Requiem for 'Responsible' Republicans

Article excerpt

Byline: George F. Will

The reddest state has the most endangered one.

Utah, the reddest state, may soon become redder because it has the nation's most vulnerable Republican senator. Senate candidate selection events there (May 8), in Indiana (May 4), and Kentucky (May 18) might make May a month of Republican insurrections against candidates favored by party leaders but considered insufficiently conservative by the rank and file. And May may be prologue to further upheavals in California (June 8), Colorado (Aug. 10), and Arizona and Florida (Aug. 24).

Some commentators not known for wishing conservatism well say this turmoil bodes ill for the conservative party. And they mournfully worry that "responsible" Republicans--i.e., those who play well with Democrats--are an endangered species. But a more sanguine interpretation of the insurrections is that they indicate conservative seriousness commensurate with the liberals' agenda for enlarging government.

No Democratic presidential candidate has carried Utah since Lyndon Johnson in the anti-Goldwater landslide of 1964. In 1968 normality was restored as the Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey, won 37 percent of the vote. Since then, the average GOP margin of victory has been 34.5 points. In 1992 Bill Clinton finished third in Utah with 25 percent, behind Ross Perot's 27 percent. In 2008 Barack Obama did better than any Democrat since Humphrey--with 35 percent. Utah has not elected a Democratic senator since 1958.

It will not elect one this year. And it might not give Bob Bennett a third term. The grandson of a president of the Mormon church and son of a four-term senator, Bennett is conservative enough to have earned an A grade from the National Rifle Association, a 98 percent rating from the Chamber of Commerce, and 84 percent from the American Conservative Union (ACU). He is, however, 76, an incumbent, and running third. The leading candidate is attorney Mike Lee, 38, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito when Alito was on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Lee's theme is Washington's indifference to constitutional limits.

At the Republicans' May 8 convention, delegates will select two candidates to compete in a June 22 primary--unless one wins 60 percent of the delegates, thereby becoming the nominee. Seventy-five percent of the delegates will be attending their first convention, and Bennett might not hold Lee below 60. …