'Anger is not an agenda': Sen. Mike Lee plays GOP peacemaker in D.C. speech (+video)
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee attempted to play Republican Party peacemaker Tuesday in a speech to a Washington, D.C., think tank calling for all conservatives to work together without mentioning the tea party by name.
Lee, who helped lead the unsuccessful battle in Congress against President Barack Obama's health care law that led to the federal government shutdown, said the GOP needs a "unifying" conservative agenda to retake the White House.
Utah's junior senator told an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation that such an agenda should focus on ending immobility among the poor, insecurity in the middle class and the "cronyist privilege" enjoyed by the wealthy.
He outlined his own proposals aimed at helping working families, including boosting the federal income tax deduction for having children and reducing the federal gas tax while giving states more control over highways.
The positive tone of his speech will help Lee counter the criticism he's received in Utah and nationally for what many saw as a fight that could not be won, University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said.
Polls in Utah, including one for the Deseret News and KSL, found that the state's voters did not believe it was worth shutting down the government as part of the effort to stop the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare.
And Republicans nationally have expressed frustration with Lee and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for reinforcing the image that they're the "Party of No," rather than problem solvers.
"It's not just mending fences back home. It's clear he wants to be part of the national conversation about improving the party," Scala said. "This speech was a way to press the reset button."
That was apparent in the portions of the speech that appeared to be aimed at his fellow tea party followers.
"Especially in the wake of recent controversies, many conservatives are more frustrated with the establishment than ever before. And we have every reason to be," Lee said.
"But however justified, frustration is not a platform. Anger is not an agenda. And outrage, as a habit, is not even conservative," he said, describing successful political movements as "about identifying converts, not heretics."
University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said that while "Lee might be trying to convince 'establishment' Republicans that tea party folks aren't the bad guys," he also advised the tea party to "persuade rather than simply purge."
Hagle, active in the GOP, said that's a warning for that wing of the party not to be "so irritated with establishment Republicans that they 'primary' them and end up with weaker candidates."
While Lee referred to Republicans as grassroots, establishment, conservative, moderate, libertarians and traditionalist, but not tea party, he did bring up the need to continue to fight Obamacare.
Still, he said, there's a need to "step back and ask ourselves where we need to be headed more generally," especially with the prospect of the 2016 presidential elections looming.
Lee compared the party's position now to the 1970s, when conservative activists were pushing Ronald Reagan as a presidential candidate. Reagan lost his 1976 bid to an establishment incumbent, but the movement was vindicated in 1980.
Watch the speech — remarks start at the 53:30 mark:
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