The tea party isn't dead. It's just looking down ballot. While fiscal conservatives remain split over the GOP presidential candidates, grassroots activists are coalescing around a stellar slate of limited-government candidates looking to reinforce and reenergize the right in Washington.
And in the spirit of the modern-day tea party movement, no entrenched incumbent — Democrat or Republican — is safe.
Utah was Ground Zero for the movement's first major electoral upset. In April 2009, this column first reported on a Salt Lake City tea party protest of 2,000 Utahans who repeatedly booed GOP Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch for supporting the $700 billion TARP bank bailout. In May 2010, the three-term, 76-year-old Bennett got the boot at the GOP state convention. Young conservative lawyer Mike Lee, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, went on to win the seat.
Now, young conservative entrepreneur and renowned state pension reformer Dan Liljenquist is taking on Utah's other big government Republican barnacle, 77-year-old Hatch. Liljenquist excelled in the private sector as a global management consultant and business strategist; he also helmed a privately owned call center company that grew from two to 1,500 employees since its 1995 founding. Liljenquist was elected to the Utah Senate in 2008, where he spearheaded state pension and Medicaid reforms that earned him the non-partisan Governing magazine's 2011 "Public Official of the Year" award.
The 36-year, six-term Hatch was first elected in 1976 on an anti-entrenched incumbent platform. Hatch's campaign line then against his opponent Frank Moss: "What do you call a Senator who's served in office for 18 years? You call him home." Now, Hatch is clinging to power after almost four decades in government — and vainly attempting to claim the tea party mantle to stave off Liljenquist's David vs. Goliath primary challenge.
Hatch co-sponsored the $6 billion national service boondoggle and dedicated it to his good friend Teddy Kennedy, with whom he also joined hands to create the ever-expanding SCHIP health care entitlement.
He slobbered over corruptocrat Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, supported tax cheat Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner from Day One, lavished praise on Joe Biden's manhood, and embraced and defended Attorney General Eric Holder's nomination because, he said, "I like Barack Obama, and I want to help him if I can."
In Indiana, another aging liberal Republican dinosaur is fighting for his political life by masquerading as a tea party standard-bearer. The six-term 79-year-old Sen. Dick Lugar — who prides himself on being Obama's favorite Republican — hasn't lived in his home state since 1977. He supported the Obama stimulus law, job-killing environmental mandates and the taxpayer bailouts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as the auto and banking industry bailouts.
Richard Mourdock, Indiana's former state treasurer, offers a fresh alternative with widespread support from both grassroots activists and local and state GOP officials. While others hedged their bets, Mourdock took the federal auto bailout head on, lodging a court complaint against the Chrysler bailout to expose its illegal abuse of shareholders and punitive impact on Indiana citizens.
He was elected to the treasurer's office in 2006, a tough year for Republicans, and was re-elected handily in 2010. Before politics, he worked in the private sector for 30 years managing businesses in the energy, environmental and construction industries. He's never had a Beltway zip code.
In Texas, young attorney Ted Cruz is making waves in the GOP race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The former Texas solicitor general is a 10th Amendment scholar who doesn't just speak the tea party's language. Cruz has put constitutional conservatism into action, winning many of the 40 cases he has argued in front of the Supreme Court. Cruz isn't afraid to challenge the GOP establishment. In 2008, he successfully battled the Bush administration and meddling globalists all the way to the high court to prevent international law from superseding American sovereignty.
The GOP needs just four seats to take control of the Senate. With inspired and inspiring free-market candidates like Dan Liljenquist, Richard Mourdock and Ted Cruz, 2012 bodes well for the tea party footprint on Capitol Hill. Remember: Entrenched incumbency is the disease. Fresh blood is the cure.