OTR Interviews

Former Utah Senator Reflects on Being a Victim of Tea Party Movement, Its Impact on Politics

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 25, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: A stunning defeat in Utah. Republican Senator Bob Bennett lost his reelection bid during the midterm elections to Tea Party candidate Mike Lee. So what happened? What went wrong? We asked former Senator Bob Bennett.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

FORMER SEN. BOB BENNETT, R-UTAH: My pleasure, glad to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Everyone thought your seat was so safe for you. You had been in the Senate for 18 years and you got derailed by a Tea Party candidate.

BENNETT: Yes, I did, and the fact that Utah has a convention system I never got above the primary voters. If the voters had an opportunity to weigh in I probably would still be in the Senate.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why do think the Tea Party movement was such a force?

BENNETT: Several reasons. Number one, we had a European election in 2010. In a European election people don't focus on candidates. They focus on the party at the head. People in Germany don't care who is running from a particular district. They are just for or against Angela Merkel.

And in 2010, people didn't care who was running in their congressional district. They were either for or against Barack Obama. The folks who wanted to send Washington a message, send Obama a message were very, very powerful, and they didn't look at who the candidate was. They just said if he's not in Washington, then he's my guy or she's my gal. We want to send somebody different to Washington and we don't care what they believe. We don't care where they stand. We just know they are different.

VAN SUSTEREN: So it is anybody but who is there?

BENNETT: That was the basic slogan in my convention. I was anybody but Bennett. We don't really care.

And it was interesting to wash them swing broadly from one of my opponents to the other. He would give a speech and they would say we don't like him. They never gravitated to me. I was we got to get rid of Bennett.

VAN SUSTEREN: Where does the Tea Party movement go? If we are having this discussion two years from now what would be the status of the Tea Party movement, more or less?

BENNETT: I really don't know the answer to that. I should point out that the European election that said we don't care hot candidate is, did not hold in the elections for the Senate. The Tea Party cost the Republicans control of the Senate because they lost the seat in Nevada. They lost the seat in Colorado. They lost the seat in Delaware.

And I think I can make a case they lost the seat in Washington even though Rossi was not seen as much of a Tea Party candidate as Sharron Angle was. But there was enough of an odor around him that Patty Murray pulled through in Washington.

So if we had won those four seats the Republicans would have taken control of the Senate as well as the house and the Tea Party was a factor against the incumbent there.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you explain the difference? In your state it was anybody but. In the other stays where you identified the Tea Party candidates they lost?

BENNETT: My state was unusual because we had the convention system. But, a senator is higher profile than a member of congress. People can say I'll vote out my member of Congress because I don't really know him. I may not even know his name. But a senator that is somebody that has had statewide recognition for six years. I know who my senator is. I know what my senator has done for my state.

I know Harry Reid, and I know Sharron Angle. So here is a choice. American elections are usually a choice between two candidates. European elections are messages. So we had two elections in 2010, a European style for the house, an American style election for the Senate. And the Tea Party helped the Republicans enormously in the first one and hurt the Republicans in the second one.

VAN SUSTEREN: It is interesting about the Tea Party. There seems to be no leader.

BENNETT: That's correct.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's an interesting phenomenon in today's politics.

BENNETT: Let's go back in history a little. This may be too much of an analogy. But, as I've tried to think about it, this is kind of like Sam Adams and John Adams. Sam Adams, I don't know he was there at the first Tea Party but he was there spiritually. He was the patriot in Massachusetts that riled everybody up and let's just take on the British.

But when it came to putting the country together, and making things work that's when you need John Adams, not Sam Adams. You needed somebody who knew something about government. He became a leader. Right now you got a bunch of Sam Adams in the current House and Senate, and the question is, are we going to get out of this Tea Party movement some John Adams?