They were shouting until they were red in the face, but nobody was listening.
I was standing about three feet behind Sen. Mike Lee and Phill Wright at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland while they tried one last-ditch — and ultimately futile — effort to keep Donald Trump from winning the GOP nomination for president in hopes of swinging it to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
At a convention that was supposed to be a show of unity, Lee was a prominent Trump critic — for example, challenging the proposed ban on Muslims entering the country — and a leader of the Utah delegation that did all it could to deny the nomination to the future president.
So now, as Lee’s name is tossed around to potentially fill the fresh vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, I suppose we are to believe that Trump has put that behind him?
Maybe Trump has also forgotten that weeks before the election, on the heels of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women and marital infidelity, Lee called on the candidate to quit the race.
“Your conduct, sir, is the distraction,” an agitated Lee said in a Facebook Live video. “It’s the distraction from the very principles that will help us win in November. … Mr. Trump, I respectfully ask you, with all due respect to step aside. Step down. Allow someone else to carry the banner of these principles.”
Lee didn’t even vote for Trump, it turns out, casting his ballot for third party candidate Evan McMullin’s quixotic bid instead.
Maybe the president has put all that behind him.
If we know one thing about this president, it is that he is a petty, vindictive person who carries grudges, airs grievances and, when he can, exacts revenge.
Now Trump has in his hands one of the most coveted positions in the country, a spot that he knows Lee has dreamt about since he grew up, as he has recounted repeatedly, “discussing the Commerce Clause over cabbage” with his late father, Rex E. Lee, who was the solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan.
Lee’s brother, Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee, was also in those dinner table discussions and he’s also on Trump’s short list and comes with judicial experience, conservative cred and without the history and baggage of his brother.
No doubt, Senator Lee has factors weighing in his favor. He is well-respected, even beloved, in conservative legal circles. He’s a frequent speaker at events hosted by The Federalist Society, which has a lot of swat in Republican administrations when it comes to promoting conservative judges.
More importantly, he could probably get confirmed — at least more easily than some of the others on Trump’s short list. Lee’s style hasn’t necessarily made him the most popular senator, but there is still a sort of implied collegiality that exists in the Senate.
Bloomberg reported Thursday, citing White House sources, that Trump was asking about appointing Lee and worried that the seat could fall into Democratic hands if it opens up. It’s not terribly surprising that Trump doesn’t know that Gov. Gary Herbert would be responsible for picking Lee’s replacement, nor should we expect him to know that a Democrat hasn’t won a statewide race in Utah since about the time Trump was losing nearly a billion dollars in the casino business.
Still, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see Lee get the Mitt Romney treatment, when Trump made Romney dance like a monkey before ultimately dropping him cold, a move that Trump insider Roger Stone said was calculated to “torture” and to “toy with” his political critic.
They’re chums now, of course, at least on the surface. Trump tweeted his congratulations to Romney for his win in this week’s Republican Senate primary.
So maybe Trump is capable of burying the hatchet; or maybe he's fixing to bury it in Lee’s back.