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Mike Lee’s Trumpist Transformation

From critic to sycophant.
October 17, 2022
Mike Lee’s Trumpist Transformation
Donald Trump jokes with Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) as he speaks at the Rotunda of the Utah State Capitol on December 4, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

[On the October 14, 2022 episode of The Bulwark’s “Beg to Differ” podcast, guest Evan McMullin, who is running for the U.S. Senate from Utah, discussed the coalition that supports his candidacy—Democrats, members of the moderate United Utah party, independents, and “principled Republicans”—before being asked about the makeover of the man he is challenging, incumbent Sen. Mike Lee.]

Mona Charen: I’m not the only one who voted for you for president in 2016. Another person who voted for you was Mike Lee himself—

Evan McMullin: That’s right.

Charen: —who never did endorse Trump, and who was part of a demonstration on the convention floor attempting to challenge the rules, and really was trying to make every last-ditch effort to prevent Trump from being the nominee. But then he got in line with a vengeance, right?

McMullin: He definitely did. I mean, you’re right to point out that he opposed Trump in 2016. He encouraged me to run against him. He called for Trump to get out of the race after the Access Hollywood tape leaked. You pointed out that he campaigned against Trump on the floor of the Republican National Convention. And then of course, on Election Day, he voted for me and publicly said so.

But I think he realized that his own personal pursuit of power, he thought, was better served by ending his opposition to the extremism that was rising as a part of Trump’s demagoguery, and got on board. And a lot of Utahns I think in this state have cast a vote for Trump in 2016 or 2020. But they never liked him. And they held their noses to do it because they didn’t want to support a Democrat.

But what Lee did that offended many of them was that he went from simply supporting Trump to becoming a real sycophant for him, to the point that in October of 2020, Lee was campaigning with Trump on a stage in Mesa, Arizona, to an audience of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—the Mormons—and while he was on stage with Trump, he compared Trump at length to a revered Book of Mormon hero, known as Captain Moroni.

And it was something that offended many members of the church deeply here in Utah, but I think everywhere, and it really I think, underscored just how far Lee had gone in becoming a sycophant in the pursuit of power. And I think that has really offended a lot of Utahns and I hear from Utahns who have voted for Trump once or twice, and they tell me they just can’t support Lee because he got too close to Trump. And so, people are drawing a line and that gives us an excellent opportunity to hold Lee accountable for a range of misdeeds, including trying to overturn our last election with fake electors.

Charen: He had a key role there, which is quite a heel turn for somebody whose advertising always stressed that he was a constitutional conservative and a great upholder of the Constitution—wrote a book about it, I believe.

Evan McMullin

Evan McMullin is running for the U.S. Senate from the state of Utah. In 2016, he ran as an independent for president against Donald Trump. Twitter: @EvanMcMullin.