The Indiana Republican's defeat at the hands of conservative activists isn't the start of another anti-establishment wave -- it's the exception to this year's rule.
It wasn't long after the polls closed in Indiana Tuesday that a chant went up at the headquarters of FreedomWorks, the national Tea Party group: "HATCH IS NEXT! HATCH IS NEXT!"
The occasion was the defeat of Sen. Dick Lugar, the latest centrist Republican to be felled by the insurgent conservative movement, and the reference was to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the next Republican on whom the activists have set their sights. But the Tea Party had better celebrate while it can. Lugar's might well be the only scalp it claims in the 2012 election cycle.
Unlike 2010, when the Tea Party came out of nowhere to terrorize incumbents and establishmentarians in Republican Senate primaries, 2012 is shaping up as a disappointment for the Tea Party. In race after race across the country, conservative challengers are likely to lose or have failed to make a play. Rather than the leading edge of a trend, Lugar's defeat appears to be the exception that proves the rule.
Just look at Utah, the subject of Tuesday night's chanting. FreedomWorks and others are rejoicing at having forced six-term Sen. Hatch into a primary; he got 59.2 percent of state convention delegates last month, just short of the 60 percent required to secure the nomination and bypass the primary vote. But there's almost no way Hatch will lose the primary. He got a majority in the convention, where delegates tend to be more conservative than primary voters. Furthemore, Mitt Romney, with whom Hatch has aligned himself, will be on the Utah primary ballot; in 2008, Romney got nearly 90 percent of the Mormon-heavy state's primary vote.