Hatch hired me in 1979 for a reason that he might now regard as even more embarrassing: I was recommended as his successor as “Economic Counsel” by Paul Craig Roberts, then renowned as a proponent of the radical supply-side economics revolution and headed to the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, now perhaps even more Politically Incorrect than I am.
To put this in incredible perspective: I was actually reluctant to leave Canada, which I loved and where I had become a national columnist. I was finally talked into it by William A. Rusher, then the publisher of National Review and (in my view) at least the nursemaid of the American Conservative Movement. He told me privately that Hatch, although first elected only in 1976, had already caught the eye of Ronald Reagan backers who viewed him as a potential backup if Reagan, then at 69 viewed as problematically old, blew up on the campaign trail. (An amazing fear considering the geriatric hegemony that now prevails in American politics—including, in a small way, me).
I could have been Stephen Miller!
Of course, it’s now forgotten that Orrin Hatch was once Mentioned as a Presidential contender (he did make a brief, donor-fueled bid in 2000). Perhaps even more surprising: that Hatch was ever seen as a Reagan-style Dissident Right insurrectionary. Thus I see from Wikipedia (1/4/2017, links in original) that “Hatch has earned a reputation for bipartisanship, sponsoring legislation with Senator Ted Kennedy, among other Democrats, and voting for most of President Bill Clinton's judicial nominees”—i.e. continued Leftist kritarchy.
Let me stipulate that on a personal level I instinctively liked Hatch, in the way that I liked Donald Trump, and disliked William F. Buckley. Thus eventually, I was extruded from Hatch’s staff because it was felt that a non-citizen would be a liability going into the re-election cycle (ironic, given Hatch’s subsequent immigration enthusiasm). But when my executioner and I reported to Hatch’s office after the blow had been struck, and I told him that in fact l had already arranged to return to financial journalism with Barron’s when appropriate, he was visibly and touchingly relieved.
My great contribution to Hatch’s career: preventing him from ever becoming a Supreme Court justice, which—oddly for someone who showed little interest in abstract principle—was apparently for some time his ambition.
I achieved this feat by deciding, in consultation with an imaginative fellow-staffer, that Hatch’s path to the Presidency was by voicing a principled critique of Affirmative Action quotas, then spreading like a silent cancer through American society. We caused Hatch to put a massive amount of material into the Congressional Record explicating the law, economics and politics of this taboo wedge issue. I ghosted a first cut at estimating the regulatory burden of quotas [Loading The Economy, by Orrin Hatch, Policy Review, Spring, 1980 (PDF)] which I’m happy to say excited the approbation of the great Anglo-Hungarian economist Peter Bauer. Justifying our political instinct, a denunciation of Affirmative Action I wrote for Hatch for delivery at the Conservative Political Action Conference got splash headlines in the old Washington Star, which worked from the press release, although in embarrassing fact he had wimped out completely and extemporized his usual free-enterprise boilerplate.
In subsequent years, Hatch completely ran away from the subject, in common with the entire GOP elite. But it would still have made for embarrassing questions at his confirmation hearing.
I might chalk up our failure to elect Hatch president on this issue to our being naive political ideologues. But how exactly did Hatch’s pragmatic advisors plan to elect him president? And as it happens, in a little noted-sequel the Affirmative Action issue nearly broke through into national politics in 1995-1996, only to be derailed by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (whose pragmatism did him no good either—he had to resign after GOP House losses in the subsequent 1998 elections).
I used to irritate my fellow staffers by predicting that Hatch would become the next John B. Anderson—the Illinois GOP Congressman who began as a rock-ribbed conservative and ended up running a Main Stream Media-applauded Never-Trump style independent campaign for president against Ronald Reagan in 1980. I thought this because it was clear to me that Hatch’s psychology was quite different from the typical movement conservative of that era, used to being in a minority and inured to defeat. Hatch, in contrast, had spent his life in a supportive Mormon bubble, just as Anderson (who early in his career three times introduced a constitutional amendment to “recognize the law and authority of Jesus Christ”) had grown up surrounded by Scandinavian Protestants. People from this type of background naturally gravitate to their peer group’s consensus, like lambs burrowing into the center of the flock. For both Hatch and Anderson, their new peer group was Washington.
That Hatch did not burrow all the way can be attributed to Ronald Reagan and the unexpected years of Republican hegemony he ushered in. The Mormon Church is nothing if not hierarchical, and I remember the deference in Hatch’s voice early in the primary season when he told Reagan over the phone about a rally he had addressed: “I think I did a good job for you, governor,” he said earnestly.
He was similarly respectful of big businessmen. Michelle Malkin, in her column above, and The Nation’s John Nichols in Orrin Hatch was Never a “Public Servant” (January 4, 2017), write scathingly of campaign contributions. At the risk of being (again) naïve, I wonder which came first, the deference or the dollars.
Democratic operative David Axelrod writes that in 2010, after he was the subject of “a snarky newspaper profile, portraying me as tired and defeated in the midst of the final push for health care reform,” he was surprised and gratified to get a commiserating call from Hatch. He writes that with Hatch’s retirement, “the Senate will lose yet another of the dwindling corps of members who recall a time when bipartisanship was possible and simple acts of civility were not considered a sign of weakness or treachery”. [Orrin Hatch’s simple act of kindness, CNN, January 3, 2018]
This is nice, and it doesn’t surprise me: Hatch has never seemed vicious or vindictive.
But I have to point out Axelrod was at that time Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, and very much in a position to return any “kindness.”
I would like to think that Orrin Hatch made a similar commiserating call to a far more unjustly treated figure: Judge Roy Moore. But, alas, I see no reports of it.
Peter Brimelow [Email him] is the editor of VDARE.com. His best-selling book, Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster, is now available in Kindle format. Follow Peter Brimelow on Twitter.