In wake of government shutdown, GOP senator faces trouble back home

Ted Cruz's chief ally in the Senate dodges criticism for being too extreme

Topics: Mike Lee, Tea Party, Government shutdown, Obamacare, Utah, Brigham Young University, The Washington Post,

In wake of government shutdown, GOP senator faces trouble back homeMike Lee (Credit: AP/Rick Bowmer)

The GOP grass roots may love Utah Sen. Mike Lee for his role in the recent government shutdown, but back at home, his party’s establishment has taken a considerably less rosy view.

According to the Washington Post, Lee, who first shot to prominence by toppling the comparatively moderate Bob Bennett, is being criticized by many members of the Utah GOP’s establishment for what they see as his overly ideological style. While Utah has long been one of the most Republican states in the country, it’s also been the home of a pragmatic, business-minded Republicanism that stands in sharp contrast to Lee’s more unapologetically doctrinaire form of conservatism.

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“I think people admire him for sticking to his guns and principles, but I think there are growing frustrations,” said one bank manager who had previously raised money for Lee. “If things are to happen, you can’t just stick to your principles. You have to make things work … You’ve got to be practical.”

One former national finance chairman for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign was even more pointed in his criticism, telling the Washington Post that Lee was a “show horse” who cares more about being “a spectacle” than governing. “Business leaders that I talk to, many of whom supported him, would never support his reelection and in fact will work against him, myself included,” the former finance chairman said.

And Lee’s growing unpopularity goes beyond mere anecdotes, with public opinion polling showing a clear drop in the freshman senator’s favorability rating. According to a Brigham Young University poll taken during the shutdown, a full 57 percent of respondents wanted Lee to compromise more, while only 40 percent of respondents said they approved of Lee’s performance as senator.

Despite these warning signs, however, the Post finds Lee to be unconcerned. “This fight was worth fighting,” Lee told the Post. “The country wasn’t built by fighting only those battles where victory was certain.”

“The only number I worry about is how many people are being hurt by Obamacare,” he said.

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a staff writer at Salon, focusing on politics. Follow him on Twitter at @eliasisquith.

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