There’s a meme that keeps floating around the news stories about the demise of Bob Bennett’s Senate career. According to the litany, he was rejected because he was an incumbent, and because he voted for TARP, and bailouts.
I’m not from Utah, so I’ll tread a bit carefully here, but from my perspective as a Mike Lee donor, that isn’t why Bob Bennett had to go. After all, people like Paul Ryan voted for TARP, and the bailouts (both big mistakes in my opinion), and he is an incumbent. Yet, he’s generally a very popular figure in the conservative grassroots.
So It wasn’t his individual votes but something else about Bob Bennett– and let me speculate on what that something else was. More than any particular vote Bennett was voted out because, despite coming from one of the reddest states in the country, he was never a leader for conservatism. I don’t always agree with Paul Ryan, but I get a strong sense from his overall performance (particularly considering that he is from a marginal district) that he cares about consevatism, and is willing to advance bold conservative policies, and to be a public spokesman for conservative political positions. That’s more than enough to make me enthusiastic about someone, even if I really dislike a few of their votes.
In contrast, as someone who is not from Utah, but who pays close attention to national politics, I almost never saw Bennett out there in front of an issue– making a powerful case for conservative policies and castigating liberal ones– even though he would have been politically safe in doing so, unlike many Republicans from more marginal states and districts.
I can’t recall him taking initiative to create conservative legislation (as opposed to just “voting the right way”) and he did nothing to check, and much to foment, the free-spending excesses of the most recent Republican rule on Capitol Hill. Plus he was one of the closest supporters of Mitch McConnell, a man who seems to pretty much define the failed Republican establishment . In other words, while his votes might not have been terrible overall, there was just nothing about Bob Bennett that really justified sending him back to Washington.
Simply put, he was a waste of a Senate seat for conservatives. There’s no reason we should expect anything less than an outstanding conservative in that seat. And since Mike Lee has now advanced into the runoff, we don’t have to.