ORRIN HATCH SLIPS INTO CONSPIRATORIAL MODE…. The year has not been kind to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah. The 75-year-old conservative has repeatedly been confused and cantankerous in recent months, repeating obvious falsehoods after being confronted with facts, and recently threatening to kick progressive activists “in the teeth.”

This morning, Hatch went so far as to suggest health care reform, if it becomes law, threatens the existence of our two-party political system.

Hatch asserted that the health bills, which he believes is a “step by step approach to socialized medicine,” will lead to Americans’ dependence on Democrats for their health and other issues.

“And if they get there, of course, you’re going to have a very rough time having a two-party system in this country, because almost everybody’s going to say, ‘All we ever were, all we ever are, all we ever hope to be depends on the Democratic Party,’” Hatch said during an interview with the conservative CNSNews.com.

“That’s their goal,” Hatch added. “That’s what keeps Democrats in power.”

That claim led Hatch to suggest that some Democrats are “diabolical” in their pursuit of health reform.

Now, if this were just some strange rant from Glenn Beck, it’d be easier to dismiss it as random, unhinged nonsense. But Hatch is a senator, and has been in the chamber for more than three decades. For him to slip into this bizarre conspiratorial mode on national television is kind of sad.

I’m trying to make sense of Hatch’s twisted argument here, and I’m afraid I can’t make heads or tails of it. If consumers have a choice between public and private health plans, Americans will become dependent on the Democratic Party? This is an elaborate, “diabolical” scheme, not to fix a broken system with a modest plan that’s incorporated Republican ideas, but to exert partisan control?

These are not the concerns of a well-adjusted lawmaker.

Presumably, this strange panic about “socialized medicine” relates in some way to the public option, but let’s not forget, as recently as September, Hatch suggested he’d oppose health care reform whether the provision is in the bill or not.

As recently as July, Orrin Hatch was one of only four Republicans taking the lead in bipartisan negotiations on health care policy. Scary thought.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.