And now, for the second time, he has been afraid to reach for the brass ring. He has shown, again, a lack of the fundamental bravado necessary to lead.
He has twice been within reach of the United States Senate, and he has twice recoiled in cowardice, playing it safe while better men have dared and achieved.
It is a disqualifying flaw which takes him out of contention for future leadership consideration. It shows him, unfortunately, when the pressure is on, to be a flake.
I like Jason Chaffetz, and have been one of his loudest defenders. I will still support him, but I do so now with the recognition that he has serious limitations. Some men dream of and can grasp greatness. Jason Chaffetz is not one of them.
I feared this more than two years ago.
After his election to the House of Representatives, political attention in Utah shifted to the effort to unseat then-Senator Bob Bennett. The senator had grown too old and too moderate in office. He had gone Potomac, and the rising tide of constitutional concern seemed poised to wash him away. He was ripe for the picking.
I discussed that personally with Jason Chaffetz several times. I argued that he, Chaffetz, was a natural to take on Bennett. I told him that the nation deserved better, and that it was his duty to step forward and lead. I made the case that his voice needed to be raised in the Senate at this juncture of history.
Sometimes he seemed persuaded.
Other times he didn’t.
Ultimately he played it safe and withdrew while another man – Mike Lee – boldly stepped forward to fight for and claim the office. Mike Lee is now a United States senator. In many ways, Jason Chaffetz is his better. But where it counts – in guts and grit – Mike Lee is the better man, and that’s why he is where he is today.
At that juncture, as Mike Lee advanced to the Republican primary, Jason Chaffetz told me that he was going to run against Orrin Hatch this year. On that same day, I told state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff – himself having considered a Senate run – that Jason Chaffetz had chickened out once, and would probably chicken out again. It was a simple matter of human nature.
I wish I’d been wrong.
And over recent months, I presumed that I was.
Over recent months, Jason Chaffetz has essentially been a declared candidate. He and Orrin Hatch have openly sparred, and Jason Chaffetz has toured the state taking political digs at Orrin Hatch.
Because of this, a crop of Utah’s endless supply of ambitious Republicans has been jockeying for the congressional seat everyone presumed Jason Chaffetz would abandon. Further, other Republican candidates who might have been able to build momentum against Orrin Hatch have all stayed in the barn because of Jason Chaffetz’ presumed candidacy.
That leaves two potentially strong Orrin Hatch rivals – moderate Mark Shurtleff and conservative Carl Wimmer – flat footed and unprepared to take on the veteran senator.
But it’s not the politicians of Utah who are the losers in all this – it’s the people of Utah.
Yes, Orrin Hatch is a gentleman and the nation owes him a debt of gratitude. But he has been in the Senate for 36 years. He has been there too long and accomplished too little. He, too, has long since gone Potomac, and his day has long since passed.
In a state that is fundamentally tea party, Orrin Hatch is anything but.
And a state of principles will be represented for six more years by a man of politics. We are thrashing about for solutions and he is part of the problem.
And his re-election is just about assured by Jason Chaffetz’ vacillation.
Which is the most disappointing aspect of Jason Chaffetz’ announcement yesterday. He made the decision that benefited him, and abandoned us. He had a choice between expediency and duty, and he chose expediency.
Yes, he says he will continue his service in the House. He assumes important responsibilities will come to him there.
And there may be perqs. No doubt Washington Republicans will pay Jason Chaffetz off somehow for protecting Orrin Hatch. But at the end of the day, no one in the House of Representatives is important.
No one except the Speaker.
And a guy who lacks the guts to run for the Senate will lack the guts to run for Speaker.
So it’s over before it began. Orrin Hatch can throw his victory party now. It’s more than a year until Election Day, but he has already won. No Republican can rise against him at this late date, and no Democrat of consequence will dare to run against him in a vote that will essentially be a referendum on Barack Obama.
It almost makes you think Jason Chaffetz was a stalking horse for Orrin Hatch all along. Two incumbents get to keep their jobs, and the voters get no choice. Imagine that.
Yesterday Jason Chaffetz stood up and confirmed what many of us feared.