Conservative Bennett ousted by Utah GOP

CONSERVATIVE BENNETT OUSTED BY UTAH GOP…. We’ve known for quite a while that Sen. Bob Bennett’s (R-Utah) career was in severe jeopardy, but it’s been hard to believe. Sure, he had multiple right-wing primary opponents, but Bennett is an 18-year incumbent with a conservative voting record. He enjoyed the enthusiastic support of officials like Mitt Romney, and his institutional ties to Utah are overwhelming — Bennett’s father was a GOP senator and his grandfather was a president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

If anyone in Republican politics is safe from a right-wing challenge, it should be Bob Bennett. The party wouldn’t really kick him to the curb, would it? Late yesterday, it did just that.

[Bennett] was stripped of his party’s nomination on Saturday at the state convention here, becoming one of the first Congressional victims of the surging discontent from the Tea Party-infused Republican right.

Mr. Bennett, 76, was outmatched in delegate votes by two relative newcomers despite an enthusiastic endorsement from Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and local Utah hero, and a political pedigree of deep Mormon roots and public service. […]

Mr. Bennett himself, in his final appeal from the dais, said the stakes in Washington were simply too high to take a chance on the unknown. “Keep the veteran on the floor when you’re playing a championship game,” he urged the delegates.

That ultimately proved unpersuasive. GOP delegates concluded that Bennett simply wasn’t right-wing enough, and handed him a humiliating third-place finish. Businessman Tim Bridgewater and lawyer Mike Lee will compete for the Republican primary nomination next month.

If speeches at the convention were any indication, Utah Republicans found Bennett unacceptable for two main reasons: his support for the Bush administration’s TARP bill in 2008, and his willingness to work on a bipartisan health care reform bill — the Wyden/Bennett “Health Americans Act” — that enjoyed support from several conservative Republicans, but never actually received a vote. These hardly-outrageous departures from the far-right line led Tea Partiers, the Club For Growth, and others in the party base to deem Bennett unacceptable, despite his consistently conservative voting record.

In case you’re wondering, Bennett has very limited options at this point. With the filing deadline having come and gone, the senator cannot run as independent. He could, however, run a write-in campaign, but Bennett noted yesterday that he intends to support the Republican candidate.

As for the bigger picture, Bennett’s convention defeat is yet another reminder of a Republican Party that has very little tolerance for those who fail to toe the right-wing line in every instance. The examples keep piling up — Arlen Specter, Dede Scozzafava, Charlie Crist — and the “purge” is likely not complete. The goal, apparently, is to create a smaller, more rigid, less reasonable party, which discourages diversity of thought.

Utah’s results also send a message to Republican lawmakers who might consider constructive lawmaking: don’t do it. The GOP base doesn’t want responsible leaders who’ll try to solve problems; it wants hard-right ideologues.