'Anger is not an agenda': Sen. Mike Lee plays GOP peacemaker in D.C. speech (+video)
The difference this time around, Lee said, is that conservatives got together after the initial loss and "transformed a movement that was anti-statist, anti-communist and anti-establishment and made it pro-reform."
Scala said Lee not referring to the tea party in his speech suggests he recognizes it's "a damaged brand name, something that's come and gone" even if the principles espoused by the movement are still around.
Lee won his seat in the Senate after tea party Republicans ousted longtime Sen. Bob Bennett in the party's 2010 state convention, widely seen as the then-new movement's first major victory.
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said Lee does not appear to be distancing himself from the tea party but looking for ways to "redirect that unhappiness towards goals that are more positive."
That's not likely to make tea party Republicans happy, Burbank said, but if Lee hopes to advance his conservative agenda, he needs to be concerned about his 2016 re-election.
Brigham Young University political science professor Quin Monson, whose polling found Lee's favorability with voters slipping, said he'll be helped by trying "to sound more conciliatory."
That puts Lee in a tough spot with the tea party, Monson said, although he has built up a "pretty large" store of goodwill with them.
"His ardent tea party supporters aren't going to like a conciliatory Mike Lee," Monson said. "If he was to repair some of the damage he's done with the more general electorate, he's going to breed a little suspicion with the tea party base."
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