Bob Bennett Loses in Republican Fight: Purge of the RINOs?
In the leading edge of what is expected to be a minor wave, Utah Senator Bob Bennett was defeated in the Republican nominating process last evening.
Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah has lost his bid to serve a fourth term after failing to advance past the GOP state convention.
Attorney Mike Lee and businessman Tim Bridgewater are the remaining Republican candidates after Saturday’s vote.
Bennett was a distant third in the voting among roughly 3,500 delegates. He garnered just under 27 percent of the vote. Bridgewater had 37 percent and Lee 35 percent.
Bennett is the first incumbent to lose his seat in Washington this year, the victim of a conservative movement angered by rising taxes and the growth of government.
Bennett was targeted by tea party activists and other groups for supporting a massive bailout of the financial industry, securing earmarks for his state and for co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill to mandate health insurance coverage.
Chris Cillizza adds:
Utah Sen. Bob Bennett lost his bid to be nominated for a fourth term Saturday, defeated at the state Republican Party convention amid a strong conservative sentiment that threatens to unseat other establishment-backed Republicans in the months to come.
Bennett, who had spent the past two decades as a respected insider in the Senate, came under fire in recent months for what some claimed were his insufficient conservative bona fides.
Bennett’s critics cited his vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) as well as his seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee — both symbols, conservatives said, of his lack of commitment to shrinking the size of government.
While state Republicans had expressed uneasiness with Bennett, it was the DC-based Club for Growth that helped crystallize that opposition. The Club spent more than $200,000 on a combination of television ads, direct mail pieces and phone calls designed to influence the 3,500 (or so) delegates who attended Saturday’s state convention.
Of course, Arlen Specter switched parties ahead of what would surely have been a defeat in the Pennsylvania Republican primary. Additionally, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who easily re-elected in 2006, was so badly trailing upstart Marco Rubio that he, too, left the GOP to continue his Senate bid as an independent. Several other Republican incumbents are thought to be in trouble this year.
In Bennett’s case, it’s pretty much a no-brainer. It’s Utah, for goodness sake. If you can’t elect a staunch fiscal conservative Republican there, you might as well close up shop.
I’m less sanguine about Specter and Crist, however. Both Pennsylvania and Florida are purple states; arguably, Pennsylvania is a blue state at this point. So running off electable Republicans often means electing Democrats. While I understand the argument that there’s not much point in electing Republicans if they’re not going to adhere to the most basic principles of the party, electing a “RINO” is still usually a better alternative from the standpoint of conservatives than electing a Democrat.
At the same time, it’s interesting to see the “you’re not conservative enough” argument coming down to fiscal issues rather than social ones. Bennett and Crist, at least, lost favor because of their support of the stimulus package and other spending issues rather than, say, abortion.
UPDATE: Daniel Larison issues a small correction:
The only Republicans who supported the stimulus last year were Specter, Collins and Snowe. When opposition to the stimulus became a test of party-line discipline, everyone on the GOP side fell in line except for these three. So actually it was Specter and Crist who faced rebellions because of their support for the stimulus. As a matter of partisanship and ideology, rebelling against Specter for voting with the Obama administration is understandable. Likewise, rebelling against Crist for embracing an Obama administration policy is understandable. What Bennett did was to go along with a Bush administration proposal that three-quarters of his Republican colleagues and three-quarters of the Senate supported. He wasn’t some lone turncoat joining an initiative identified entirely with the other party. I agree that it was a terrible proposal and Bennett was wrong to support it, but he was just one of a great many in the wrong. He also co-sponsored a health care bill that I think small-government conservatives are right to oppose, but which at least two of his incumbent colleagues up for re-election this year (Grassley and Crapo) have also supported at one time or another, and apparently they have done this without any negative political consequences.
Fair enough. Many of us conflate the various bailout and stimulus packages, even though the Bush-era bailouts were rubber stamped by most Congressional Republicans.
I’ll note that my opposition has been steadfast throughout the process: I opposed TARP for a whole host of reasons — most of which have been vindicated by history — and excoriated Bush for his bailout of the car companies over the objection of Congress. Further, I said at the time that John McCain missed his one chance for a Hail Mary that might have actually counted for something when, after his infamous suspension of his campaign to focus on the fiscal crisis, he wound up going along with TARP rather than taking a bold NO BAILOUTS stance.
Practical governance and ideological belief are, of course, different things. It’s mighty hard for a sitting politician to appear to do nothing while major corporations go under, threatening to turn a major recession into a depression. So, I get why Bennett and Crist acted as they did. But I won’t shed a tear for their miscalculating the politics of this one, either.