Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) spoke on the key elements of conservative ideology, the urgent need for poverty alleviation and the state of the 2016 presidential election in a discussion hosted by the Georgetown University Institute for Politics and Public Service in Old North on April 12.
Lee began his term in the Senate in 2010 and is currently a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee as well as chair of the Senate Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights Subcommittee.
Lee also serves as chair of the Water and Power Subcommittee of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and serves on the Armed Services Committee and the Joint Economic Committee. Last week, he became the first senator to publically endorse Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the presidential election.
The event started with an introduction by political commentator and GU Politics advisor Sarah Elizabeth “S.E.” Cupp, who said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s effects on the Republican Party are irreversible.
“I think that the damage he has done to the party is going to be long and difficult to unwind,” Cupp said. “We’re going to have to figure out who his supporters are and how to interact with them and meet their needs without completely abandoning some of our principles and values.”
GU Politics Executive Director Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94) moderated the discussion and began by asking Lee about conservatism and what makes it a cohesive political ideology.
Lee cited two major factors that tie the party together and help fuel the sense of upward mobility in the United States.
“I’m a conservative because I believe that there are two things that can do more to elevate the human condition than anything else, two things that have helped get more people out of poverty than anything else could, two things that have done more to build the middle class than anything else could. Those are free markets and voluntary institutions in civil society,” Lee said.
Lee noted the challenges faced by the poor and middle class in the United States, arguing that the government is not doing what it should to support this portion of the population.
“The problem is that we have a system that is increasingly rigged against America’s poor and middle class,” Lee said. “We’ve had this great engine in America that has been the greatest influence on the most number of people leaving poverty and entering the middle class than almost anywhere in the world. Some of that has been challenged by government policies that make it harder for people to do that.”
Lee added his thoughts on Trump, attributing the businessman’s popularity to the appeal his candid persona holds for the electorate.
“There’s anger. Anger based on a perception that the Republican Party is out of touch and that Republican office holders and aspiring candidates cannot engage in a frank, honest discussion,” Lee said. “So he comes in and speaks in very frank terms, and that is very attractive to a lot of people.”
GU Politics Director of Programming Sophie Goldmacher said the event demonstrated the spirit of bipartisanship that the organization tries to foster by inviting Elleithee and Lee to engage in dialogue.
“Another important goal of GU Politics is to bring partisans — people with different viewpoints and perspectives — together. They may not agree on everything, but they’re willing to have a conversation, debate, and disagree,” Goldmacher wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Max Magid (COL ’19) said Lee was an engaging speaker, but noted that Lee’s remarks about the role of public officials potentially conflict with his decision to join many Republican congressmen in refusing to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination for Supreme Court Justice, Merrick Garland.
“He’s well-spoken, seems to have a good understanding of where he stands and his views on the Constitution,” Magid said. “I find it interesting that he spent so much time talking about doing his job and how congress-people have been comfortable not doing their job when he’s part of the strong Republican majority who refused to consider any nomination by Obama, and therefore not doing his job.”
Cole Horton (SFS ’18), an attendee, said Lee insightfully identified distinctions within the Republican Party in today’s political environment.
“I was not familiar with Senator Lee before the event, but I enjoyed it. I think he made good points. I think he’s right that there’s a difference between conservatives and Republicans,” Horton said.
Horton also said although he enjoyed Lee’s optimism about the future of the Republican Party, he expressed doubt that the senator’s solutions will be easy to implement.
“Looking towards the future of the Republican Party that he talked about a little bit, I’m not quite as optimistic,” Horton said. “I think there’s quite some damage being done right now by the Trump campaign, so I don’t think it’s quite as easy as he made it sound.”
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