Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem joined Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in Salt Lake City Friday for a campaign event where the party stalwarts warned prospective state party delegates against the consolidation of government power.

“The federal government has gotten too big and too expensive because it’s doing things it was never intended to do,” Lee said during the event at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, flourishing a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution. “I want to take us back to the rulebook.”

The event pushed to mobilize voters ahead of next week’s caucuses by drawing on the star power of figures who are distinguished with the party base.

Dr. Fauci and ‘the tyranny of expertise’

The speakers enumerated a range of worries with the concentration of power, but the focus regularly returned to frustrations with federal COVID-19 policies and the public figure — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser — who they believe exemplifies the threat.

“When we’re talking about Fauci, we see a problem that has really ensnared us in a system of big government — it’s what some refer to as the tyranny of expertise. If America ever sees tyranny, it will come in the form of experts, masterminds, people who are so smart that people will defer to them in all things. And the only way that would ever work is if you accumulate all this power in the federal government,” said Lee, paraphrasing a 1930 speech from then-Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The speakers also rehashed the feud between Paul and Fauci.

“The real problem with Fauci, like anybody else (who says) ‘Listen to me, do as you’re told,’ is what if they’re wrong? And has he been wrong? And has he changed his mind a few times?” Paul asked the Utah crowd, eliciting an uproarious applause.

Paul, a self-described “libertarian-leaning senator,” was temporarily suspended from YouTube in 2021 after posting misleading COVID-19 content. But suspension seemed only to stoke his anger for mainstream scientific consensus and intensify an already bitter battle with Fauci, who accused the Kentucky senator of fueling threats of violence against him.

Paul, no stranger to political ire, including threats of attack by ax that were made against him, responded last January to say Fauci “deserves everything he gets and then some.”

At the Salt Lake City event, Paul explained the hostility between himself and the nation’s top infectious disease expert began with their disagreement over the use of steroids in treating coronavirus. Paul nonetheless admitted he’s “not against the vaccine,” and encouraged it for his wife and in-laws while choosing not to receive it himself because he’d already developed natural immunity.

“What matters is how much power he has. If he were a doctor in Peoria, you could ignore him and get yourself a new doctor. But he’s in charge of everybody,” Paul told the Utah crowd.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem addresses prospective state delegates of the Utah Republican Party at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 4, 2022. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Noem cheers fight against abortion

The speakers also spent time emphasizing their stance against abortion, especially South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who received booming applause when detailing her specific efforts, including a ban of so-called “telemedicine abortions,” or certain prescription pills, and when she boasted she is a named defendant in an upcoming Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood v. Noem.

“I put a full-time staffer in the governor’s office whose job description is to be the ‘unborn child advocate,’” said Noem. “I’m a mom. I’m a grandma. And what’s wonderful for those of us who believe in defending innocent life from the moment of conception is that science is backing us up more and more every single day.”

Noem, who made national headlines last month after signing a bill that bans transgender women and girls from playing on female athletic teams, has served as a state legislator, U.S. congresswoman and now state governor. She’s risen to prominence as a vocal critic of the Biden administration and its COVID-19 policies, combating vaccine mandates and deriding, while nonetheless accepting and spending, federal stimulus money.

The Utah appearance comes just weeks after Noem’s lauded speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, where she made news by slinging zingers at the media and Hollywood.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, left, Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem address prospective state delegates of the Utah Republican Party at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 4, 2022. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Emergency power

Lee plugged his proposed National Security Powers Act on Friday, which he says will help clarify the definition of a constitutionally valid act of war in reforming the War Powers Act and National Emergencies Act, which Lee called “a loaded, cocked weapon without a safety, left there on the table. Presidents can do all sorts of things with national emergencies. I want to put a fuse on that,” Lee said.

Paul went even further and intimated that unchecked emergency powers in the U.S. could create a situation akin to that seen in Egypt, where Paul said, “If you disagree with the president, you go to jail, there are no juries. If you’re a different religion, a coptic Christian, you go to jail. Shia minority Muslim, you go to jail.”

The discussion Friday touched briefly on the catastrophe in Ukraine, as the Republican trio said rising energy prices should be taken as a failure of the Biden administration and not the result of the Russian invasion.

“As (President Biden) sees what’s unfolding in Ukraine, he’s going to try and blame Vladimir Putin for our woes at home. ‘Oh, gas prices are going to go up, it’s Putin’s fault.’ No, it’s not,” Lee said.

The event provides a boost to Lee as he heads into an election facing several GOP challengers, including former state legislator Becky Edwards, business leader Ally Isom, and independent Evan McMullin. Democrat Kael Weston is also in the race.