Donald Trump endorses Utah Sen. Mike Lee for reelection

In 2016, Sen. Mike Lee voted for Evan McMullin for president over Donald Trump.

Evan Vucci | AP - Former President Donald Trump endorsed Sen. Mike Lee in Utah's U.S. Senate race.

Former President Donald Trump waded into Utah’s U.S. Senate race on Friday, throwing his weight behind Republican incumbent Sen. Mike Lee. Trump also took the opportunity to throw some shade at longtime nemesis Sen. Mitt Romney and Independent candidate Evan McMullin.

Trump’s hyperbolic “Complete and Total Endorsement” of Lee comes as the senator is likely facing a three-way primary for the Republican nomination. Both Lee and Ally Isom have submitted the required 28,000 signatures to secure a spot on the June primary ballot. Becky Edwards still must submit approximately 1,000 signatures before the end of next week. That dashes any hope Lee had of securing the Republican nomination outright at the Republican State Convention later this month.

“Senator Mike Lee has done an outstanding job for the wonderful people of Utah. There is no greater voice for our Military, our Vets, Law and Order, or our Second Amendment, which is under total siege,” Trump’s endorsement reads.

Trump then shifts gears to air his grievances against McMullin and, to a lesser extent, Romney. McMullin, who ran against Trump for president in 2016, finished third in Utah, grabbing 21.54% of the vote against Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. As the former president has done for countless other political foes, Trump brands McMullin with a nickname.

“He (Lee) is running against Evan “McMuffin” McMullin, a man that does not represent the standards and policies of the great state of Utah,” Trump wrote.

“He is laughed at, and would be a disaster for the State — and you can’t have two such Senators like that at one time,” Trump continued, redirecting the attack towards Romney.

Lee’s nod from Trump is a complete reversal of the political environment surrounding Trump’s first run for office in 2016. Lee aggressively opposed Trump’s bid to become the Republican nominee, pursuing every angle he could to stop him. At one point Lee attempted to convince Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to join forces with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on a unity ticket to block Trump, but Rubio never showed up for a planned meeting.

Lee was part of an effort at the 2016 GOP convention to force a roll call vote on changing the rules to slow down Trump’s ascension to the top of the party and to give voice to anti-Trump delegates.

Even after Trump became the GOP standard-bearer, Lee did not fall in line like other Republicans. He called for Trump to drop out of the race after the infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced showing Trump making lewd and obscene comments about women.

“You, sir, are the distraction. Your conduct, sir, is the distraction,” Lee said in a video posted to Facebook which has since been deleted.

Ultimately Lee did not vote for Trump in 2016, and instead cast a ballot for Independent candidate Evan McMullin.

Lee was able to put aside his distaste once Trump occupied the White House, becoming one of his administration’s most vocal supporters. Lee campaigned for Trump in 2020, even comparing him to Captain Moroni, a hero from Latter-day Saint scripture.

Lee was also swept up in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Trump mistakenly called Lee’s phone on Jan. 6, 2021 as a mob of his supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol. Instead of Lee, Trump was looking for Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville.

Prior to the Jan. 6 riot, Lee was given a copy of a legally dubious memo from Trump lawyer John Eastman that laid out a plan for then-Vice President Mike Pence to illegally keep Trump in the White House. Lee’s knowledge of the memo was not reported until late 2021 when it was revealed in a book by veteran reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

McMullin responded on Twitter to the Trump endorsement, calling the former president a “wicked man” and trashing Lee for supporting him.

“Lee sacrificed his honor and values to serve him at the expense of Utah and our nation,” McMullin wrote.