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Bennett's Loss in Utah a 'Damn Outrage,' 'Non-Violent Coup,' Part of Larger Intolerant GOP Narrative

"This is a damn outrage," a disgusted David Brooks, the faux conservative columnist for the New York Times, declared on Sunday's Meet the Press reacting to Republican Senator Bob Bennett's loss Saturday at Utah's Republican convention which chose two others to compete in a June primary for the seat. Brooks fretted he was punished for being "a good conservative who was trying to get things done" by "bravely" working with Democrats on health care and supporting TARP. "Now," he repeated, "he's losing his career over that. And it's just a damn outrage."

Sitting beside Brooks on NBC's roundtable, liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr,. a former New York Times correspondent, saw "almost a non-violent coup because they denied the sitting Senator even a chance of getting on the primary ballot."

Over on Fox News Sunday, NPR's Juan Williams expressed exasperation: "This is evidence of how the American political center is losing, on the right wing of the party a guy like Bob Bennett, who is a right-wing conservative, is being driven out because he's not sufficiently conservative?"

ABC's Jake Tapper brought Rudy Giuliani aboard This Week to address the handling of the Times Square botched bomber, but wouldn't let him go before bringing up Bennett's defeat as proof of an intolerant GOP: "Are you worried at all that the Republican Party is not only growing more hostile to more liberal to moderate Republicans such as yourself, but also conservative Republicans who are shown to, at least shown an ability to work with Democrats?"

Later, during the roundtable, George Will answered the presumption Bennett was the victim of an ideological purity test:

This is an anti-Washington year. How do you get more Washington than a three-term Senator who occupies the seat once held by his father, a four-term Senator, who before that worked on the Senate staff and then as a lobbyist in Washington? He's a wonderful man and a terrific Senator. But the fact is, he's going against terrific head-winds this year and he cast three votes: TARP, stimulus and an individual mandate for health care. Now, you might like one, two or all three of those, but being opposed to them is not outside the mainstream of American political argument.

Brooks admired those very votes from Bennett, hailing the Wyden-Bennett health plan as "a substantive, serious bill, a bipartisan bill, with strong conservative and some liberal support. So he did something sort of brave by working with Democrats which more Senators should do and now they've been sent a message to him don't do that."

As if this would convince conservatives, Dionne pointed to how "you just had an election in Britain where David Cameron, the conservative, almost got a majority by saying we need to de-toxicfy, take the rough edges off conservatism, appeal to a broader constituency." But he didn't get a majority with that approach!

From the May 9 Meet the Press:

DAVID BROOKS: This is a damn outrage, to be honest. This is a guy who was a good Senator and he was a good Senator and a good conservative, but a good conservative who was trying to get things done. The Wyden-Bennett bill, which he co-sponsored - if you took the health care economists in the country, they would probably be for that bill, ideally. It was a substantive, serious bill, a bipartisan bill, with strong conservative and some liberal support. So he did something sort of brave by working with Democrats which more Senators should do and now they've been sent a message to him don't do that. The second thing is the TARP.

Nobody liked the TARP. But we were in a complete economic meltdown and sometimes you have to do terrible things. And we're in a much better economic place because of the TARP. So he bravely cast a vote that nobody wanted to really cast and now he's losing his career over that. And it's just a damn outrage.

E.J. DIONNE: I agree with David on this. And I think that something's happening inside the Republican Party that I think in the long run won't be good for the Republican Party. You just had an election in Britain where David Cameron, the conservative, almost got a majority by saying we need to de-toxicfy, take the rough edges off conservatism, appeal to a broader constituency. And here you have a state party convention, by the way, not a primary. It's almost a non-violent coup because they denied the sitting Senator even a chance of getting on the primary ballot. And I think the party in the long run risks a backlash among voters who may not be liberal at all, but don't like this kind of politics.

And before people on the right crow too much about this, it is a party convention in Utah. I would imagine the left would win a party convention on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. So let's not, sort of, make this into a bigger thing than it is. But it is a big deal to dump somebody like Bob Bennett.

From Fox News Sunday:

JUAN WILLIAMS: This is evidence of how the American political center is losing, on the right wing of the party a guy like Bob Bennett, who is a right-wing conservative, is being driven out because he's not sufficiently conservative?...If I lived in Utah, I'm going to give up Bob Bennett and his seniority and connections?

BILL KRISTOL: Why do you need the seniority? To bring the pork home?

WILLIAMS: To bring the pork home?

KRISTOL: That's worked well over the last several years.

WILLIAMS: Oh, so you'd sit here and say, "oh TARP was terrible, bailouts were terrible," even though we saved ourselves from depression? That's rational? That's good, inspired caring about America?

- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.