When Sen. Robert Bennett came in third at the Utah Republican Party’s convention, commentators marveled at the irrationality of conservatives who rejected an incumbent who scored so high on conservative voting scorecards. Mike Lee, one of the candidates who beat Bennett, demonstrated the limitations of those scorecards when he dropped by NR’s offices a few days ago.
Utah is one of the most conservative states in the country, and in Lee it would have perhaps the most conservative senator.
#ad#Lee wants to repeal Obamacare, and is willing to risk a government shutdown to defund it. When Republicans blinked during the shutdown of 1995–96, he says, it was “the beginning of the end” of the Republican revolution.
“I am deeply disturbed” by the Kagan nomination, he adds. Her position on military recruiting at Harvard “in a time of war . . . is reason enough for me to have a strong inclination to vote her down.” Congress has a legitimate power under Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution to remove issues from the federal courts’ jurisdiction and “has prudently exercised that power . . . more often than people think.”
The candidate is nervous about personal accounts as part of Social Security. He would prefer to wind the program down entirely — preserving it for current retirees while telling young people that they will not be getting any benefits. I have literally never heard any major-party candidate for statewide office say anything like this.
Lee also favors returning Medicaid entirely to the states, which could abolish it if they chose — another first in my experience.
It is not surprising, then, that Lee wants to repeal No Child Left Behind, or that he wants to move to a new tax system with a single rate.
Lee’s constitutionalist scruples lead him to oppose federal laws that other conservatives favor. He does not support federal legislation to reform medical-malpractice laws. Nor does he believe that purely intrastate drug offenses should be against federal law. That’s not legalization, says the former federal prosecutor; it’s just federalism. (He also says that rolling back those laws is “maybe not where I’d start” pruning back Leviathan.)
During a back-and-forth about political realism, Lee says, “Don’t confuse not currently feasible for not possible under any circumstances.” His causes aren’t “quixotic,” he says, just “hard.”
Electing 60 Mike Lees to the Senate is not a plausible path forward for conservatives, to state the obvious. One Mike Lee would be a healthy addition to the Senate’s diversity: Even if his vote totals end up looking only a little more conservative than Bennett’s, his arguments will sound very different. And if any state has this kind of representation in the Congress, it is fitting that it be Utah
– Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review.