The election of Mike Lee put longtime U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch on notice. And the octogenarian senior senator from Utah awkwardly adapted. To appeal to Teapartiers, he swung even farther right and abandoned nearly four decades of almost-moderation and bipartisanship.
Now, after Hatch soundly trounced conservative challenger Dan Liljenquist in last week’s GOP primary, could it be the freshman senator is learning a lesson from his elder?
To recap: Lee owes his political life to the Tea Party. In 2010, arch conservatives packed Utah’s caucuses and the State GOP convention to throw out Sen. Bob Bennett, a well-respected moderate, in favor of Lee—the lawyer for Envirocare, whose limited claims to fame included being the son of onetime Solicitor General Rex Lee, clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and legal advisor to Gov. Jon Huntsman.
Lee, who had never held elected office before, had his marching orders. And he has represented that fringe of the Utah GOP well during his time in Washington—swearing fealty to Ayn Rand’s brand of political narcissism, signing on for the debt ceiling debacle, posting endless online videos of himself dissecting the supposed legal weaknesses of Obamacare, blocking the president’s judicial nominees with only South Carolina wing-nut (and Tea Party favorite) Jim De Mint for company.
Here's one of those videos on Obamacare…
Now, there are signs that Lee’s instinct for self-preservation might be kicking in. This week, he said he might be willing to soften his zero-tolerance policy for President Obama’s judicial nominees. He donned a seersucker suit and white bucks in an unusual show of bipartisan collegiality—despite others’ giving up the gimmick of a different time in D.C.
Even the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act rendered him temporarily Tweetless, before he regrouped and climbed on the “Repeal and Replace” bandwagon.