Sen. Mike Lee in Iowa debut: Time to stop being 'party of no'

Published: Saturday, Nov. 9 2013 9:55 p.m. MST

Other issues that need to be tackled include breaking up what he termed “the corrupt nexus of big government, big business and big special interests,” as well as reforming immigration and providing more opportunities for the poor and middle class.

Lee said both Republicans and Democrats must be forced “to acknowledge there is another marriage debate in the country,” a reference to gay marriage. He said the plight of fatherless children, economic inequality and broken communities deserves just as much public attention.

The push for a new conservative reform agenda is the same message he delivered recently to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C., think thank, in a speech described as conciliatory.

Lee even repeated lines from that speech titled, “What’s Next for Conservatives,” saying again Saturday that “frustration is not a platform. Anger is not an agenda. And outrage, as a habit, is not even conservative.”

He also said again that conservatism is “about inclusion. Successful political movements are about identifying converts, not heretics,” telling the largely enthusiastic audience, “this, too, is part of the challenge before us.”

Christopher Murphy, a political consultant and a county GOP chairman who traveled two hours from Missouri Valley, Iowa, to attend the banquet, said he appreciated Lee’s message.

“What he is saying is that conservatives are what this country needs, but we have to sell it better,” Murphy said. “A lot of times, Republicans think they’re right on the issues and they don’t have to sell the issues.”

That, he said, should not be tough for the tea party to take.

“They want to hear it,” Murphy said. “And they need to hear it.”

Vicki Crawford, a stay-at-home mom from Granger who calls herself a tea party follower and an evangelical Christian, had nothing but praise for Lee’s speech.

“I thought it was presidential,” Crawford said. “He had a very positive plan for how to turn things in the right direction. … But he did say we don’t stop fighting.”

University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle, an active Republican, said Lee may be attempting to offer himself as a leader who can take the tea party in a new direction.

“He might be saying, ‘Harness that energy, … harness that anger,’” Hagle said. “Put it in a new and productive direction, and be in that fight.”

Whether the tea party is ready to follow Lee remains to be seen, he said.

“A lot of tea party people are tired of what was termed the surrender caucus” in the GOP, Hagle said, and applauded Lee’s willingness to take on the establishment in a fight that led to the federal government shutdown and brought the nation close to default.

“That wasn’t the best thing,” Hagle said. “But it maybe got the base fired up. They key is, now can you redirect that?”

Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and a Republican, welcomed Lee's talk of uniting the fractured party.

"If Mike Lee can help the tea partiers understand that winning elections is still important, he will do incredible service to them and to the Republicans," Jowers said.

Lee will also help himself politically, Jowers said.

"I think Sen. Lee realized that the government shutdown did not advance any productive outcomes," he said. "And fairly or not, he received the lion's share of blame for it, both locally and nationally, so it’s the right time for him to pivot and show he is trying to solve problems as well as be ideologically pure."

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