Over the weekend, due to a rather kooky party-nomination system, Utah Republicans dumped three-term senator Bob Bennett and cancelled his prospects at re-election. The reaction among the political class to Bennett’s ouster has been entertaining in its conformity with expectations.
“This is a damn outrage, to be honest,” said the New York Times’ David Brooks, who advertises himself as a conservative to the laughter of authentic adherents to the movement, on Meet The Press Sunday. “This is a guy who was a good Senator and he was a good Senator and a good conservative, but a good conservative who was trying to get things done.”
Brooks went on to tout Bennett’s participation with leftist Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden on a rejected healthcare plan which included most of the worst aspects of what eventually became Obamacare as a “substantive, serious bill” and defended Bennett for his vote for the TARP bill.
He, and others, are contributing to a media narrative of Bennett as a good guy brought low by Tea Party crazies who are destroying the Republican Party and, with it, the opportunity for bi-partisan solutions to America’s problems. On the same show, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne said:
And I think that something’s happening inside the Republican Party that I think in the long run won’t be good for the Republican Party. You just had an election in Britain where David Cameron, the conservative, almost got a majority by saying we need to de-toxicfy, take the rough edges off conservatism, appeal to a broader constituency. And here you have a state party convention, by the way, not a primary. It’s almost a non-violent coup because they denied the sitting Senator even a chance of getting on the primary ballot. And I think the party in the long run risks a backlash among voters who may not be liberal at all, but don’t like this kind of politics.
(Hat tip: Newsbusters, which has a good piece on the establishment reaction to Bennett’s forced retirement.)
Just in those two quotes there is a great deal to unpack. But as usual, though he’s a consummate Washington insider George Will proves he maintains a finger on the pulse of the American voter:
This is an anti-Washington year. How do you get more Washington than a three-term Senator who occupies the seat once held by his father, a four-term Senator, who before that worked on the Senate staff and then as a lobbyist in Washington? He’s a wonderful man and a terrific Senator. But the fact is, he’s going against terrific head-winds this year and he cast three votes: TARP, stimulus and an individual mandate for health care. Now, you might like one, two or all three of those, but being opposed to them is not outside the mainstream of American political argument.
Advantage Will, who understands that what the Beltway cookie-pusher set thinks about issues like this is (1) usually wrong and (2) overly full of itself.
Bennett has been ranked as the eighth-least conservative Republican Senator despite hailing from the most conservative state in the country, which makes him something of an outlier and one might argue he’s lucky to have made it as far as he has.
And it isn’t hard to understand why Republican voters ready to throw the bums out would be interested in dumping a guy whose attitude is reflected in this comment made after he lost:
“The political atmosphere, obviously, has been toxic and it’s very clear some of the votes that I have cast have added to the toxic environment,” he said, choking up. “Looking back on them, with one or two very minor exceptions, I wouldn’t have cast them any differently even if I’d known at the time it would cost me my career.”
Bennett has a history of questionable ties to Fannie Mae, where his son works, and he’s known as an “appropriator,” whose value in the Senate has been appreciated as a function of how much federal swag he’s been able to drag home to Utah. He’s also the guy who called the Constitution “an outmoded document of an agrarian society.”
The fact is, the man was in Washington far too long, and like too many politicians in both parties Bennett was representing DC to his constituents rather than the other way around. It was time for him to go, and the consternation of Beltway media types at his loss indicates a profound misunderstanding of the concept of citizen legislators the representative branch is supposed to be composed of.
But more than that, the idea that right-wing kooks are tearing down the Republican Party because Utah conservatives turned out a RINO in an attempt to get someone who more reliably will represent their interests is downright offensive. It’s offensive because it challenges the right of the people to select the representatives they want, it’s offensive because it implies that Bennett’s entitled attitude toward his seat (one which is shared by fellow Senate dinosaurs like Arlen Specter) has support from the Establishment and it’s offensive because it asserts that true conservatism – that strain of thought informed by that “outmoded document” Bennett has such little use for – is somehow unelectable or out of the mainstream in a country where conservatives outnumber “liberals” by a two-to-one margin.
Bennett’s loss won’t cost the GOP that Senate seat in Utah. It will cost the Obama administration a pliant Republican who thinks it’s a good idea to “reach across the aisle” and help pass bad legislation, but when push comes to shove those of us in the conservative movement believe it’s bi-partisan socialism which has put America on the unsustainable path we’re on and a healthy dose of GOP obstructionism and “hell, no” is precisely what will win in the Age Of Obama.
We’ll see who’s right. But it seems the only people crying for Bob Bennett are inside the Beltway. That’s not much of an endorsement.