On Tuesday, 79-year old Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), now serving his seventh term in the Senate, signaled that he and other members of the Republican establishment are likely to encourage a primary challenge to first term Senator Mike Lee (R-UT).
Lee upset former Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) in the 2010 Utah Republican primary convention in the Tea Party’s first major primary win over a Republican establishment politician.
Hatch told the Deseret News and KSL NewsRadio that “[i]t’s time now… for Lee and other tea party Republicans to be ‘rehabilitated’ for refusing to pass a budget bill needed to keep the government operating unless money for the act better known as Obamacare was removed.”
Hatch pointedly refused to endorse Lee for re-election to the Senate in 2016. “I’m not going to get into endorsements at this point in any way,” he said.
Hatch also criticized Lee’s tactics in the Senate. “The tactics were not the right tactics. It takes experience sometimes to make sure you can use the right tactics,” he stated.
Former Utah Governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has also joined the establishment crowd attacking Lee. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that Huntsman “said Lee has bucked a trend of senators who work to grow this small state in a way that makes people proud.” According to Huntsman, in Utah “[y]ou don’t have ideological wack-jobs… For all of its labeling as a red state, underneath it all Utah is a pretty pragmatic Western state, a just-get-it-done ethos.”
Spencer Zwick, a Utah resident who was a key member of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign’s leadership team, also criticized Lee. “Business leaders that I talk to, many of whom supported him, would never support his reelection and in fact will work against him, myself included,” Zwick told the Post. According to Zwick, Lee is just a “showhorse.”
Zions Bank President A. Scott Anderson, a major Republican donor in Utah, said, “I think people admire him for sticking to his guns and principles, but I think there are growing frustrations… If things are to happen, you can’t just stick to your principles. You have to make things work… You’ve got to be practical.”
The Post reported that a potential Republican establishment challenger to Lee has already surfaced in “Thomas Wright, who stepped down this spring as chairman of the Utah Republican Party.” According to the Post, “Wright said he is considering running against Lee in 2016 because he has grown ‘exasperated’ with the junior senator’s governing style.”
Touching on an often used Republican establishment theme, Wright said, “I want to work with people to get things done. I want to go be a leader and build bridges, not burn them down.”
If early signs from Utah are any indication, the entire Republican establishment is looking to burn down every bridge to the Tea Party movement around the country in the 2014 primaries.