Why Won’t Mike Lee Endorse BFF Ted Cruz?

Utah Sen. Mike Lee is Ted Cruz’s closest friend in the Senate, according to Cruz’s memoir, yet Lee hasn’t yet endorsed Cruz’s presidential run. What gives?

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

In November 2010, Ted Cruz was in Washington, D.C., for a lawyers’ convention. He had attended each year for decades, but that year he met the man who would forever change his life… or at least become his closest friend in the Senate.

“Mike and I immediately bonded,” Cruz wrote in his book A Time for Truth, of Sen. Mike Lee, a fellow constitutional lawyer and Tea Party insurgent.

Cruz writes the two spent hours talking that day and became such good friends that a few months later, when Cruz launched his Senate campaign, Lee asked how he could help him.

“Sure, you could endorse me,” Cruz wrote.

When Lee agreed, becoming the first sitting senator to endorse Cruz, and then asked what else he could do, Cruz replied he could help reach out to other conservatives in the Senate.

Lee replied, according to Cruz, “Ted, I will move Heaven and Earth to get them to back you.”

But six years later, after countless hours on the Senate floor together, dozens of co-sponsored bills, and even a joint victory fundraising committee, Lee has yet to back his friend’s presidential bid.

Those close to Lee attribute his silence to the fact the Utah senator has relationships with Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul and is legitimately torn between his friends.

“He just flat out hasn’t made up his mind yet. It’s as simple as that. He’s looking for principled leadership, people to speak up on ideas… We work with both a lot, we agree on a lot, but we’ve had disagreements with both,” Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Lee, told The Daily Beast.

“Rubio has been great on higher education and transportation,” Carroll said. “Cruz worked with us on USA Freedom Act, which he’s been a great ally on, and for which he’s been attacked by Rubio. But we’ve also had disagreements with Cruz on criminal justice.”

But while Cruz may be the closest to Lee personally, he’s also the one who got him in the most trouble back home. In his memoir, Cruz said no one stood by him “more courageously or indispensably” during his 21-hour speech than Lee.

As the buddies toured the country ahead of the government shutdown, Lee’s approval in Utah plummeted and establishment Republicans in the state started to have their doubts about whether Lee was someone they wanted representing them in Washington.

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In October 2013, Lee’s approval rating in the state fell to just below 40 percent, according to the Utah Voter Poll at Brigham Young University. A majority of voters in that same poll called for Lee to compromise in order to avoid a government shutdown.

Lee has since bounced back from the edge—in part because he courted establishment Republicans in Utah to back his re-election—and is expected to cruise (no pun intended) to victory in 2016.

Spencer Stokes, Lee’s former chief of staff, said Lee’s troubles in Utah were long gone. “I think people have begun to understand in Utah the importance of what Mike is talking about,” he said.

And Lee’s brush with electoral disaster hasn’t kept him from continuing his friendship with Cruz. In 2014, the two buds stirred controversy when they posed together with a tiger skin rug. Cruz and Lee even had a joint fundraising apparatus—the Lee Cruz Victory Committee—which was established in 2014, raised just under $150,000 that year, and fizzled out.

“We did have a joint committee a couple of years ago. It was formed to do one event and then nothing happened after that,” Lee spokesman Carroll told The Daily Beast.

While it’s unclear how Lee could help Cruz with conservatives since the two of them have many of the same fans within the party, a nod from the Utah senator could help Rubio or Paul soothe nervous members of the base. And while Cruz is fond of saying he didn’t go to Washington to make friends, a snub from one he did make would have to hurt.

Asked if the Cruz campaign had a comment on why Lee hasn’t endorsed the Texas senator yet, a spokesman replied, “No, but thanks.”