SALT LAKE CITY — A TV news commentator posed this question Wednesday to Sen. Mike Lee: Who would you hold up to high school students as a role model of who we are? President Donald Trump or Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake?
"I think I could point to aspects of both of their personalities, aspects of both of their careers as examples of people who stood behind something they believed in," the Utah Republican said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "Now, they don’t always agree with each other, but they don’t always disagree with each other either."
But the nasty spat between fellow Republicans Trump and Flake, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., as well, isn't about political philosophy but about leadership and demeanor.
And members of Utah's congressional delegation are walking a fine line between standing up for Trump's political agenda and questioning his character in light of Flake's blistering speech against the president on the Senate floor Tuesday.
"We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons — reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve," Flake, a BYU graduate, said in announcing he will not seek re-election in 2020.
Trump didn't let up Wednesday.
"The reason Flake and Corker dropped out of the Senate race is very simple, they had zero chance of being elected. Now act so hurt & wounded!" Trump tweeted.
Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced a month ago that he also would not run for another term. He attacked Trump Tuesday, calling him an "utterly untruthful" person, and predicted that the president's legacy would be "the debasement" of the United States.
"I wish frankly that they all would just kind of quit it," said Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, on MSNBC.
Stewart said he doesn't agree with everything Trump says or tweets, but he agrees with his policies and said he believes Flake and Corker do, too.
“And if you think the problem in Washington is Donald Trump and his tweets, I think it’s much more than that. We have real meaningful challenges and things we are trying to fix. The president is trying to fix those things. I wish they would support him rather than kind of nag at him like they have the past few days," Stewart said.
On "Morning Joe," Lee was asked about the feud between Trump and Corker.
"(Trump) attacked your colleague and then lied about him. "Isn’t that where you step up and say, 'No sir?'" co-host Mika Brzezinski asked.
Lee, who called for Trump to step aside as the presumptive GOP nominee after the "Access Hollywood" video surfaced last summer, said the president and Corker need to work out the issues between them and called on them to "cease and desist" the tit for tat.
In his speech, Flake said: "The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters — the notion that one should say and do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided."
Lee said it's not his style to engage in personal attacks, but the president is here to do a job and he has, in fact, fought to drain the Washington "swamp."
"If we were all to chase every squirrel that comes along in the form of a personal dispute or a mischaracterization of someone, of someone’s integrity or intent, we’d be very busy doing that, not focusing on the government," he said.
Asked point-blank if Trump lies or if he has ever lied, Lee said, "I’m certain that he has. But my purpose to come here today is not to focus on those things. My purpose is to call on my colleagues, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, to get behind the agenda of trying to reform the government to make it work for the people rather than the other way around."
Sen. Orrin Hatch's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Flake's speech.
Hatch, a strong Trump supporter who has warned him against Twitter attacks, issued a statement Tuesday after Flake announced that he wouldn't run again.51 comments on this story
“Without reservation, I can say that Sen. Flake is among the most honorable men in politics today,” he said. “Jeff embodies the conscience, courage and conviction of a true conservative. I know I speak for all of my colleagues in the Senate when I say we will miss him dearly.”
Jim Bennett, a candidate in Utah's 3rd Congressional District and son of the late U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, said Flake's retirement demonstrates the dysfunction in Washington.
"It shows that someone who is well-respected in the U.S. Senate can be driven away by partisan politics and an ineffective Congress. It also shows how difficult it is for a good man to operate in the party of Trump. Clearly, this has to be fixed," said Bennett, who left the GOP and formed the United Utah Party.