who took the fight to candidate Trump on the platform committee and led the unsuccessful fight to unbind pledged delegates to the New York City developer. It was a move that could have freed Cruz-friendly delegates unable to vote their will on the first ballot.
In September, Lee rejected the idea of accepting Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court. In October, Lee asked Trump to step aside from the GOP ticket after the Access Hollywood tape was released. In November, Lee said he did not vote for Trump, instead opting for Evan McMullin, a former senior aide to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R.-Wash.).
After the election, the Utah senator made the trip to Trump Tower and met with the president-elect for 90 minutes.
The meeting went well enough for Lee to tell a Utah radio audience in January that if Trump asked him to be on the Supreme Court, he would accept the nod.
The senator was the featured speaker opening up the foundation’s “Conservatism for the Forgotten Man” discussion. The discussion will be hosted by John Edward Hilboldt, the foundation’s director of lectures and seminars; led by Yuval Levin, a Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and editor at National Affairs; and Heritage’s Salim Furth, a research fellow in macroeconomics.
Lee said conservatives struggle with how to gauge how much government people really want and need.
“Conservatives’ view of human nature and history tells us that in this life, there will always be problems and that attempts to use government to solve them often only make things worse,” he said.
The natural skepticism for government action often proves conservatives are correct and much better at empowering citizens and communities to develop their own solutions, he said. “At our worst, though, we look indifferent to suffering and injustice because we may not see problems that require action.”
Deciding where, when, and how much to act is the constant frustration for conservatives, but with the November results, the struggle and frustration have been resolved, he said.
“President Trump has already identified the problems that Americans want us to solve: Economic dislocation and insecurity. Inequality of opportunity, political marginalization, social isolation, and the cruel repugnance of a well-connected elite insulated from all of the above openly contemptuous of their disconnected countrymen who are not,” he said. “These problems are why Donald Trump ran for president and why he won.”
Conservatives must recognize that millions of real people need help, and it is incumbent upon them to work with the president, he asserted.
“Trump was elected to help those Americans. And conservatives – especially conservatives who had misgivings about Candidate Trump – have a duty now to help him see how and where our principles can serve his mandate,” he said.
“While the Left rages and the Washington Establishment scratches its head, conservatives – we – can make a case for a unifying, principled-and-populist agenda.”