Pyrrhic Victory for GOP Establishment

From the perspective of 2010, it was a big deal that Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch easily turned back an effort to deny him renomination at a state GOP convention over the weekend. After all, his former colleague Bob Bennett didn’t, finishing a poor third at the 2010 convention.

But in terms of the long-range interests of the Conservative Movement, and the power it exercises within the GOP, the Hatch scenario may have been pretty much ideal. They get another shot at Hatch in a June primary, since the incumbent just fell short of the 60% of state convention delegates needed to secure outright renomination. But just as importantly, they get an ideologically chastened Senator no matter who wins. That’s why the measured gloating we’re hearing from Hatch’s nemesis FreedomWorks, which has already spent $700,000 in ads bashing him, is a bit more than spin:

Russ Walker, national political director for the [FreedomWorks] super PAC, said Saturday that the measure of the tea party’s success was less about the outcome and more about the steps that Hatch needed to take to advance.

“We think it’s a victory either way because Orrin Hatch has had to become very conservative and he’s made a lot of promises to his constituents that he’s going to vote that way over the next six years,” Walker said shortly before delegates voted. “How can you say we lost our mojo when Orrin Hatch had to run to the right of all the other candidates?”

That’s all the more striking because, as I noted in an earlier post, Hatch just hates–or to use his term, “despises”–these guys. If he could, he’d probably go out of his way to cast a vote or two in the Senate designed strictly to thumb his nose at the Tea Partiers. But he knows that the famous Goldwater line from his 1964 presidential nomination acceptance speech–“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”–might as well be the party’s official slogan today.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.