— SALT LAKE CITY — When Mike Lee toppled longtime Republican Sen. Robert Bennett here in 2010, it was the tea party's first big triumph. But now, after a 16-day government shutdown, it's Lee who faces a revolt within his own party.
Utah, one of the most Republican states in the nation, has a long tradition of being represented by pragmatic, business-minded conservatives in the U.S. Senate. Lee broke that pattern by governing as an ideological firebrand — standing alongside Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the push for a shutdown in a failed bid to undermine the Affordable Care Act, the health-care law backed by President Barack Obama.
As a result, Lee's approval ratings in Utah have cratered, and prominent Republicans and local business executives are openly discussing the possibility of mounting a primary challenge against him. Top Republicans are also maneuvering to redesign the party's nomination system in a way that would likely make it more difficult for Lee to win reelection in 2016.
To hear grievances with Lee's no-compromise, no-apology governing style, just head to the executive floor of Zions Bank, founded by Mormon settler Brigham Young. Bank President A. Scott Anderson, who raised money for Lee three years ago, sat in his corner office this week harboring second thoughts.
"I think people admire him for sticking to his guns and principles, but I think there are growing frustrations," Anderson said. "If things are to happen, you can't just stick to your principles. You have to make things work. . . . You've got to be practical."
Spencer Zwick, a Utah native and national finance chairman for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, was more direct, calling Lee a "show horse" who "just wants to be a spectacle."