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Reflections On The Politics Of Senator Orrin Hatch

Updated: Apr 25

Orrin Hatch, who represented the state of Utah in the United States Senate for some 42-years passed away over the weekend. I had a long association with the late Senator and send my best regards to his wife Elaine and his extended family.

I got to know Senator Hatch when I worked on his very first campaign for the U.S. Senate back in 1976. Orrin liked to play golf and when he first came to Washington I sponsored him to be a member of my club, Westwood, not far from his home in Vienna. The club didn’t open until 8:00AM but Orrin got permission to tee off at 7:30 and play 9 holes with Jim Martin and me then rush off to the Senate.


Much as I liked Orrin as a golf partner, I have often used Senator Hatch as an example of how you can never predict who among conservative primary candidates for office might, after they are elected, be captured by the Washington establishment.


As I related in my book TAKEOVER, I don’t have a crystal ball—some good candidates that I helped were defeated. Others we helped to win, disappointed conservatives by joining Washington’s Big Government establishment. Such was the case of a bright young attorney named Orrin Hatch, who came in second to Jack Carlson in the Utah Republican state convention, but with our help won the primary about 2-1, and then went on to win Utah's Senate general election of 1976.


As I recounted in my book TAKEOVER:

In December 1976 Howard Phillips, under the auspices of the Conservative Caucus called a national meeting of conservatives to plan our activities in response to the election of Democrat Jimmy Carter. As I checked into the hotel, Jesse Helms – one of the principled giants of American politics and the conservative movement – was standing in front of me, and we began to talk. Orrin Hatch, who had just been elected to the Senate, approached.
At that moment I had the pleasure of introducing Orrin to Jesse Helms, with whom he would regularly clash in later years because while Hatch eventually abandoned the conservative movement to become part of the Republican establishment, and part of the problem in Washington, Helms, by contrast, stood fast to his conservative principles.

The late Paul Weyrich wrote an April 5, 2004 article for Newsmax reviewing the philosophically erratic actions of Orrin Hatch, going all the way back to his election to the Senate in 1976. You can read Weyrich’s insightful article at https://www.newsmax.com/pre-2008/senator-hatchprovoking-split/2004/04/05/id/679508/


As Weyrich explained, after his 1976 victory Orrin Hatch was welcomed as a conquering hero. But his words were disappointing. For example, Weyrich and Hatch appeared on an evening program on WGN radio in Chicago. Orrin didn’t want to be called a conservative, he told the host.

After Weyrich’s article, Hatch continued to go from a Ted Kennedy Republican to a conservative hero and back again dozens of times. With him, you would never know.

As a result of the 2010 defeat for renomination of fellow Utah Senator Robert Bennett, Hatch veered back to the right and maintained a fairly conservative voting record for a few years.

Conservatives thought maybe the “bad Hatch” was gone forever, and the “good Hatch” would assume control of his persona. But such was not the case, as Paul Weyrich observed:

Hatch wants to be loved by his enemies more than almost any Senator I have ever encountered in 38 years here. And second: His legacy. Hatch wants to be remembered as a great legislator.
On the first point, Hatch’s enemies don’t love him for his compromises. They have utter contempt for him. And unfortunately for him, he has made other enemies on the right in the process. And as for legacy, senators with principles on both sides are remembered in the country, they're just not admired. What real compromiser has a monument in this city?

The bottom line on Orrin Hatch’s 42-year career in the Senate was that with him every day was déjà vu all over again because change, and not for the better, was his only constant. Senator Hatch will be remembered fondly by many DC insiders as a gentleman of faith and as a talented musician, and also as the guy whose erratic approach to issues and especially confirmations regularly threw Senate Republicans into chaos.


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  • Mitt Romney

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  • Ted Kennedy Republicans

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