May 12th, 2010

Why Senator Bennett Lost

photo credit: CSE/UVU

It has been an interesting experience witnessing the political spin and media analysis resulting from this weekend’s Utah Republican nominating convention. There the delegates accomplished a feat that few imagined possible until recent weeks: terminating the re-election bid of a powerful, wealthy, well-connected, three term incumbent who has not been marred by any scandal or major controversy.

Along the way, Utah GOP state delegates have been called all sorts of names as a result of their actions: extreme, right-wing tea-baggers, intolerant, and courtesy of Utah’s own Chris Cannon, ignorant. Few media outlets are reporting the truth, namely, that those who imposed a term limit on the incumbent are informed patriots who scrutinized Bennett’s record in detail, found it in many important instances wholly inconsistent with the principles of the party’s platform, and determined to become involved in the political process in order to ensure consequences were enacted accordingly.

If you listen to the D.C. press, you’d think that the delegates were a pack of rabid hyenas playing “king of the hill”. Consider a couple examples:

As for the bigger picture, Bennett’s convention defeat is yet another reminder of a Republican Party that has very little tolerance for those who fail to toe the right-wing line in every instance. The examples keep piling up — Arlen Specter, Dede Scozzafava, Charlie Crist — and the “purge” is likely not complete. The goal, apparently, is to create a smaller, more rigid, less reasonable party, which discourages diversity of thought.

Utah’s results also send a message to Republican lawmakers who might consider constructive lawmaking: don’t do it. The GOP base doesn’t want responsible leaders who’ll try to solve problems; it wants hard-right ideologues. (source)


The long-promised purge is on, in other words, and anyone fantasizing about bipartisanship can choke on that hope.

But in purging impure Republicans from the ranks, Tea Partyers ultimately may manage to further shrink the GOP by alienating those repelled by purity tests. Nothing dissuades like righteousness. And though Tea Partyers pledge allegiance to no party, Republicans clearly are more aligned with Tea Party principles than are Democrats.

If good-faith, conservative legislators such as Bennett fail to pass muster, who will be brave enough to legislate?

If no one, then what? (source)

Further adding to the fomenting rage, we have some highlights compiled in yesterday’s op-ed by Jonah Goldberg:

Inside the Beltway, the shock is even more profound. Most of the news stories describe Bennett as being “ousted” or “kicked out” of the GOP, as if he didn’t lose the contest fair and square. The pundits’ descriptions are even more stark. “A guy like Bob Bennett, who is a right-wing conservative, is being driven out because he’s not sufficiently conservative?” asked an incredulous Juan Williams on Fox News. “If I lived in Utah, I’m going to give up Bob Bennett and his seniority and connections?”

On Meet the Press, New York Times columnist David Brooks fumed, “This is a damn outrage.” The Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne Jr. lamented, “It’s almost a nonviolent coup.” Presumably he meant it was almost a coup, not almost nonviolent. Regardless, it’s a curious way to describe a perfectly peaceful democratic process.

The conventional Beltway interpretation is that Bennett fell victim to the growing right-wing “extremism” of the Republican party, fueled by those Huns, the “tea partiers.”

This is not an altogether crazy interpretation, but it is an insufficient one. It assumes that those who voted him out at the state GOP convention were irrational ideologues who cannot grasp their own interests.

What they’re not letting on to is that Senator Bennett was not a “good-faith conservative legislator”, nor an “outstanding conservative”, as Mitch McConnell said, and that “constructive lawmaking” is an insidious synonym for what really is selling out the American people and running roughshod over the Constitution to which our “representatives” have sworn an oath. Ignoring the fact that tea partiers did not dominate the convention as heavily as was claimed, the press seem unwilling to concede that informed constituents of the Senator simply do not like what he’s been up to.

One commentator lamented that “We are in a moment when anger seems more important than experience or wisdom.” As a state delegate myself, I take issue with calling the incumbent wise, and experience is not a favorable point when it is used to repeatedly pursue legislation for which Congress has not been granted authority. Prostitutes have experience, but I would not recommend them as potential romantic interests. Likewise, a Senator who time and time again votes against liberty, against limited government, and against wise and prudent use of my forcibly confiscated money through taxation has experience that I simply cannot see as a reason for support.

But what about anger? Yes, I am angry. We are trillions of dollars in debt, we have soldiers in over 140 countries, we have a massive federal government that has exceeded its constitutional bounds continuously and at an alarming pace, we have two political parties that at their core have become so similar as to be indistinguishable, we have a devalued dollar, smothering amounts of regulation, and a long list of other issues that keep me up in the night wondering what my reaction and response should be. I’m angry—not in a heated, aggressive way, but in a channeled and productive manner; voicing my concern and voting my mind is one of many outlets for this increasingly pressurized steam. I balance anger, however, with information and dedication to principle. My vote to remove the incumbent from office was not out of spite, nor a vote against him. It was, rather, a vote for the things he has come to stand against: life, liberty, and my own pursuit of happiness.

Senator Bennett did not lose because of TARP, his health care bill, or any one vote. He lost because his voting record as a whole was substandard and without excuse. He lost because he had shown through repeated votes that he was no friend of the Constitution. He lost because he was not a truth teller; last year he derided the Constitution as “an outmoded document for an agrarian society,” while as recently as last week, while trying to court Constitution-loving delegates, said such things as “I yield to no one in my respect and love for the Constitution,” and “My oath of office to uphold and defend [the Constitution] is as sacred to me as any other covenant I have ever made.” He even went so far as to state that he refers to himself as a “constitutionalist”. In the end, Senator Bennett’s record spoke far louder than his words—especially those preceding an important election.

Our beloved commentator referenced above concluded his diatribe with the following: “The departure of Senator Bob Bennett is a small event in a national tidal wave of witless extremism and thoughtlessness.” He errs in assuming that the delegates have given no thought to their actions. To the contrary, most delegates spent several hours per day assuming their duties and preparing to cast an informed vote. Far from extreme, these delegates have been selected as guardians of the party, and ultimately determined that the incumbent did not sufficiently adhere to the party’s platform and the Constitution to which he swore an oath, despite his alleged respect and love for it.

Bennett’s partner-in-crime on his preferred health care legislation has responded that “The Congress cannot and will not function properly if legislators are no longer allowed to govern responsibly and independently.” It is with the intent of ensuring that Congress does govern more responsibly that the incumbent has been denied his party’s nomination. As for independence—another term for ignoring the will of the people and the principles to which elected officials should adhere—we’re through with it. We’ve had enough mavericks, independents, and flip-flopping, power-seeking politicians; it’s time for some fidelity to principle and real statesmanship.

34 Responses to “Why Senator Bennett Lost”

  1. Connor
    May 12, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    Do I need to start adding disclaimers to my posts? During the campaign, some people have taken my personal opinions as somehow indicative of Mike Lee’s policies.

    For those who don’t already understand and assume this: the thoughts expressed here are mine, and mine alone. I am not speaking for Mike’s campaign, nor does he necessarily agree with what I say. These are my personal observations and opinions, consistent with what I’ve been writing about for years. Nobody on the campaign, including Mike, has suggested, sanctioned, or screened what I have written.

    Clear? Good. 🙂

  2. David
    May 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    Thanks for articulating that this is not blind hatred or uninformed Puritanism. Of course those who think that will disbelieve or ignore you but at least the truth has been spoken.

    As for you being the official spokesman for the Mike Lee campaign (as some have seemed to believe) if the campaign had screened or sactioned your post there is no way they would have allowed you to keep the prostitute analogy side by side with the reference to Bennett and his record.

  3. jasonthe
    May 12, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    The strangest part of this post is that in the final few paragraphs you actually go a long way toward legitimizing the very things you say these purveyors of “what happened” got wrong. “Partner in crime”? And the crime was? (You see my point)

    Just pointing out the irony.

  4. Jeremiah
    May 12, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more. I also was a state delegate. I personally wrestled with who would receive my support at the convention. In the end, I chose a candidate who did not say one thing and then spend 18 years doing something else. Those who opposed Bennett were angry. They ARE angry. And with good reason too. Having a politician allow our country to be destroyed on his watch and then say that he’s the only one who can fix it is not something that sits well with me and it obviously doesn’t sit well with a lot of others either.

  5. Connor
    May 12, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    “Partner in crime”? And the crime was?

    It’s an expression, Jason, not an indictment of actual crime. (Although those who, like myself, believe the individual mandate and other portions of that legislation to be completely unconstitutional, might consider it worthy of some form of punishment [removal from office?], though not literally criminal.)

  6. SpecKK
    May 12, 2010 at 3:45 pm #

    The lie that has me upset is that people are complaining about this being some sort of secret process, when representative democracy worked. Sure, 571,100 Utahn’s voted for McCain a few years ago while ~70,000 showed up at the Republican caucus. 12% of nationally expressed Republicans for a Caucus is fairly respectable (and I held onto independence for many years before I affiliated Republican). In a couple months we’ll see how many people vote in the primaries, and I doubt that turnout numbers will double from 70k to 140k.

    The 3500 delegates at the Utah Republican state convention did a much better job of representing Utah than the 535 “professional” representatives that claim to represent all Americans in DC. It was definitely more representative of Utahns than an open Primary with all 8 senate candidates, given Bennett’s millions of dollars in out of state money and his demonstrated tactics of fighting dirty.

    p.s. Connor, it can’t hurt to put a disclaimer on the bottom of your standard web page until November.

  7. Jim Davis
    May 12, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

    Extremism is relative. Depending on where you stand on any social, political, or cultural spectrum you’ll view anyone “too ideologically distant” as an extremist.

    In my mind almost everyone in DC and in the media who are accusing our state delegates as being “extreme” are actually the extremists. Our state delegates took a stand on principles of liberty and the Constitution. Those don’t seem like extreme ideas to me.

  8. John C.
    May 12, 2010 at 8:22 pm #

    Connor et al.,
    Can reasonable, well-meaning people interpret the Constitution in more than one way? Because everything here seems to imply that there is only one possible reasonable and well-intentioned way to understand the Constitution (and that you know it).

  9. John C.
    May 12, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    Also, where did that Bennett quote about the Constitution being outdated come from? A quick google search only cited you as a source.

  10. Connor
    May 12, 2010 at 8:28 pm #

    Can reasonable, well-meaning people interpret the Constitution in more than one way?

    Sure, on certain points. On many others, including the individual mandate as the example here referenced, no—there is no constitutional authority for it whatsoever.

    Also, where did that Bennett quote about the Constitution being outdated come from?

    It came from a breakfast meeting held with the Utah County Republican state legislators at Mimi’s Cafe by Senator Bennett. I have the written testimony of several of the legislators (whom I consider trustworthy) there confirming what was said and corroborating each others’ stories.

  11. John C.
    May 12, 2010 at 10:26 pm #

    So then why do some people argue that it is constitutional? Are they all doing it simply for self-benefit? It just seems odd.

    As a counter-example, I think that the AZ immigration law is clearly unconstitutional, but many people seem to think it is just fine.

    My brother was a state delegate at the Republican Convention. He is a limited government conservative (pretty much unlike me). He was really upset with the way the convention turned out (so much so that he actually briefly flirted with joining the Dems). I doubt he will (being a limited government conservative), but the behavior of the delegates struck him as extreme. Of course, as has been noted, extremism is in the eye of the beholder (and my brother was much more incensed about anti-immigrant rhetoric than anti-entitlement rhetoric).

    In any case, I’m skeptical that your political opponents deeply want to spit all over the Constitution. As someone who only very occasionally agrees with you on politics, I like the Constitution. I don’t read it as prohibiting some programs to help the destitute. I don’t think the Great Society was necessarily all that great, but I think that providing some form of safety net can be a good thing. And I think that we could do it without infringing on anyone’s inherent rights (or, at least, without infringing rights that people weren’t already willing to have infringed). Admittedly, this could be naive, but I prefer its ideals to most of what libertarian conservatism offers. C’est la vie.

    Finally, regarding the quote, it seems odd that Bennett would choose to shoot himself in the foot like that. Perhaps if he was talking to communist revolutionaries, that quote would fit in context, but he was talking to Utah County Republican delegates at Mimi’s Cafe. Perhaps he was provoked? Perhaps he was joking? I’ve no reason to doubt the quote, but I wonder about the whole story. As it is, it sounds like he kicked someone’s baby, which isn’t what a 3-term senator would typically do.

  12. Michelle
    May 12, 2010 at 11:19 pm #

    I guess what I would have liked to see more of in the process was less focus on whom folks wanted to get *out* of office and more focus on they voted whoever they voted *in.* When people talked about not liking incumbents (e.g., Bennett) in my caucus, I don’t remember a lot of constructive talk about what and whom they *did* like. The notion of “anti-incumbent” felt like it did the thinking for too many, imo.

    BTW, I’m not against the notion of ‘new blood’ along the way, and I appreciate passion for principle, but all of this process did end up feeling too extreme to me. I’m not convinced this will all end up being a good thing for Utah, but I’m willing to wait and watch.

    I also agree with John that there may be different ways to interpret the Constitution. I think a key part of politics (were it to actually work as it should) includes people w/ different perspectives counseling together to sort through these issues where there are differences.)

    BTW, Connor, I’m hoping you will be sharing more of why you like Lee as this all moves forward. How do you think he’ll be able to make a real difference, given how many problems we do have in Washington?

  13. Jim Davis
    May 12, 2010 at 11:29 pm #

    Michelle, touche!

    I’m growing weary of this “anti-incumbent” mentality as well. Not enough people are saying what they stand for. But we are hearing plenty about what they’re against.

    We don’t necessarily need “new blood”. We need “good blood”. Time will tell if this ‘change’ is really worth celebrating.

  14. John C.
    May 13, 2010 at 9:26 am #

    For what it is worth, here is a profile by a clearly biased observer (he is a socialist). He repeats the same things over and over again about the demographics of the Tea Party movement (so there’s that), but he has interesting things to say about the background of Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater.

    • Connor
      May 13, 2010 at 9:33 am #

      John, I read that article the other day. It is loaded with incorrect information. Mike did not make $600k in a year, FreedomWorks did not “make” him or really have any major role in this election cycle (that would be Club For Growth), his defense of ES by no means is an endorsement of their business practices as a whole, Mike has indeed decried both the creation and message of that youtube video, etc…

  15. TommyK
    May 13, 2010 at 9:32 am #

    @Jim Davis, Could you paint with broader strokes, please? “Anti-incumbent?” Sounds to me like a generalization designed to disparage those of us who wanted to see at least one incumbent removed; it implies we wanted him out for no better reason than that he was in.

    I, for one, am glad to see Bennett denied the chance to go back to Washington and say one thing and do another, but at the same time I feel that Chaffetz has done a great job of representing his district while keeping his oath of office. Similarly, I would prefer to see Gov. Herbert retain his current office in my state.

    @John C, Sure there may be some reasonable disagreement about the meaning of the language of the Constitution. But, when it says “The Congress shall make no law…” or “…shall not be infringed” or “…are reserved to the States respectively, or to the People”, I think there are many instances of language that is plainer and more readily understandable than operations in any of the 3 branches of the U.S. government would seem to indicate.

  16. Ed Roberts
    May 13, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    To John C’s #11:
    “He was really upset with the way the convention turned out (so much so that he actually briefly flirted with joining the Dems). I doubt he will (being a limited government conservative),”

    Oh, yes indeed. He certainly sounds like a “limited government conservative” to me. [/sarcasm]

    Are you sure you didn’t mean to say that your (fictional?) brother is a limited option government conservationist?

    That’s what the GOP actually stands for: conserving the status quo. There’s no place in the GOP for anyone who actually holds on to the quaint notion that the US Constitution is a set of limits for the federal government and that it is the supreme law of the land.

  17. Michelle S.
    May 13, 2010 at 10:37 am #

    John C.,
    “Anti-immigrant rhetoric” at the convention or anit-illegal immigration rhetoric? There is quite a difference between the two, so please be clear and honest about what was actually said.

  18. David
    May 13, 2010 at 10:46 am #

    Michelle and John,

    I think we need more coverage of what people do want. It’s not that nobody is saying what they want but what they are against gets more coverage. I don’t pretend to speak for anyone else but I wrote a series of articles starting in September of 2009 talking about what I want in a Senator or Representative. You can read it here.

    Also John, I like your comment that we need to be focused on getting good blood rather than simply new blood.

  19. John C.
    May 13, 2010 at 12:46 pm #

    You don’t know my brother, so, respectfully, shut up. Such a move would be a 180 degree change for him, but he was really upset after the convention. In any case, I doubt he would pursue it (as I said). He isn’t a Dem (not even a moderate one).

    I think that traditionally the US Congress has interpreted the 10th amendment weakly (as has the US Supreme Court). And there have certainly been times when the National gov’t was correct to step into areas seemingly reserved to the states. I think that all sides of the Constitutional debate recognize that there should be a separation of state and federal powers and that there are things the state should do and the federal gov’t should do. I don’t have the impression that most sides draw those lines exactly the way the Constitution seems to, but it has worked for over 200 years now. I think we’re okay.

    I don’t know who they supported, but I heard that Freedomworks was involved in the campaign in some capacity a couple of months ago. I’m assuming that this comes from releases regarding donations. I’ll try and find my source on that if you like. That’s also the second place I saw the $600k number (which, in the other source, was apparently in a campaign filing). That said, both are from the internet and could therefore be wrong. Do you have anything to add about the references being made to Bridgewater?

    I would assume it was anti-illegal-immigrant in form, but my brother’s impression was that it wasn’t in spirit. But he was just one guy and this was one of the big issues for him, so he may have been overly sensitive to it.

    It was Jim who said that, not I, but I’m happy to take credit for it because it is a good point.

    Have ya’ll seen the “Contract from America“? If so, would you say that it is a good description of what you are after?

  20. Jim Davis
    May 13, 2010 at 1:21 pm #


    My comment, in context (read comment #7), was not a generalization meant to disparage everyone who wanted Bennett removed. I wanted Bennett removed for good reasons… But there are a lot of people (not anyone here) who can’t articulate what type of change they want in his place. They think that change, for the sake of change, is somehow going to save this country. What I believe is that we can improve our situation by electing statesmen who respect the Constitution in its original intent, respect private property rights, respect the sovereignty of every country (including ours), and understand that the proper role of government means protecting the individual’s life, liberty & property.

  21. Ed Roberts
    May 13, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Sure, Johnny. I’ve been on internet boards since ’95 and have seen your tactic used thousands of times. Claiming to have a brother who was a delegate lends weight ( in your own mind) to your position.

    Next you’ll log on with a sockpuppet ID and pretend to be your “brother”. Save it. It’s all been done before.

  22. John C.
    May 13, 2010 at 5:05 pm #

    You don’t know me nor my brother. Don’t be a jerk. I’ve not accused you of being a liar and I’d appreciate it if you’d extend the same minimal courtesy to me. If you’ve no faith in me, ask Connor if I have made a habit of being a troll on his website or if I have been rude to the other commenters. I don’t agree with much of the politics here, but I’ve always (I hope) tried my best to treat other people with respect (as far as they’ve treated me with such) and to listen to others. If you have something of substance to say regarding any argument I’ve made, please put it forward. Otherwise, don’t talk about things you don’t know anything about.

  23. rmwarnick
    May 13, 2010 at 5:11 pm #

    Back in 1992, didn’t Senator Bennett promise to serve only two terms? And I recall Senator Hatch made that same commitment. They aren’t the only two people in Utah qualified to be senators. It makes sense to retire gracefully, but will that happen?

  24. John C.
    May 13, 2010 at 8:22 pm #

    I don’t know if Hatch ever made that commitment. No-one has ever accused him of it in my hearing and they’ve accused him of a lot of other stuff.

  25. M
    May 14, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

    I’m glad that there will be a primary between Lee and Bridgewater too. It will give people a chance to investigate these two candidates more. I hope Bennett enjoys his retirement.

    The delegates did the right thing and I support them. We chose good people from my precinct. I’ve known them for years and to be thinking people of good character.

    I don’t take kindly to people calling my friends and neighbors the names they have been called for doing their duty as delegates.

  26. Pam
    May 16, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    Connor, great blog entry. I’m getting weary of reading the monotonous drivel of the mainstream media and uninformed bloggers and pundits who either haven’t the faintest notion why the majority of Utah delegates voted for someone other than Bennett or who enjoy discrediting those of us who can actually think and reason.

    Keep up the good work.

  27. Jacqueline Smith
    May 17, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    Mr Bennett continually calls this his career, and that’s what it has been a career. This is not what our founders intended from anyone going into office. Suddenly he claims the caucus system was overrun by people from outside the state making decisions. (That isn’t possible.) I’m a state delegate. I vowed I would vote out any incumbent who voted for TARP. That was their waterloo.

    Club for Growth had no impact on me whatsoever. And the majority of people that were voted in as delegates made it loud and clear at their caucuses they would not vote Bennett in, and they were elected.

  28. M
    May 17, 2010 at 7:43 pm #

    OK, this is enlightening. Both Lee and Bridgewater potentially have a negative net worth. We want people who demonstrate that they too are fiscally responsible to be in office. How can we trust elected officials with our money (paid in taxes) when it appears that they might not be responsible with their own money? This needs to be brought up during the primaries.

  29. Rock Waterman
    May 18, 2010 at 11:00 am #

    I was amused at Dana Milbank’s sense of Alarm in his column reprinted here in the Sacramento Bee. When the Left is worried that we’re purging our fake “conservatives”, you know we’re getting them ALL scared.

    I liked Gary North’s take on the Bennett Defeat Here:

    I liked his title, too: “An Insurrection Has Begun”.

    Don’t miss the 10 second video contained therein.

  30. JL
    May 21, 2010 at 11:52 am #

    I, for one, was thrilled to hear the rumble and see the results that Bennett, an insider, had been ousted! That gives me faith that our country can be saved, our Constitution can be upheld. That said, will we ever payback this millstone of debt hung on our necks?

  31. Ed Roberts
    May 24, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    My sentiments exactly, Rock. When “John C.” whines that his “delegate brother” was appalled at Bennett’s loss and considered “joining the democrats” I found it comical. Utah’s democrats were probably as appalled at Bennett’s loss as were their republican party allies.

    These faux-conservative republicans could all just as easily be democrats, or Greens, or ACP members for all the difference there is in their agendas.

    The actual fact about the GOP is that it was the first radical socialist party to gain power in American politics. Their martyred icon, Lincoln was greatly admired by Karl Marx and Marx was financially supported and given an outlet for his views in the pages of the leading republican newspaper of the 19th century, owned by Horace Greeley, who is another GOP icon. The GOP has always been out front, pushing progressive legislation to implement the 12 points of Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

    Today, the only difference between the GOP and the Democratic Party is that the democrats were once champions of the US Constitution while the GOP never has been.

    As one candidate for president observed, “there ain’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties”. Of course, quoting George Wallace makes me a racist in the eyes of modern American socialists whether they call themselves republicans or democrats.

  32. Josh Williams
    June 21, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    Here an interesting article form the NY times.

    In a nutshell, many of the republicans (including our own Sen. Bennet) who most vociferously opposed the bailout bill, privately believed that it would work the way Obama said it would. For better or for worse, Obama DID have the support of most economists of note. (I’m aware that this is an appeal to consensus)

    Furthermore, the same republicans, “while denouncing the stimulus to the media and their constituents, privately sent letters seeking stimulus money for home-state pork projects.”

    On Feb. 13, 2009, Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican, issued a statement criticizing the stimulus — but two days earlier, he privately forwarded to Mr. Vilsack [the Agriculture Secretary] a list of projects seeking stimulus money.

    “I believe the addition of federal funds to these projects would maximize the stimulative effect of these projects on the local economy,” he wrote.

    Mr. Bennett is up for re-election and facing several Republican challengers. Last month, the conservative anti-tax group Club for Growth announced that it was opposing his nomination for a fourth term.

    “It is absurd to require Utah taxpayers to foot their portion of the bill associated with stimulus spending and then ask them to forgo competing for those funds without the input of their congressional representatives,” said Bennett spokeswoman Tara Hendershott DiJulio.

    Obama can’t mine press gold this good. …..

  33. Josh Williams
    June 22, 2010 at 12:17 am #

    Washington Times, sorry….

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