Opinion

Why is Mike Lee content to play Robin to Ted Cruz's Batman?

It's certainly not helping his political prospects

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is a highly intelligent politician with a seemingly bright future. So why, in a comparison embraced by many in the political commentariat, does he continue to play Robin to Ted Cruz's Batman — and submarine his political prospects in the process?

The bromance has been going strong since the pair met in 2010. Since then, they have formed a Lee Cruz Victory Committee, shut down the government, and even posed together with a tiger pelt.

But here's the thing: This partnership between the two Tea Party senators has caused almost nothing but trouble for the junior partner.

For instance, 14 months ago — right after the government shutdown — The Washington Post's Philip Rucker wrote about Lee's fading fortunes, noting that Utah "has a long tradition of being represented by pragmatic, business-minded conservatives in the U.S. Senate. Lee broke that pattern by governing as an ideological firebrand — standing alongside Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the push for a shutdown in a failed bid to undermine President Obama’s health-care law."

Rucker continued: "Lee's approval ratings in Utah have cratered, and prominent Republicans and local business executives are openly discussing the possibility of mounting a primary challenge against him."

Lee's involvement in the quixotic shutdown also drew rebuke from conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who referred to the Utah senator as Cruz's "sidekick" — and not in a good way.

There is little doubt Lee's position on the shutdown wasn't particularly popular back home, too. The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University found at the time that "57 percent of Utahns overall would like Senator Lee to be 'more willing to compromise' versus 43 percent who prefer that he 'stand by his principles.'"

Recently, it seemed that Lee had stemmed the bleeding. After following Cruz into the shutdown fiasco, he recalibrated, giving a series of policy speeches and calling for a "conservative reform agenda." Cruz and Lee even teamed up to co-sponsor an important and responsible bill to fix and reauthorize The Patriot Act. It seemed to work. A recent poll from The Club for Growth PAC, Senate Conservatives Fund, and Madison Project found that Lee has a 76 percent favorability rating among likely GOP voters. What's more, "Lee's support is broad-based across ideological lines among primary voters." Eighty-seven percent of self-identifying "very conservative" Republicans like him, and even among "moderates" he is viewed favorably by a 53-27 ratio.

These are great numbers. Except for one thing: Right around the time the survey was being conducted, the dynamic duo struck again.

Cruz and Lee's recent attempt to foil Obama by exploiting some rather arcane Senate procedural rules surprised and offended their Senate colleagues (Cruz later apologized), and further backfired by helping Harry Reid confirm many Obama nominees. Cue the Politico headline "Tea partier braces for primary challenge from the establishment."

Could Lee really be in trouble?

It's hard to completely rule out the possibility that someone — say, Josh Romney — could beat Lee. But this seems unlikely. None of the people who are publicly criticizing Lee in Utah have the ability knock him out. And to do it, you'd need enough resources to either mount a successful signature drive to get an establishment candidate on the GOP primary ballot (you need 28,000 signatures), or a convention turnout operation that could oust Lee at the party gathering, much as he ousted Bob Bennett in 2010. And remember, the relatively small cohort of Republicans who automatically show up at a convention are the same grassroots conservatives automatically predisposed to like Lee. What is more, it seems highly unlikely that groups like the Club for Growth or FreedomWorks would sit by and allow Lee to get ousted.

This is all to say the talk of Lee's possible premature political demise is probably exaggerated. And thus, that he may not learn the lesson that hanging around with Ted Cruz isn't good for him.

But for the sake of the GOP, we really shouldn't let Lee play with Cruz anymore. It's not good for Lee, it's not good for the GOP, and it's not good for the country. Senator Lee: You can do better than that Texas Batman you've hitched up with.

More From...

Picture of Matt K. LewisMatt K. Lewis
Read All
What being a father taught me about God
Just as God knows what's best for me, I know what's best for my sons.
Opinion

What being a father taught me about God

U.S. workers' epidemic of demoralization
Matt K. Lewis
The Bullpen

U.S. workers' epidemic of demoralization

The honesty and dignity of Lindsey Graham
The senator will be missed this 2016 race.
Opinion

The honesty and dignity of Lindsey Graham

The political charade of Obama's Keystone rejection
President Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone pipeline in 2012.
Opinion

The political charade of Obama's Keystone rejection

Recommended

Republicans oust Ilhan Omar from House committee
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn)
Punitive politics?

Republicans oust Ilhan Omar from House committee

FBI investigating George Santos' role in dog fundraising scheme
George Santos.
'the big guys finally picked it up'

FBI investigating George Santos' role in dog fundraising scheme

Thousands mourn as Tyre Nichols is laid to rest in Memphis
Rev. Al Sharpton and Vice President Kamala Harris
Rest in peace

Thousands mourn as Tyre Nichols is laid to rest in Memphis

College Board appeases conservatives over AP African American studies
AP African American Studies textbooks
Advanced appeasement?

College Board appeases conservatives over AP African American studies

Most Popular

The Hogwarts Legacy boycott controversy, explained
Hogwarts Legacy logo photo
Briefing

The Hogwarts Legacy boycott controversy, explained

U.S. firm offers Ukraine 2 Reaper drones for $1, plus $10 million in shipping
MQ-9 Reaper drone
Fine Print

U.S. firm offers Ukraine 2 Reaper drones for $1, plus $10 million in shipping

Republicans oust Ilhan Omar from House committee
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn)
Punitive politics?

Republicans oust Ilhan Omar from House committee