Five states are running primaries today to choose candidates for the November midterms. In Utah, Republicans will go to the polls to decide whether to renominate Sen. Mike Lee or choose one of his two challengers.
Notably, Democrats do not face the same task. Even with a declared candidate, Kael Weston, Utah Democrats voted not to put forward a nominee. Instead they are endorsing independent candidate Evan McMullin. (Interestingly, Weston contributed $200 to one of Lee's Republican challengers.)
McMullin, a former CIA analyst and investment banker, ran a quixotic 2016 campaign for president that attracted the support of some neoconservatives and NeverTrump Republicans. McMullin got onto the ballot in only 11 states, finishing third or below in all of them—but he received more than 20 percent of the vote in his native Utah.
Given Utah's electorate, the Democrats' choice not to field a candidate makes sense: The state has not elected a Democrat to the Senate in over 50 years. And McMullin is part of a new trend of anti-Trump conservatives looking to form a third party "dedicated to our founding ideals."
According to recent polling, Lee is the only Republican candidate who would beat McMullin comfortably in a head-to-head match-up. (One candidate, former state Rep. Becky Edwards, had a narrow 29–28 lead over McMullin, but with 37 percent still undecided.) For libertarian Utahns, a Lee victory would probably be preferable to a McMullin win.
To be clear, Lee is by no means perfect. He has joined several dubious Republican crusades, as when he endorsed stronger regulation of the tech industry. And as President Donald Trump flailed for ways to subvert his 2020 election loss, Lee asked the White House for talking points, texting Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to ask: "Please tell me what I should be saying."
But McMullin has shown no indication that he would be any better at constraining the size and scope of the federal government, especially in foreign affairs. In 2016, McMullin contended that while he had opposed the war in Iraq from its outset, he also bemoaned "the costs of retreating into passivity" by not aggressively pursuing the Islamic State across both Iraq and Syria. He said the U.S. should impose a no-fly zone in Syria and establish U.S.-protected "humanitarian safe zones" in neighboring countries.
Earlier this year, when Russia invaded Ukraine, McMullin tweeted that the U.S. should "bolster our presence in Eastern Europe." Why the U.S. should double down on its continued involvement in the military affairs of European nations wealthy enough to provide for their each other's collective defense was left unsaid.
Lee, by contrast, has been a voice against foreign intervention, often bucking his own party. He supported a Senate resolution blocking U.S. funding for further involvement in the Saudi/United Arab Emirates bombings of Yemen. Last year he cosponsored a bill that would return some of the president's war powers to Congress, in keeping with how the roles were constitutionally envisioned. After Lee made a similar plea in 2020, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) accused the Utah senator of "empowering the enemy."
Besides the ongoing Ukraine crisis, the Biden administration recently authorized the re-deployment of troops into Somalia—and the U.S. is still involved in the war in Yemen. Washington needs all the war skeptics it can get.