Utah Sen. Mike Lee said Tuesday that the turmoil he and others have fomented in the Republican Party is all part of a Reaganesque revolution that will return the GOP to its glory days.
“The gaping hole in the middle of the Republican party today, the one that separates the grass roots from the establishment leaders, is precisely the size and shape of a new unifying conservative reform agenda,” Lee said in a speech Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation. “The establishment will not produce that agenda.”
In the speech entitled “What’s Next for Conservatives,” Lee characterized his leading role in the government shutdown as part of a touchstone moment for Republicans fed up with party leaders who have strayed too far from conservative ideals.
The GOP faces sagging approval ratings from its unsuccessful stand to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, but according to Lee, the fight evokes memories of Reagan and like-minded Republicans bucking the party line in favor of more conservative ideals in the late 1970s.
At the time, pundits said the infighting served only to elect Democrats, Lee explained, but history would prove them wrong. And if Lee and others like him continue fighting, “our own vindication, our generation’s own 1980 is just around the corner,” he said.
However, to achieve this goal, Republicans have to be willing to come up with new ideas and embrace debate.
“Conservative activists and intellectuals are still providing new energy and providing new ideas, but on the whole, elected Republicans and candidates have not held up our end,” he said. “The party establishment clings to its 1970s agenda like a security blanket.”
Lee began his speech by tearing into Obamacare, calling it unaffordable and bemoaning Americans being forced into it and its “bungled website.”
“This has been quite an extraordinary month in Washington,” he said. “You know, this all began with an effort to stop Obamacare — a goal that all Republicans share, even if we do not always agree just how to pursue it.”
Lee acknowledged those Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and House members, who fought to defund Obamacare, but he did not give credit to Senate Republicans writ large.
Still, Lee said party members should be debating their own health care reforms.
“Our movement has to be intensely engaged not only in the fight to repeal, but in the debate to replace Obamacare,” he said. “That debate is not over. In fact, it’s only just beginning.”
In opposing the Affordable Care Act, conservatives have developed “ideas not only superior to Obamacare; they are superior to the old status quo before Obamacare,” Lee said, citing recent work by the House Republican Study Committee, the Heritage Foundation and others.
“Unity cannot come at the expense of creativity,” he said.
Lee spent large parts of his speech calling for Republicans to creatively address poverty and corporate cronyism. He also spoke at length about legislation he’s been working on.
Nonetheless, he ended the speech as he began, looking optimistically at the failed efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act and calling for an open debate on the soul of the Republican party.
“Conservatism is not a narrow ideology, nor is it the exclusive property of Republican activists,” he declared.