What’s become of the ‘Square Peg’

WHAT’S BECOME OF THE ‘SQUARE PEG’…. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has always been a conservative Republican senator, but he’d developed a reputation over the years for idiosyncratic positions. Despite being firmly on the right — at least as “the right” was defined in, say, the ’90s — Hatch supported stem-cell research, co-sponsored the DREAM Act, and partnered with Ted Kennedy to pass the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, bringing health coverage to low-income kids.

When Hatch published an autobiography, he named it “Square Peg.” It was his way of defining himself as some sort of political maverick, back before John McCain made the word a punch-line.

That was then. In recent years, Hatch’s persona has become angry and predictable. His stature and efforts to look like a statesman are gone, replaced with a cantankerous hack concerned only with impressing right-wing activists.

This week, for example, Hatch took steps to kill any bipartisan deficit-reduction package that raised any tax on any one by any amount.

Hatch would have significant say over any deficit-reduction as ranking Republican on the Senate Finance panel, which has jurisdiction over taxes, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

He told conservative activists shortly before the April recess that he would oppose any deficit-reduction package that raises taxes, period.

“He has stressed no tax increases,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a prominent anti-tax group, speaking of assurances Hatch made at a recent Tax Day event with conservatives. “That’s what he told me when he was at the April 14 press conference. Hatch was there and stressed no tax increases. Period.”

Senate sources say Hatch has taken an equally hard line in discussions within the Senate. “Hatch has been insistent on no new taxes,” said a Senate aide.

Of course, raising taxes on the wealthy is the single most popular approach embraced by the American mainstream, but Hatch doesn’t care about the American mainstream — he’s concerned with GOP primary voters in one of the nation’s most conservative states, who are inclined to end his career.

It’s what led Hatch to deliver a lengthy tirade on the Senate floor last week, condemning the very idea of a balanced approach — some spending cuts, some tax increases — to debt reduction.

There was a time, not too long ago, that centrist Democrats hoping to craft a major bipartisan deal would immediately reach out to Hatch. Now, he’s the guy who runs around blasting bipartisan deals before they’re even presented, hoping his antics will impress the Club for Growth and random Tea Party outfits.

I don’t know if the strategy will work — it seems likely the right-wing base will reject him anyway — but I do know that Hatch is throwing away what’s left of his dignity and any chance he had of a proud legacy.