Last weekend at the Utah Republican Party’s nominating convention in Salt Lake City, incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett (R) came in a distant third behind two other GOP candidates vying for the three-term senator’s seat. Bennett’s defeat has been heralded as a victory for the Tea Party movement:
National tea party organizers embraced the victory as a major first step toward returning the Republican Party to its conservative foundations of limited government and low taxes. At the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, tea party activists cheered and celebrated after Bennett lost.
“This is a symbol that the tea party movement and the broader limited-government agenda is huge,” said Brendan Steinhauser, grass-roots director for the national tea party organization FreedomWorks.
Today on ABC’s Top Line, Utah’s senior senator Orrin Hatch (R) was asked how Bennett — who “has long been viewed as a reliable conservative with deep Mormon roots” — could have lost in the party’s nominating process. “It’s hard. People are angry,” he said. Hatch — who has previously warned the Tea Party to start working more closely with the Republican Party — criticized the Tea Party for rallying against Bennett:
HATCH: A lot of these Tea Party people are angry, and I’m angry too. … I mean my gosh, They’re mad. They have a right to be mad and I think these Tea Party people are doing the country a service. But when they don’t have an open mind and they won’t listen, that’s another matter and that’s something I think anybody would find fault with.
Hatch told ABC he’s not worried about suffering the same fate as Bennett. But a recent poll found that “more than half of Utah voters say they would elect someone other than Hatch if he were up for re-election this year.” In fact, a whopping 71 percent of the delegates at the state’s GOP convention said they would support a candidate other than Hatch.
Hatch’s dilemma — whether to embrace or distance himself from the Tea Party movement — is reflective of a wider problem the GOP is facing. Some leading conservatives have said the Tea Party has “limited appeal” because it is simply a “divisive protest movement” that “plays too much to people’s fears and hatred. Others, including GOP members of Congress, have pandered to the movement with violent rhetoric and outlandish conspiracy theories.