Play It Again Sam! (A Look Back in Utah on the defeat of a Utah Senator: May 11, 2004)
Something very historic happened at the Utah State Republican Convention which was held at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City last Saturday (May 8th). Utah’s three-term incumbent Senator Robert Bennett was eliminated in the second round of voting by the conservative state delegates. It was the first time in nearly a century that an incumbent Utah Senator had been defeated by a challenger of the same party. I attended the convention as a delegate and was really amazed and stunned by the intensity of the loud and sustained applause which followed news of his defeat by the convention attendees. Many of us had long wondered if such an insurgent victory against one of Utah’s most liberal Republicans in office was too much to hope for.
The conservative rebellion against Bennett, who contrary to news reports was never a reliable conservative vote in the United States Senate, began with his decision to join about a dozen of his Republican colleagues and most Democrats to support the $700 billion bailout and a $350 billion Federal Reserve bailout introduced by former President George W. Bush. He seemed to think that doing something no matter how detrimental to our nation’s long-term economic health was better than pursuing viable free market alternatives. Ultimately, Bush ended up implementing $8.5 trillion bailouts worth of bailouts in the final three and a half months of his presidency an amount nearly two times larger than the bailouts approved by Barack Obama. Many conservatives including myself believe that every Republican member of Congress who voted for the socialist bailout should be defeated for paving the way for America’s descent into socialism under Obama.
Utah conservatives were also angered by Bennett’s cosponsorship of a socialized health care plan which the delegates ruled unconstitutional and which seemed a lot like the one that Obama rammed down our throats in a partisan vote in Congress also was a big factor in the desertion of Bennett’s conservative base which resulted in his ouster. His 2006 and 2007 votes for amnesty for millions of illegal aliens was one of the other reasons cited by those who sought his replacement. Not surprisingly, Bennett was rated as one of the top ten most liberal Republicans in the US Senate by the American Conservative Union and Human Events in 2008. Bennett knew he was in trouble when there was a 80% turnover in the state delegates elected at the precinct caucuses on March 23rd which is typically about a 45% turnover-never a good sign for incumbents.
Utah’s caucus system has been criticized as enabling a relatively small number of hard-core conservative delegates to deny the general primary voters the opportunity to decide whether to re-elect an incumbent Senator. However, I believe Utah’s caucus system should be adopted by every Republican Party across the country precisely for that very reason, because it enables conservative activists to have a greater say on who gets nominated and elected for public office and thus makes elected officials more, not less accountable to their conservative base voters.
A fiery nominating speech on his behalf by 2008 GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, widely believed to be the most popular politician in Utah despite the fact that he doesn’t even reside here, did nothing to save Bennett from defeat. In fact, Romney who is known to be planning a second run for the Presidency, did himself no favors by endorsing and nominating Bennett given the fact that a smattering of boos could be heard from the convention hall when he appeared at the podium with Utah’s moderate Senator.
In the final month leading up to the convention, Bennett saw the writing on the wall and became increasingly desperate ramping up his attacks against earstwhile frontrunner and ‘tea party candidate’ Mike Lee whom he attacked for allegedly opposing the war on terror and wanting to ‘cut and run’ from Afghanistan. But Bennett’s smear attacks, which might have worked a few years ago when many Republicans still had the neocon wool pulled over their eyes, failed utterly as many traditional conservatives ended up rallying behind Lee as better representing their views that Americans should not be sent to fight and die in a seemingly never-ending no-win war. Americans are increasingly beginning to tire of an Afghan conflict that has lasted nearly a decade and is being fought on behalf of an Islamist regime in Kabul and an Afghan President who recently threatened to defect to the Taliban.
These convention results only served to prove that candidates who run on a platform of support for the failed and discredited neoconservative Bush-Bennett-Obama policy of nation building, exporting democracy by direct military force and fighting never-ending, no-win counterinsurgency wars in the Middle East risk likely electoral defeat as Bennett learned the hard way. In the end, Bennett was defeated by both Lee and another one of his more conservative challengers, Tim Bridgewater, neither of whom have ever before been elected to public office.
But traditional conservatives fighting to elect constitutionalist conservatives to Congress have not been without their defeats this election cycle. Sadly, the most principled conservative candidate in the race, Cherilyn Eagar, who ran on an unabashed America First platform, came in fourth place at the convention just behind Bennett. Constitutional conservatives also suffered a heavy blow with the defeat in the US Senate primary of former Congressman John Hostettler in Indiana last week. Traditional conservatives in Utah are now in the process of uniting behind Lee as our next best hope for conservative change in Washington, D.C.
Fresh on the heels of its stunning victory over the liberal Republican establishment in Utah, conservative grassroots activists are now focusing their attention on next week’s US Senate Republican primary in Kentucky where principled conservative Rand Paul, is facing off against the liberal Republican establishment candidate Trey Grayson. Paul has been endorsed by conservative stalwarts like Sarah Palin, Sen. Jim DeMint, Steve Forbes, James Dobson and of course his father, Congressman Ron Paul, whose 2008 presidential campaign has been credited to have spawned the tea party movement itself.
This will likely prove an even more important contest for conservatives in America as electing Rand Paul to the US Senate would be an even more monumental defeat for liberal Republican party leaders like RNC Chair, Michael Steele and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnnell (R-KY) who has endorsed Grayson. The Republican Senate Campaign Committee (RSCC) had egg on its face when its endorsement of Gov Charley Crist (R-FL) backfired and galvanized supporters of his US Senate challenger Marco Rubio who subsequently gained such a commanding lead over Crist in the GOP Senate primary that Crist felt compelled to run as an independent. I predict, that it will suffer a similar embarassment when Kentucky conservatives vote to defeat their annointed candidate in the US Senate Republican primary and elect a second Dr. Paul to Congress. I look forward to celebrating another victory on the road to taking back control of our party as an essential prerequisite to taking back control of our country from Marxist Obama and the socialist Democrats who control Congress.
For well over two years now, I have been predicting that this fall’s elections would witness a Republican landslide as sweeping as the one we witnessed in 1994 with a Republican pickup of 8-9 US Senate seats, 3-5 Governorships and at least the forty mininum House seats needed to take back control of the US House of Representatives and bring Obama’s backward looking socialist agenda for America to a screeching halt. The only question is will it be too little too late to prevent the impending economic and national security catastrophes that Bush’s and Obama’s America Last policies have made likely outcomes. Only time will tell. May God have mercy on our great country.
David T Pyne currently serves as DUV-PAC Chairman, President of the Utah Republican Assembly, and as Vice President for the Association of the United States Army’s Utah Chapter. A former national security expert, he has served as President of the Center for the National Security Interest, worked as a defense contractor and International Programs Manager, as an International Analyst for the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Department of the Navy, and as a Research Assistant for the Center for Security Policy.