This year, of course, attention has been focused primarily on Marco Rubio's success in driving Florida Governor Charlie Crist out of the Republican Party (he's now running for the Senate as an Independent) and former Congressman Pat Toomey's success in converting Republican Senator Arlen Specter into a Democrat. But in both of those cases one can argue that the targeted incumbent was simply too far out of step with his own party. The same ACU ratings index on which Bennett scored an 84 gave Specter a 40. The ratings only measure members of Congress but Crist had more than once angered party members with his support of initiatives that were fiercely opposed by most Republicans. But given Bennett's long embrace of conservative positions, with relatively few departures from the party-line script over a period of nearly two decades, what happened in
That is important in assessing what is happening in the political wars. When Jeff Bell, a member of the American Conservative Union's board of directors, took on and defeated incumbent Republican Senator Clifford Case in a party primary in 1978, it was because Bell's views were, in Republican terms, more mainstream than those of the liberal Case. It was not a matter of the extremes knocking off the middle but of a traditional conservative ousting a Republican who was, for all practical purposes, not a Republican at all. Similarly, two years later, Alfonse D'Amato knocked off incumbent Republican Senator Jacob Javits, another liberal, in a
When Ned Lamont defeated incumbent Senator Joseph Lieberman in
To be clear, Bennett's defeat in
Signs that this is changing were seen recently within the governing ranks of the GOP, with local party leaders attempting to force National Chairman Michael Steele to adopt a "purity" test to determine which Republican candidates would receive the party's financial support. Steele refused to go along but it is the same sentiment that has now ended Robert Bennett's Senate career.
When the voters send a man or woman to write the laws, in Washington or a state capitol, that legislator is obligated to weigh seriously the views of his or her constituents, to examine thoroughly the important issues of the day and the proposals to deal with them, and to consult the relevant constitution (federal or state) and then act accordingly. Increasingly, the last two items on that list -- intelligent assessment and constitutional constraint -- are being driven from the process. One is expected to listen -- and to obey -- the preferences, indeed the demands, not of "constituents" but of that small band of constituents who dominate party primaries and party conventions.
Ironically, those who demand such mindless conformity cry out a demand for adherence to the Constitution, even as they undermine the most important principles of rational constitutional self-government.
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