Misconstruing the Message of Robert Bennett’s Defeat

The defeat of Robert Bennett in the Utah Republican convention has unleashed a torrent of overheated and silly analysis. For example, Politico intones:

Republican Sen. Robert Bennett was one of the most powerful and likable members of the Senate, he diligently protected Utah’s interests from his post in GOP leadership and he funneled millions of dollars back to his state as an appropriator. But Utah Republicans didn’t care. In fact, that’s exactly why they tossed him out Saturday in a humbling second ballot vote at the state party convention. … For Republicans who are measuring the drapes in anticipation of reclaiming power, Bennett’s loss should be sobering. If the anti-Washington and tea party winds keep blowing this strong, some of them could be measuring their own political graves.

Does it really mean that Republicans are imperiled and the voters are racing to elect Democrats to replace GOP stalwarts? No, of course not. What happened in Utah was the desire for a more authentic and, frankly, younger conservative voice. There is virtually no chance Utah’s seat will go to the Democrats. As Bill Kristol explained on Fox News Sunday:

Bennett was defeated by two very attractive, young conservatives who are now going into a primary runoff. And you know, one can say that he was defeated by the Tea Party, but he was actually defeated — if you look at these actual candidates, they’re impressive young conservatives who I think want to rethink fiscal policy and economic policy across the board in a much bolder way than an establishment Republican like Bob Bennett was willing to do.

But that’s not a story line that is attractive to the mainstream media — which desperately want to portray the anti-liberal sentiment sweeping the country as generically anti-Beltway. The delegates in Utah tossed Bennett because he was an insufficiently stalwart standard bearer of the small-government, anti-bailout phenomenon that is exciting the GOP base and sweeping up support from independents. As Politico acknowledges:

For others, their vote was primarily about adherence to orthodoxy on fiscal issues, a unifying cause of the tea party movement. It didn’t matter to them that Bennett favors gun rights, tougher immigration laws and even voted against President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. The first explanation offered by most delegates here referenced his vote for the TARP bailout program. A smattering of delegates even began chanting, “TARP, TARP, TARP” during one of Bennett’s floor speeches.

It stands to reason, then, that Democrats will be in more trouble, not less, than a Republican senator. So unless Democrats are running to the right of Republicans, it’s hard to see how Bennett’s defeat is good news for them.

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Misconstruing the Message of Robert Bennett’s Defeat

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