The conventional wisdom about the Tea Party has swung like a pendulum with each election result this year. Today’s primary between Orrin Hatch, a six-term Republican senator from Utah, and conservative challenger Dan Liljenquist is the latest test.
Liljenquist narrowly forced Hatch into a primary at the Utah Republican state convention, but the incumbent is heavily favored today. Hatch has a huge money advantage, having out-raised Liljenquist about $10 million to $800,000, according to the New York Times. Unlike Richard Lugar, Hatch also had the example of Mike Lee unseating three-term Sen. Robert Bennett in his own state. So Hatch adjusted his voting record, opposing Democratic Supreme Court nominees for the first time in his career, supporting Rand Paul’s Tea Party budget, and voting reliably against the Obama agenda.
If everyting unfolds as expected, some will ignore the advantages the 36-year incumbent had over the former state senator challenging him and conclude that this is a Tea Party setback. They will double down on this narrative if David Dewhurst prevails over Ted Cruz late next month. But the facts on the ground are more complicated, and it will be clear that even Republican incumbents who were once Reaganite favorites aren’t going to get many passes for bad votes.
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