WASHINGTON — The Hon. Orrin Hatch, a staunchly conservative Republican senator from Utah, is no longer with us. He died in Salt Lake City at 88. Hatch’s seven terms in the Senate are a record, and it’s fair to say time changed him into a better man.
Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican Leader, is the perfect foil for Hatch. At 57, the vapid Californian struts through the House like it’s a fraternity, with white male “bros.”
McCarthy often whines about “Pelosi,” belittling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat.
Insincere about all but his lust to become house speaker, McCarthy denied — lied about — his resolve to tell former President Donald Trump to resign after the Jan. 6, 2021, mob attack on the Capitol.
Remember the days when getting caught lying on tape was a problem? Now, contradicting oneself is a minor hiccup in a news cycle.
Contrasting Hatch and McCarthy shows us how far the Republican party fell in one political lifetime — or generation.
On his way down into the ashpit, McCarthy makes Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., look steady in his stance against Trump.
From rookie reporting days, I have a personal memory of Hatch inviting me to listen to some country gospel songs he composed. His smile lit up the office. I had to revise my opinion of him upward.
As much as liberals disagreed with Hatch, we liked and respected his warm humanity and Mormon faith. He arrived in Washington, vowing to take on everything Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., championed. In the end, they became best of friends.
McCarthy is not an honorable man like Hatch.
Charm has pretty much left the Republican Party.
Unlike the Kennedy-Hatch friendship, which led to bipartisan laws, the McCarthy-Trump alliance reveals how hollow McCarthy was in pursuing power and the outgoing Trump’s favor.
There was no low to which McCarthy would not go to hold onto his raucous caucus, which suddenly included Georgia’s own Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on Jan. 3, 2021. Unofficially the biggest mouth of Trump in the House, Greene called for “Marshall law” in that fateful January.
Anyone who was in the House chamber on the darkest day — as McCarthy was, as I was — knew the bloodthirsty mob almost broke in. Over the sound of gunfire, we — the members and the press — narrowly escaped from the siege’s fury.
The shock was fresh when McCarthy spoke something close to the truth. He condemned mob violence in a floor speech and later admitted Trump bore some responsibility. He told colleagues he’d advise Trump to resign, even with President Joe Biden about to be sworn into office.
In a call with Trump as the attack raged, McCarthy urged Trump to call the armed mob off.
Good for McCarthy in one desperate moment. Trump taunted “Kevin,” saying the pro-Trump thousands were more upset about the election than he was.
Within weeks, McCarthy visited Mara-a-Lago to publicly patch things up with Trump.
Quavering McCarthy gave Trump the power he craved. If he’d treated Trump like a pariah, a pretender or an enemy of the Constitution, that might have stuck. But he sold his own soul for free.
McCarthy’s vote against Trump’s impeachment over the Jan. 6 violence clinched the devil’s deal. His lack of leadership limits let loose a volcano of Trumpian trash talk.
The new rules were that there were no rules among roughly 200 House Republicans. Only 10 voted to impeach Trump, including Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
Freshmen Republicans Greene, Lauren Boebert, Colo., and Madison Cawthorn, N.C., poisoned the well further into a partisan firestorm.
Don’t get me wrong. Specific things Hatch did — in 1991, in 2017 — I can’t accept. Shouldering the elephantine Trump tax bill, giving massive breaks to the rich, stands out.
But it helps to have some love lost between the party aisle. For Hatch and Kennedy, their friendship resulted in laws helping AIDS patients and health insurance for the working poor.
The straight-laced Mormon helped the liberal lion beat his drinking problem.
Journalists enjoyed lighter moments that now seem so much scarcer. A reporter friend once showed Hatch the Beethoven piano sonata sheets (in F minor) he was learning.
“Why don’t you try something a bit tougher?” Hatch said.
Jamie Stiehm may be reached at JamieStiehm.com. Follow her on Twitter @JamieStiehm