'Ugly smears' against a Utah Senate candidate underscore the 'moral emptiness of today’s GOP': conservative

'Ugly smears' against a Utah Senate candidate underscore the 'moral emptiness of today’s GOP': conservative
Evan McMullin in October 2018 (Wikimedia Commons)

In most of the U.S. Senate races that reporters are paying close attention to, the two main contenders are a Democrat and a Republican: Democrat John Fetterman versus Republican Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock versus Republican Herschel Walker in Georgia, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan versus Republican “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance in Ohio. But a major exception is the U.S. Senate race in deep red Utah, where incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Lee’s main competitor isn’t a Democrat, but a Never Trump conservative and former Republican who is running as an independent: Evan McMullin.

The Bulwark’s William Saletan, himself a Never Trumper, examines this race in a think piece published on October 28. As Saletan sees it, the antics of MAGA Republicans in this race and others underscore the “moral emptiness” that the Trumpified GOP is bringing to the 2022 midterms.

While Lee is very much a Trump loyalist and supported the former president’s coup attempt in late 2020, McMullin has no use for Trump and hasn’t been shy about slamming the Big Lie as a fabrication. McMullin can be quite critical of President Joe Biden from a policy standpoint, but like Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, McMullin has made it abundantly clear that he views Biden as the loyal opposition and the legitimately elected president of the United States — not someone who stole an election via widespread voter fraud.

READ MORE: 'We trusted you': Evan McMullin collars GOP Senator Mike Lee over his role in Donald Trump's failed coup

“The most interesting political race of 2022 isn’t between a Democrat and a Republican,” Saletan writes. “It’s in Utah, where incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Lee faces independent challenger Evan McMullin. McMullin, a nearly lifelong Republican, is conservative on most issues, so Lee can’t beat him with the usual playbook: calling him woke or a tax-and-spender or a socialist. By neutralizing the GOP’s favorite lines of attack, McMullin has reduced the race to one crucial difference between the candidates: Lee’s complicity in Donald Trump’s schemes to undo the 2020 election.”

Saletan continues, “The Lee-McMullin race poses a difficult question: What exactly does the GOP stand for? Why should voters support a Republican senator against an opponent who agrees with him on policy but not on subverting democracy? If economic, moral, and foreign-policy conservatism no longer define the party, what does? What does it mean to be a Republican in 2022, beyond conspiring — or defending others who have conspired — to overturn elections when your party doesn’t win? McMullin is discovering that there are answers to that question, and they’re ugly.”

Utah’s Senate race has become a battle between a right-wing MAGA Republican and a right-wing non-MAGA ex-Republican. Saletan notes that because McMullin has promised not to caucus with either Republicans or Democrats if he wins, the Utah Democratic Party endorsed him — and Lee has responded by claiming that McMullin is “a Democrat running in disguise.”

Saletan slams Lee’s anti-McMullin attacks as “pure partisanship,” adding, “They’re about McMullin’s associations, not about issues. Lee talks about the Democratic Party the way red-baiters used to talk about the Communist Party: Any association with it is suspect. It’s true that McMullin courts Democratic voters and donors, along with independent and Republican voters and donors. That’s the whole point: McMullin is campaigning on unity. But to Lee, the Republican voters and donors are irrelevant. Consorting with Democrats, per se, is forbidden.”

READ MORE: 'Please get on board': Mike Lee goes on Fox News to beg Mitt Romney for help against 'fierce' Senate challenger

One of Lee’s cheerleaders has been Fox New’ Tucker Carlson, who, Saletan notes, likened McMullin to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (who is openly gay) in order to “insinuate that McMullin was gay.” McMullin is now married to a woman, but Carlson commented that in 2016, McMullin “was 40 years old, never married, and very obviously odd. Very odd.”

The “ugly” MAGA “smears” against McMullin, Saletan writes, demonstrate “the moral emptiness of today’s GOP.”

“A candidate who’s conservative on spending, values, and national security is under attack for courting Democrats, having been being unmarried in his thirties, refusing to vilify Dr. Fauci, affirming that black lives matter, and acknowledging that House Republicans tried to overturn the last election. In 2022, these are the taboos that define the Republican Party. Win or lose, McMullin has exposed them.”

READ MORE: How Fox News is giving Mike Lee an unfair advantage over challenger Evan McMullin: attorney

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