Utah Sen. Robert Bennett's failure on Saturday to secure his party's nomination to fill another term reveals many truisms beginning to form during this election cycle. Some are accurate, but others are more a reflection of the sitting senator and his own failings than some political juggernaut movement bending conservative candidates to its every whim.
Clearly, there is a deep and smoldering anti-incumbent mood swirling around the country. Frustration by the body politic is normal and even expected, particularly at a time when the economy is still barely recovering, and a president who promised so much has done so little to salve the nation's woes. To enumerate the current situation, public approval ratings of Congress on the whole hover around 23 percent. That's lower than the historic average of 34 percent. Yet the fomenting sentiment rampant today represents more than frustration. This is anger.
Surprisingly, those who are the most angry today are also some of the best organized. The national tea party movement is claiming credit for Bennett's ousting and leveraging the defeat to send a political message to other elected officials and their "soft" positions. As Brendan Steinhauser of the group told the Washington Post following the defeat, "[The tea party] is the center of American politics. It's everything that we've been saying it is. It's not just a protest movement; it's a political force."
In many respects, Steinhauser is right. They deserve the lion's share of the credit. Yet it's not entirely accurate to suggest the movement single-handedly burned out Bennett's career. He was covered in flammable liquid already; the tea party just lit the match.
Bob Bennett's troubles started years ago when he broke his own campaign pledge to term-limit himself and not seek reelection beyond two elections. Bennett went on to serve four, and that's where he started to get cozy in his Senate digs. The Senator sat on the powerful Appropriations Committee -- a spending panel. He had the keys to the Federal Treasury, and to many Utah voters, was viewed as part of the problem. I can't recall his sponsoring any deficit reduction laws to counter that perception. To me, that was the threshold question voters asked themselves, "This country is headed to hell in a hand basket, and what's Bob Bennett doing to stop it? Is he at least trying??"