By Joshua Steimle
Like many other politicians, Orrin Hatch is struggling to develop a relationship with the tea party in part because of its unstructured, grassroots nature.
The tea party has no central organization, no leader, and no official mission statement. "Tea party" is merely a term used to describe the many disparate groups across the nation bound by three common threads: 1) fiscal responsibility, 2) constitutionally limited government and 3) free markets.
The prevailing wisdom for many years was that it made sense to vote for Hatch because he was a senior senator wielding tremendous power that could be used to benefit Utah. But that wasn't enough to keep Bob Bennett in office. Since Bennett was ousted in the 2010 election cycle to be replaced by tea party favorite Mike Lee, Hatch has attempted to reach out to some of the more active members of the tea party movement. He has been successful, up to a point, having hired a few individuals associated with the tea party to work for his reelection recruiting delegates. In other cases it hasn't gone so well.
On February 11, a group of conservatives from Utah had the opportunity to meet with Senator Hatch in Washington, D.C.
Darcy Van Orden, a tea party activist who attended the meeting, said Hatch's response, when asked what he considered some of his top conservative moments, included the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and the Orphan Drug Bill. The first is considered by some conservatives to be an unconstitutional welfare program, and the second has bestowed privileged monopoly powers upon certain pharmaceutical companies with little, if any, benefit reaching consumers. Both expand the scope and size of government.
When asked about the Patriot Act, seen by many conservatives as the type of law Benjamin Franklin had in mind when he claimed that those who will trade liberty for security deserve neither, Hatch apparently did not realize who he was talking to. In an attempt to take credit for a law he assumed his audience must be in support of (after all, it has the word "patriot" in it so how could any conservative be against it?) he exclaimed, "I wrote the Patriot Act!" — further disappointing his audience, Van Orden reported.
"The highlight of the meeting," said Van Orden, "was when one of us brought up his 35-year career as a politician, essentially asking, 'What have you accomplished during all those years and why should we keep you in?'
"Hatch became enraged and started shouting that he was providing 'service' to the state of Utah, that his former junior law partner is worth $50 million today, and that if he had stayed in the private sector he would be worth twice that."
Apparently a $200,000 yearly salary and the best retirement plan and benefits in the country add up to a cup-half-empty for the Senator.
Later that day, Hatch was heckled and booed at the Conservative Political Action Conference for his support of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which bailed out the largest Wall Street banks and has since been widely condemned as the type of crony capitalism and corruption that gives free market capitalism a bad name.
Suffice it to say, it was not a good day for the Senator.
Orrin Hatch is no more popular today than Bob Bennett was in 2010. A January 2011 Utah Policy poll put Hatch at 21% in a multi-candidate primary matchup, almost identical to the 22% Bennett garnered in an April 2010 Deseret News/KSL poll.
The question now, one supposes, is whether Utah voters will extend Hatch's term of "service" to 42 years, or encourage him to get on to enjoying his retirement.
Joshua Steimle is the CEO of MWI, an Internet marketing firm, and a Republican delegate for Precinct 4809 in Draper, Utah. Steimle blogs about politics, government, and economics at LibertyQA.org