View Full Version : Why Aren't There More Bob Bennetts? By James Antle, III

05-10-2010, 07:47 AM
Daniel Larison is right that more Republicans deserve the Specter-Crist-Bennett treatment than get it, but he more or less answers his own question as to why this is the case. It is not easy or politically cost-free to oust entrenched incumbents in either party. Bob Bennett was made to pay for his political sins because the state convention system made it relatively easy and Utah's Republican voting habits meant that tossing him out likely won't cost the Republicans his Senate seat. Remember that Chris Cannon was also beaten under this system for supporting a single Bush administration proposal favored by other Republicans -- amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The TARP bailouts and amnesty are both unpopular with the Republican base. More Republican legislators heeded the base on amnesty than on TARP, but even so few of the outliers have been ousted by anti-amnesty primary challengers. John McCain's amnesty advocacy didn't cost him the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. But it could conceivably help cost him renomination to his own Senate seat this year. How different issues are weighted and the quality of the primary challengers also has a lot to do with whether politicians can survive defying the party faithful.

That's why I would also disagree that fiscal issues necessarily trump social issues, especially if we are talking about the Republican primary electorate rather than GOP elites. Moderate Republicans who lose their primaries tend to be vulnerable on a combination of both because that's what conservative primary challengers need to put together a winning coalition. In Ohio, George Voinovich has avoided numerous primary challenges despite his fiscal moderation because of his strong social conservatism, particularly on abortion. Jeff Flake has beat back anti-amnesty challengers because of his fiscal conservatism.