Much has been made in the Beehive State about Sen. Mitt Romney’s refusal to endorse fellow Republican Mike Lee. On Wednesday, Donald Trump posted his endorsement for Lee on Truth Social.
Trump said that Lee had been abused in an unprecedented way by Romney, a first in the history of American politics. Trump commented that such a move would have been understandable had Lee not performed his duties as a senator but that Lee had performed those duties well. Trump referred to challenger Evan McMullin as “McMuffin,” stating that he does not represent Utah values. He also asserted that Romney does not reflect those values. He urged Lee to accept the fact that he does not have Romney’s endorsement and focus on winning his election. He then offered Lee his “Complete and Total” endorsement, which he said Romney or “McMuffin” would never have.
National and even Utah news outlets have characterized Lee as “pleading” for Romney’s endorsement during his recent appearance on Tucker Carlson’s program. Even Newsmax claimed that Lee was “begging” for Romney’s support. I interviewed Lee on multiple occasions when he first ran for Senate and during the early years of his career while I was still in radio. I have never known the man to beg or plead for anything. But you be the judge. The video is below Be sure to take note of Lee’s assertion that the “Independent” McMullin has taken campaign funds from the Democratic organization Act Blue.
That doesn’t sound like pleading to me. It sounds like Lee is laying out facts, and no one, not McMullin and especially not Romney, can outpace Lee when it comes to facts. I’ve seen Romney speak on several occasions, including at large events and smaller gatherings, one of which was in a private home, during primary season. He’s always done a good job of tap dancing around anything substantive and comes off sounding like a recruiter for a pyramid scheme. And since Utah is awash in MLM companies, that is probably a pretty accurate assessment. On the other hand, Utah’s media is leaning increasingly to the left, and I can tell you from personal experience that news outlets often get their material from a limited number of sources, which is why many newscasts sound similar. But that is a whole other column for another time.
Complicating things for the Utah GOP is the fact that incumbent Congressman Burgess Owens declined to appear at a Wednesday night debate because it would be moderated by Lauren Gustus, an editor for the Salt Lake Tribune. The Tribune has been openly and unabashedly left-wing for years, and Owens probably would not have gotten a fair shake. In a campaign email, Owens said:
Last year, the Salt Lake Tribune published a racist cartoon comparing me to a KKK member, the same hate group has targeted my family and others of my race in the South.
The moderator selected by the Utah Debate Commission, Lauren Gustus, not only supported this bigoted cartoon but even defended it after the entire Utah delegation expressed their disgust.
He elaborated on his position in a video:
I understand Owens’ position. The Tribune does not just lean left. The Tribune is about as far left as a newspaper can get without spray painting an anarchy symbol on its front doors. When I lived in rural Utah, public officials and private citizens were disgusted with the way the paper routinely characterized them. And the fact that the paper would run a cartoon equating a black man, who lived through the violence of the KKK, to one of its members to tip an election is the standard operating procedure for the Tribune. KUTV reported that three members of the Utah delegation, Lee, Chris Stewart, and John Curtis (but not Mitt Romney), issued a statement of support:
We stand by Congressman Burgess Owens’ decision not to participate in a debate moderated by the Executive Editor of the Salt Lake Tribune.
Last year, the paper published a cartoon comparing the only black representative in Utah’s federal delegation to a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Despite our entire delegation’s calls to remove the cartoon, issue an apology, and hold themselves to a higher standard, those at the Tribune did nothing. We do not believe it to be in the spirit of good debate for our friend and colleague to be subjected to questions from the person who approved the image and refused to take it down—even after being advised of its offensive nature.
Racially charged hate speech should be unequivocally denounced in all its forms, not elevated and encouraged. This decision underscores a profoundly flawed process, and we charge all who were knowingly complicit to do better. This is not the Utah way.
Unfortunately, many in Utah will not hear this side of the story, which is what progressives are counting on. And this is not the first time Owens has declined a debate. KSL notes that this past spring, the Utah Debate Commission set up a meeting between Owens and his GOP challenger, Jake Hunsaker. Owens refused to participate. In Owens’ defense, the state party had asked candidates not to appear in debates sponsored by the Commission, since it was a primary season and concerned only Republican voters. The party felt that it should co-host debates, select moderators, and decide on topics. These are all valid points, and as stated above, Owens is right to be dubious that an editor of a left-wing newspaper would have treated him fairly Wednesday night. However, many voters may simply decide on the strength of the headlines alone that Owens simply ran from these debates because he was unable to defend himself or articulate his positions. And the left capitalizes on half-truths.