Having your BFFs run for president should be fun, right? Or at least moderately useful? That was what Senator Mike Lee was more or less hoping as he headed into this election cycle with not one but three of his closest Senate colleagues—Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and (until Iowa) Rand Paul—chasing the Republican nomination.
Oh, sure, Lee would have to manage the ticklish business of staying neutral. (He always demurs when asked to handicap the race.) With all the focus on his three amigos’ campaigns, it would be tougher to get attention for his own projects (such as the book he released last year). And things were bound to get a bit lonely at times, with Ted, Marco, and Rand all out gallivanting around Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina. Still, Lee is among the Senate’s most serious purveyors of conservative policy—the Utah Tea-Partyer is also a favorite of his party’s intelligentsia—and much of his vision is shared by his legislative besties. So when Lee and I sat down together last spring (the week after Paul joined the POTUS pack), he was cautiously optimistic that having his like-minded brethren out on the hustings would work out to his benefit. While Lee hunkered down on the Hill, churning out policy, his more glamorous friends could bring the gospel to the masses.
Instead, the race hasn’t turned out to be much fun at all. For starters, senators running for president have bigger and better things to do than to hang out on the Hill with their colleagues. This has rendered Lee a bit like the middle-school kid left with no one to eat lunch with. Of late, he has taken to hanging out with the House Freedom Caucus folks, cooking up ways to fuel the conservative revolution. This suits the senator just fine, says Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs and Lee’s outside policy consigliere. “Lee has been interested in turning the kind of things that the members who came in on the Tea Party wave talk about into concrete proposals.” Still, it’s not the same as having his usual posse around.