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Guest: McMullin should be challenging Owens, not Lee

By Justin Stapley - | Oct 8, 2021

Justin Stapley

I’ve had my differences with Senator Mike Lee. Still, on the whole, I’ve been exceptionally pleased with the balance of concerns and viewpoints provided by Utah’s current representation in the Senate. Sen. Mike Lee’s and Sen. Mitt Romney’s different political perspectives have provided a unique intersection of ideals and respectful but sometimes stark counterpoise.

But what’s ultimately impressed me most is that they each, in turn, have had moments where they stood upon ideals and principles at times inconvenient to their popularity. Both have played the part of honest statesmen in critical moments that go a long way in resolving the serious differences I’ve had with each. 

Sen. Romney’s stances during both impeachment proceedings have been well-documented, and his heartfelt speech about his oath to God is well-known to most. But less well known is Sen. Lee’s speech on January 6th, offered as Congress deliberated the certification of presidential electors. 

While many of his colleagues caved to the populist fervor of the moment, feeding a false narrative that Congress had a power it didn’t have, Sen. Lee refused to do so. He stood and clearly stated the Constitutional limits of the proceedings. He rebuked those who claimed they could usurp this narrow Congressional exercise in ways that clearly disregarded the Constitution.

While political dysfunction surrounds us from all sides of the spectrum, I assert that Utah’s Senatorial delegation stands out as among the best, if not the best, in America. But the same cannot be said of Utah’s delegation to the House, especially in light of the test January 6th presented to the union. Specifically, Rep. Chris Stewart and Rep. Burgess Owens went through with adding their names to the objection of electors, even after they were chased from their chambers by a mob. 

This brings me to the recent announcement of Evan McMullin’s intention to run for Congress as an independent in the state of Utah.  

I’ve met and spoken with McMullin on several occasions, including at the Principles First Summit in February 2020. Back in 2016, I was present at his presidential announcement and collected signatures to get his name on Utah’s ballot. I was happy to vote for him in that election as I sought to anchor myself to a positive movement in an election cycle dominated by negative partisanship. But I cannot say I fully comprehend nor am I prepared to support McMullin’s electoral challenge of Sen. Lee. 

I am a conservative and a Republican who has not been shy of speaking out against Donald Trump and the direction the movement and party have gone under his leadership. Above almost anything else, I desire a return to the principles I believe will ultimately restore civic virtue and common decency to our republic. My goals, then, have usually aligned with public figures like McMullin, even if we have disagreements about the best path forward. 

But in this circumstance, it seems far less productive towards restoring conservative principles to challenge a Senator in a state-wide election who did the right thing on January 6th when two of our Representatives did the wrong thing. Especially when one of them, Rep. Owens, resides in a swing district.  

Additionally, I’ve observed that a significant cause for our current political dysfunction is that fewer and fewer citizens are participating in the primary process. This has led to an outweighed influence in our major parties by loud, populist, and increasingly unhinged fringe elements.  

So, my question is, wouldn’t the best course be to challenge the Congressman whose decision on January 6th arguably makes him unelectable in his swing district? And, to do so, not as an independent, but as a Republican well-positioned to attract broader participation in the primary process and moderate at least one of our unhinged parties? 

The coming attacks against McMullin are undoubtedly going to revolve around accusations that he’s a “spoiler candidate” whose real purpose is to split the vote, clearing a path for a Democrat to claim victory.  

It would be unfair for anyone to claim such knowledge of McMullin’s true intentions. But his choice to overlook the low-hanging fruit in the 4th district (which is also the best chance the Democrats have of unseating a Utah Republican) and to challenge Sen. Lee in a doubtful state-wide election that may indeed tip the scales in favor of a Democratic challenger (all while the Senate majority stands on a knife) makes it quite challenging to defend McMullin against the attacks he’s about to face.

Justin Stapley studies political theory and constitutionalism at Utah Valley University, and writes the Self-Evident newsletter on Substack.

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