In 2012, Tea Party organizations are trying to replicate their 2010 Utah success. Six-term U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch had long enjoyed an undeserved conservative reputation, but has voted for big government whenever it was proposed by fellow Republicans. Hatch voted for the massive No Child Left Behind entitlement program in 2001, Medicare Part D and — most importantly — the TARP bailout bill in 2008. One Tea Party-allied organization, Freedom Works, started a “Retire Hatch” campaign last year to remove the 78-year-old in 2012, Hatch’s first election since the TARP vote. Freedom Works PAC spent $700,000 attacking Hatch as an advocate of big government with a television ad complaining: “Utahns thought we sent a conservative to Washington. But Orrin Hatch has risked your children’s future by voting to raise our nation’s debt limit 16 times. Orrin Hatch gave away your family’s money to bailouts for Wall Street bankers.”
The Freedom Works advertisements and presence at the Utah convention have clearly gotten under Hatch’s skin. He complained to National Public Radio about the Freedom Works campaign: “Give me a break. These people are not conservatives. They’re not Republicans. They’re radical libertarians. And I’m doggone offended by it. I despise these people, and I’m not the type of guy you’d come in and dump on without getting punched in the mouth.”
Of course, Freedom Works is hardly a libertarian organization. It is run by former Congressman Richard Armey, a former Republican Majority Leader who served as Newt Gingrich’s lieutenant in the U.S. House in the 1990s. And it was founded by establishment Republicans such as Vin Weber, Jack Kemp, and Bill Bennett, with funding from the Koch Family. That’s hardly libertarian. But Freedom Works has nevertheless helped the constitutionalist insurgency against neoconservative, big-government GOP incumbents in recent years.
The Freedom Works media campaign revealing Hatch’s record of backing bank bailouts may have made the difference at the April 21 Utah GOP convention, as Hatch has been forced into his first primary since his first Senate race in 1976. Hatch fared better than Bennett at the Utah GOP convention, winning 59 percent of the vote (60 percent was needed to avoid a primary), but he will face former state Senator Dan Liljenquist in the primary. Liljenquist is a mixed bag for traditional constitutionalists, as his platform is a mixture of establishment GOP claptrap about “cut, cap and balance” along with some genuine constitutionalism such as favoring the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education and supporting repeal of the detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act.