Amid the chorus of glee over Senator Robert Bennett’s needlessly ignominious political execution, let me sound a discordant note: This event is more about Utah’s caucus-style political nominating system than about Bennett’s supposed sins. Apparently the Senator’s worst misdeed was to vote for TARP. Is anyone really suggesting that vote as a basis for throwing out not only Bennett, who is Utah’s Mr. Republican, but virtually the entire Republican membership of the U.S. Senate?
In Utah’s caucuses, the political parties’ more extreme bases rule the nominating process – more, it seems, than in just about any other state. Before anyone gets too excited about Bennett’s ouster being an expression of national conservative outrage, let’s note that Representative Jim Matheson now faces a primary. Matheson is the lone Democrat in Utah’s delegation. His sin? Voting against Obamacare. In Utah’s caucus system, being insufficiently liberal can get you in as much trouble as not being conservative enough. I found this comment interesting:
Much in the same fashion as what Utah Conservatives accomplished against Senator Bennett, an ideological sense of pureness has overcome Utah Liberals, who want to remove their one chance of representation in Washington, because he isn’t big government enough…. if the Republican Caucus wants to emerge a stronger and healthier coalition come November, I would suggest a gameplan for maintaining a sense of Ronald Reagan’s big tent and his 80 percent friend, not a 20 percent foe approach. If we lose the Ronald Reagan Republican formation, than our movement will shrivel and die, especially if we don’t reinstate the Eleventh Commandment of Republican politics.
Writers in the blogosphere (including yours truly) often criticize our national political class. Well, Bennett is one of the good guys: decent, thoughtful, conservative, classy, and well-spoken. The hard-core anti-Bennett forces in Utah who, amid their gloating, are calling the Senator a RINO have a very heavy burden to carry in winning that argument. Others, like Dan Riehl, wonder whether the tea partiers are controlling the situation quite as much as they think they are.
The tea party movement is a great and important phenomenon, but excesses are excesses, no matter who commits them, and the Bennett episode was one. Excuse me if I don’t join in the celebration.