Is the Tea Party's Utah coup pivotal?

At Utah's GOP convention, Tea Party-backed novices knocked incumbent, Sen. Robert Bennett, out of the primary race. More than a local upset?

Utah Sen. Bob Bennett was ousted on Saturday. Why?
(Image credit: Getty)

Tea Party activists claimed their first incumbent Saturday, knocking three-term Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) out of the race at the Utah GOP nominating convention. Under state rules, only two candidates can compete in the upcoming primary, and Bennett came in third against two novice Tea Party–backed conservatives. Did Utah Republicans just want change for change's sake, or does this upset suggest that the Tea Party really can remake the GOP in its own image? (Watch Sen. Bennett and his opponent react to Utah's choice)

The Tea Party scored big: Knocking out Bennett is a huge win for Tea Partiers, says Chris Good in The Atlantic, and "not just in one state, but for the whole movement." Since a Republican is almost certain to win in Utah, "the U.S. Senate just gained a bona fide Tea Partier," and the "emboldened" Tea Party showed it can, "under the right circumstances, effect real change" in Washington.

"Conservatives flex new muscle in Utah"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

People are reading too much into this: Bennett's loss is a "dramatic development," says Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, but a local one. The 3,500 Republicans who ousted him are "extremely conservative activists," not mainstream Republicans, and Bennett would probably have survived a less-quirky party nominating system.

"Utah will have a new senator"

The Tea Party is warping the GOP: Hardly a "squishy moderate, Bennett was a true conservative who nevertheless understood how to work across the aisle," says Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post. That he's not conservative enough for the Tea Party is bad news for America. Watch for "nervous GOP lawmakers" to cave into extreme Tea Party demands even more readily.

"Sad to see Bob Bennett lose"

The Tea Party hasn't won yet: The "establishment GOP" candidate, Bennett, may have lost, but that doesn't mean the Tea Party won, says Dan Riehl in Riehl World View. The real Tea Party candidate, lawyer Mike Lee, came in second to the more establishment Tim Bridgewater. So if Tea Partiers want a real victory, they still "have their work cut out for them."

"The fallout from Utah"

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.