In another political era, Sen. Mike Lee’s damning text messages to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows showing his eagerness to help former President Donald Trump overturn the election results might be enough to force him out of office. Today, it might boost his chances of winning his upcoming primary election.
In the past, members of Congress have resigned or dropped reelection bids for much less. New York congressman Anthony Weiner resigned in 2011 after sending lewd texts. Former Sen. Al Franken gave up his seat in 2017 following allegations of unwanted touching from before he was elected surfaced.
Astonishingly, Lee’s efforts to help with Trump’s attempted coup will likely boost his standing with Republican delegates at next week’s state convention and among GOP primary voters in June.
A large swath of the Republican electorate agrees with Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him because of fraud. A December YouGov poll showed just 21 percent of Republicans believe Democrat Joe Biden’s election was legitimate. Overall, 6 in 10 Americans say Biden was elected fair and square.
In the minds of most Republicans, Lee was helping to right an egregious wrong by pushing to overturn Trump’s loss.
BYU political science professor Adam Brown says Lee’s efforts to help Trump remain in office are not surprising.
“People have known at least since the Captain Moroni speech that Mike Lee is in the tank for Donald Trump,” Brown said.
Lee is set to face fellow Republicans Becky Edwards and Ally Isom in the June primary election. Brown believes Lee’s demonstration of loyalty to the president will likely be positive among primary voters.
“In 2015, conspiring to overturn an election would have been a career-ending scandal. In 2022, Lee stands a good chance of weathering it, especially with Isom and Edwards poised to split the primary vote,” Brown said.
Trump endorsed Lee’s reelection bid earlier this month.
Lee’s part in the plot to keep Trump in power may be a badge of honor among the die-hard MAGA wing of the GOP, but it has the potential to become a political albatross around his neck in the general election.
Former Republican strategist Rick Wilson, a co-founder of The Lincoln Project, says Lee’s efforts to subvert the election might alienate independent voters and even some Republicans.
“I think this opens up an opportunity for them to look at this guy not as the constitutional conservative he brands himself as but as someone in the thick of a conspiracy movement that sought to overturn the election,” Wilson said.
Lee’s office says the senator was investigating every legal avenue for Trump to challenge the election results but gave up when he realized no path was available.
If some Democrats can successfully convince the party not to put forward a nominee this year. That would set up a one-on-one fight between Lee and independent candidate Evan McMullin. Wilson says Utah’s senior senator could be vulnerable among independent voters and even some disaffected Republicans.
”McMullin would have to play this as part of Mike Lee being willing to break all the rules and covenants that hold our democracy together. This plays up against Lee’s straight-arrow image in a way that won’t be helpful. It just feels so dirty and sleazy,” Wilson said.