Glenn Beck explains why Sen. Lee and Trump fall on opposite sides of Utah endorsements

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks as President Donald Trump looks on at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Dec. 4, 2017. Lee and Trump are on opposite sides of two hotly contested congressional races this primary season.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks as President Donald Trump looks on at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Dec. 4, 2017. Lee and Trump are on opposite sides of two hotly contested congressional races this primary season. (Jeffrey D. Allred)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mike Lee and former President Donald Trump are on opposite sides of two hotly contested congressional races this primary season, including a key district in Utah.

The conservative heavyweights backed different contenders in "the House GOP's nastiest primary," where the election between Lee's choice, House Freedom Caucus chair Bob Good, and the Trump-endorsed candidate, Virginia state Sen. John McGuire, remained too close to call midday on Wednesday.

Lee and Trump also issued split endorsements in Utah's 2nd Congressional District, where Lee unexpectedly endorsed House Freedom Caucus hopeful Colby Jenkins while incumbent Rep. Celeste Maloy received Trump's nod on Monday. The two candidates face off in Tuesday's Republican primary.

Though Lee and Trump are betting against each other in the Beehive State, the would-be GOP kingmakers are not at odds, according to conversations with some of the nation's top Republican Party insiders.

Why did Lee and Trump endorse different candidates?

"I don't want to pit Mike (Lee) and Donald Trump against each other because they're not against each other," conservative host Glenn Beck told the Deseret News. "I understand both of them. And this is all just part of the process."

Both Trump and Lee see the 2024 election as existential to the future of the United States of America — a moment when "the Constitution is hanging by a thread," Beck said. Their conflicting endorsements represent different objectives on a path to the same stated goal: securing a Republican majority capable and willing to pull the country back from the brink.

"Right now, Mike Lee is focusing as much as he can on those people that will save the republic by protecting and defending the Constitution," while Trump, with GOP control in Congress up in the air, "is also focused on winning," Beck said. "There's nothing wrong with either one of those approaches."

For Lee, that means backing House Freedom Caucus members who he says will stand up for conservative principles regardless of political costs. For Trump, that looks like backing loyal, but not raucous, candidates who will advance his agenda in a potential second term.

That's according to one former senior Trump official who previously participated in Trump's endorsement process.

"It's about the former president now assuming the role of coming together and getting all hands on deck to win in November. ... Whereas in the case of Mike Lee, he has made a decision to start trying to make the caucus, and in particular, his delegation, as conservative as possible under the premise that if we don't, we're never going to solve the big problems that we face," the former Trump official said.

"I don't think it actually puts them at odds with one another," the source continued. "I just think that they have different objectives in front of them because one is a senator and the other is the nominee of his party for president."

A tale of two endorsements

Lee abandoned longtime personal policy when he endorsed his congressional colleague's opponent just two days before the Utah GOP convention in April. At the convention, Jenkins came out ahead of Maloy 57%-43%, forcing a primary for both candidates after Lee asked delegates to back the Army veteran who he promised would be a "warrior" in Congress.

Since his endorsement, the senator has gone all in for Jenkins, securing endorsements — including from the PAC supporting House Freedom Caucus members — sending out fundraising messages and stumping for him at multiple campaign events.

"In making political endorsements, I look for candidates who will be reliable advocates for constitutionally limited government and hardworking families," Lee told the Deseret News in a statement. "Sometimes that puts me on the other side of GOP leaders in Congress, campaign consultants, and lobbyists. But that's OK — I work for the people of Utah, not the swamp."

But Trump's endorsement of Maloy could provide a serious counterweight for the people of Utah voting in the 2nd District primary.

"I think the president's endorsement is going to trump anything that Senator Lee wants to do," said Adam Jones, who has worked on multiple Republican presidential campaigns and oversaw Utah Rep. Burgess Owens' 2020 win.

Trump endorsed Maloy Monday afternoon in a Truth Social post that said the seven-month incumbent is fighting to secure the border and individual rights. A Deseret News poll, also released on Monday, found that nearly 4 out of 10 Utah Republican primary voters are more likely to support a candidate endorsed by the former president.

Trump's endorsement of Maloy follows endorsements from two of his top cabinet officials — former National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien and former Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. Maloy has also been endorsed by Utah's entire House delegation, and House Speaker Mike Johnson, who was with Trump discussing how to "grow our House Republican majority" just hours before Trump endorsed Maloy, according to the speaker's X account.

Shortly after Trump weighed in on the 2nd district primary, Lee posted a defense of Jenkins, saying he would be a lawmaker that would not "drink the Swamp Kool-Aid," and said in reply to a comment that Trump's endorsement of Maloy was the product of "Bad advice."

"I think whoever is advising him on some of these things are just wrong. And that doesn't mean that we're a divided party or anything else," Beck told the Deseret News. "This is normal for half of the country trying to find the right people to execute the laws and create new laws. It's not a division."

Trump's endorsement against the House Freedom Caucus chairman in Virginia has also drawn the ire of fellow conservatives.

As a member, and now head, of the active House GOP group, Good made a name for himself opposing spending bills and helping oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy subsequently launched an effort to remove Good by supporting his challenger, McGuire, a former Navy SEAL.

Trump added his support for McGuire in late May, citing Good's previous endorsement of Trump's GOP presidential opponent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, as his justification.

Lee responded the same day, reiterating his former endorsement of Good, "He's an exceptionally rare and valuable statesman — one who's willing fight and sacrifice for the good of our country."

Ideologically principled or politically expedient?

If there's one principle guiding Trump's endorsements, it is winning, according to Jones, the Republican campaign consultant.

"And oftentimes the candidate who can win in a district isn't the most conservative or the most 'pure,'" Jones said. "Some of these endorsements that Trump is making are politically wise to put him in the best position to govern post-November."

Beck said Trump "knows he can't do the things that he wants to do without a majority in both the House and the Senate." But in deep-red districts like Good's and Maloy's, where a Republican is almost certain to win, Beck said he and Lee would "urge caution on some of these candidates."

"Because we understand, and I think many Americans understand, that the problem with our country is we no longer agree on basics that were our 'unum' that brought us together, and those are found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights," Beck said. "Donald Trump will be focused on those things, I pray, when he gets into office because this is the only road back to unity."

Prior to his endorsement of Maloy, Trump put his thumb on the scale in Utah's crowded Senate race to replace Mitt Romney. The former president endorsed Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs hours before the state convention, which Staggs won in a landslide.

In a poll conducted in early June by HarrisX for the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics, Congressman John Curtis was ahead of Staggs 34% to 16%, with 33% of voters saying they were unsure.

Lee made his second ever endorsement in a Utah congressional primary on Monday, backing state Sen. Mike Kennedy in his bid to replace 3rd District congressman John Curtis.

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Utah congressional delegationUtahPoliticsSalt Lake County
Brigham Tomco
Brigham Tomco covers Utah’s congressional delegation for the national politics team at the Deseret News. A Utah native, Brigham studied journalism and philosophy at Brigham Young University. He enjoys podcasts, historical nonfiction and going to the park with his wife and two boys.

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