The biggest disappointment in the Senate

The biggest disappointment in the Senate
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

I don’t consider any Senate Democrat a “disappointment” because I have no expectations for them. It’s hard to underperform when you’re expected to perform poorly.

I don’t consider most Senate Republicans a “disappointment” either for, well, the same reasons. Occasionally some conservative young gun with lots of brain power and potential like Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley will arrive, only to make clear instantly that he wants the job only as a stepping stone to airtime on Fox News and an eventual presidential run. How disappointed can you be in either of them after the first five minutes, when you’ve sized them up?

Mike Lee is a disappointment. He’s smart but not prone to grandstanding. He’s solidly conservative and usually evinces sincere concern for constitutional considerations. I understand why righties considered it such a betrayal when Mitt Romney declined to endorse Lee in his upcoming Senate primary against Evan McMullin.

Today, after reading through the text messages Lee sent to Mark Meadows during the “stop the steal” period following the election, I think Romney was too kind. He should have asked Utah to toss Lee out on his ass.

The corruption of Mike Lee by Trumpism is a story that played out over four years, beginning with his hopeless attempt to block Trump from the nomination at the 2016 convention and ending with Lee comparing Trump to Mormon religious figures at a campaign event in the fall of 2020. His journey was a microcosm of the conservative establishment’s journey over the past decade, from anti-government tea-party populism to autocrat-flattery. But the story today about his texts to Meadows reveals that Lee’s arc with Trump didn’t actually end on Election Day 2020. It went on behind the scenes for weeks, with Mr. Constitutional Conservative desperate for ways to overturn a national election in order to keep the new “Captain Moroni” in power.

And it wasn’t just anodyne “count every ballot” stuff that captured Lee’s interest. He recommended Sidney “Kraken” Powell to Meadows for Trump’s legal challenges (“I’ve found her to be a straight shooter”), then backed way off after the infamous press conference at RNC headquarters in which Powell and Rudy Giuliani went hog wild on insane vote-rigging conspiracies. Later he told Meadows to take a look at the work of John Eastman, the man who’d eventually spearhead the effort to get Mike Pence to block the counting of electoral votes on January 6. At last check Eastman was being investigated by California’s state bar and was pleading the Fifth before the January 6 committee.

The fact that Mike Lee, constitutional scholar, is evidently a piss-poor judge of legal talent would be disappointing enough. What’s inexcusable is how he pushed Meadows to focus on getting alternate pro-Trump slates of electors appointed by the legislatures in swing states won by Biden. If there were dueling slates of electors, one for Biden elected by the people via popular vote and the other for Trump elected by the legislature due to phantom “voter fraud,” then Congress could decide between the two. What Lee was asking Meadows, in other words, was to give Congress some pretext such that it could say that Trump had rightly won the election.

He was fully prepared to try to overturn the outcome of the electoral college. He just wanted some vaguely plausible-sounding legal justification to do so.

DECEMBER 8, 2020
From Mike Lee to Mark Meadows
If a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative slates of delegates, there could be a path.

He returned to the subject on January 3, three days before the certification vote:

From Mike Lee to Mark Meadows
Everything changes, of course, if the swing states submit competing slates of electors pursuant to state law.

From Mike Lee to Mark Meadows
Again, all of this could change if the states in question certified Trump electors pursuant to state law. But in the absence of that, this effort is destined not only to fail, but to hurt DJT in the process.

From Mike Lee to Mark Meadows
We should chat then. I’d love to be proven wrong about my concerns. But I really think this could all backfire badly unless we have legislatures submitting trump slates (based on a conclusion that this was the proper result under state law). Even setting aside constitutional concerns, this will be harmful to the president if we don’t channel this effort properly. We simply have no authority to reject a state’s certified electoral votes in the absence of a dueling slates, with the Trump slate coming from a state legislative determination.

Lee wasn’t willing to do something as off-the-wall as Eastman wanted, like having Pence simply declare certain electoral votes “unaccepted” or whatever. He wanted political cover from the states, a little meatier than what Eastman had in mind. (“If we’re going to overturn the will of the voters and install the guy who lost, I’m going to need better optics” is how one Twitter pal summarized Lee’s logic.) But if he’d gotten it, there’s every reason to think he would have been onboard with the coup attempt.

Would you believe that this guy had the balls to stand on the Senate floor on January 6, hours after the insurrection, and say how glad he was that the states didn’t send dueling slates of electors? After pushing the idea on Meadows privately, this two-faced sellout smarmily told the CSPAN cameras during his floor speech how relieved he was that the Senate didn’t have to deal with an issue like that. Quote:

Our job is to open and then count. Open, then count. That’s it. That’s all there is.

Now there are of course rare instances, instances in which multiple slates of electors can be submitted by the same state. That doesn’t happen very often. It happened in 1960. It happened in 1876. Let’s hope it doesn’t ever happen again.

In those rare moments, Congress has to make a choice. It has to decide which of the electoral votes will be counted and which will not. That did not happen here, thank heavens, and let’s hope that it never does.

He’s a fraud. Romney was too kind in maintaining neutrality in his Senate primary.

One of the worst parts of Lee’s back and forth with Meadows is how soon it began after Election Day. As early as November 7, he was texting to “offer words of encouragement to the president” in his crusade to prove that he’d been cheated. Lee had *no reason whatsoever* at that point to suspect that widespread voter fraud had occurred; if anything, Trump’s reputation as a world-class bullsh*tter and egomaniac should have given Lee pause that the president might be lying about a conspiracy to soothe his bruised ego. It’s often said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but Lee was gung ho right out of the chute to accept Trump’s extraordinary claims at face value and then start hunting for ways to try to support them. All he needed to make the case for overturning the election was something a little firmer than Sidney Powell’s hallucinations and Trump’s rigged-election mutterings. He never got it.

But if he had gotten it, he was willing.

Read Tim Miller on how the “good Republicans” like Mike Lee turned out to be no different from Powell in the end. They were all pushing towards the same goal. If anything, Lee was more dangerous than she was precisely because he’s smarter and more lucid. If there had been any quasi-legal procedure for getting Biden’s votes thrown out that wasn’t outright laughable, Lee would have found it and pushed the country into a constitutional crisis. That’s his legacy. The biggest disappointment in the Senate, if not all of American politics.

I’ll leave you with these tweets posted less than a month before Election Day. In hindsight, it seems he was already laying the groundwork to arrive at the “right” result for America whether the voters approved of it or not.

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Ed Morrissey 10:01 AM on June 02, 2023