Lee Quickly Raising His Profile Among Right-Leaning Commentariat

Sen. Mike Lee is starting to get some traction for his call for the GOP to stop being the “party of no” and embrace an agenda to fight poverty by creating more economic opportunity.

The New York Times Ross Douthat says Lee has gone from “leading the shutdown caucus to…delivering some of the best speeches of any right-of-center politician” during the Obama presidency. The problem is Lee’s ideas are not yet fleshed out, and haven’t yet been embraced by GOP leadership.

Overall, Lee sees America’s biggest problem as a slow-burning social crisis rather than a failure of Beltway Grand Bargaining, and as a result his policy goals are socially conservative, communitarian and populist rather than corporatist and technocratic: His vision of tax reform is family-centric, he’s interested in the crucial but unfashionable cause of overhauling the safety net to remove barriers to work, he sees prison and criminal justice reform as a more fruitful arena for left-right alliances than immigration reform, and his ideas on education reform and transportation policy are built around a thoughtful decentralism rather than the consolidating, top down, “we must compete with China” vision that animates a lot of centrist reformers in both areas.

Which is to say, while Lee is clearly offering a sketch, an outline, of a conservatism that reaches for the middle, it’s a different middle, with different priorities, than the one Fournier and so many others have chided the G.O.P. for failing to embrace.