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Mike Lee som konservativt föredöme

Posted by sverigeidag på december 13, 2011

In February 2009, Mike Lee was complaining to a friend, Utah conservative activist Monte Bateman, about the discouraging political scene. Republicans had just spent much of the past eight years ratcheting up government spending and swelling the deficit. Now Barack Obama and the Democrats were getting ready to add fuel to the fire, starting with a massive stimulus package.

Lee proposed what would have seemed to most people a fairly quirky solution: having the doctrine of enumerated powers—the principle that the U.S. Constitution leaves to the states all powers not specifically delegated to the federal government—form the basis of a “new, limited-government political movement.” But even Lee was skeptical that the idea could work.

“I told Monte that I doubted any candidate could get elected on such a platform,” Lee recalls in his book The Freedom Agenda. Monte disagreed, urging Lee to speak to a few dozen people in his home. It turned out to be the beginning of many such speeches throughout the state. And in Utah a candidate could in fact get elected on a constitutionalist platform, which Lee proved by winning a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Since then, the Tea Party has blossomed into something like the new, limited-government political movement the senator envisioned, while Lee has emerged as one of the movement’s biggest success stories—and kingmakers. Shortly after taking office, the 40-year-old freshman co-founded the Senate Tea Party Caucus with Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Most other Republicans preferred to collect Tea Party votes without getting too close.

The three Tea Party senators have led the charge for spending cuts, even when it has put them at odds with the Republican leadership. Lee has also joined DeMint in doing something else: encouraging and even endorsing conservative insurgents running in Republican primaries.

By this summer, Lee had already met with at least a half-dozen candidates, made endorsements in two Senate primaries, and launched a pair of leadership political action committees to help what he calls constitutional conservatives get elected. Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz has credited Lee with jumpstarting his GOP primary campaign for Senate against establishment favorite Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

“Mike’s early support was critical to the later endorsements we received from The Madison Project, FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, each of which cumulatively build momentum. Mike was the very first to jump out there. It had a tremendous impact,” Cruz told Politico. “You’ll see a significant number of Utah donors supporting my campaign early on because he asked them to.”

FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe acknowledged that Lee’s support was the “market signal” that put Cruz on their map. Lee has also endorsed Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who is the frontrunner in the primary to succeed retiring Sen. Jon Kyl. Both conservatives, Flake is seen as someone who will resist even Republican spending, in contrast to Kyl, a member of the GOP leadership team.

Lee founded the Senate Constitutional Conservatives Fund, a leadership PAC modeled on the one DeMint used to raise money for conservative primary candidates in 2010. He would like to start an associated “super PAC,” which can essentially raise unlimited funds, pushing the envelope of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Whether federal legislators can establish super PACs remains an open legal question. What is not open to question is whether Lee would target GOP incumbents. He told The Hill: “It would be hypocritical of me if I were to say never, ever under any circumstances would I try to support someone trying to come here the same way I came here.”

The way Lee came to the Senate is precisely what makes him a role model for other Tea Party conservatives. Lee challenged a three-term incumbent, Sen. Robert Bennett, and helped push him out at the Utah Republican state convention. Bennett wasn’t hobbled by scandal. And he was by most measures a fairly conventional conservative, with a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 84.

Yet Bennett voted for the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), a $700 billion Wall Street bank bailout regarded by many conservatives as an example of everything that was wrong with Washington. CNN asked Utah Tea Party activist David Kirkham if he really wanted to send Bennett packing because of one vote. “That one vote was pretty toxic,” Kirkham replied. “That one vote affected a lot of things, changed the rules of the game. President Bush said that we have to abandon free market principles to save the free market, and fundamentally, we just don’t agree.”

That was how the Utah GOP convention delegates saw things too. Lee won on the first ballot, businessman Tim Bridgewater on the next two, and the senator didn’t advance to the primary ballot. This wasn’t exactly unprecedented—conservative delegates had previously booted Congressman Chris Cannon for supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants—but it sent a message across the country. Lee edged out Bridgewater in the primary, 51 percent to 49 percent. The ousted senator’s son, Jim Bennett, crossed party lines to become a paid staffer for Lee’s Democratic opponent.

“If he is elected,” the younger Bennett said of Lee, “he will either be ineffective as a senator or he will disappoint many of the followers who helped elect him.” The argument was that Lee was simply too ideological to be a good senator. Nevertheless, Lee won the election with 62 percent of the vote and there is little sign his conservative supporters are disappointed.

Lee drafted a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution before he even took office. A large part of his book The Freedom Agenda is dedicated to explaining, as the subtitle says, “Why a balanced budget amendment is necessary to restore constitutional government.” Lee called up Chris Chocola, the former congressman who heads the Club for Growth, to pitch the amendment almost as soon as he got to Washington. “We need a permanent structural limitation on Congress’ authority to borrow and spend,” the senator tells me.

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