TARP is, of course, the prime (but certainly not only) reason offered by Bennett’s opponents as to why he had to be torpedoed in Utah. The problem, as Dave Weigel notes: A lot of Republicans voted for TARP and not all of them are notorious RINOs. Why, here’s one now…

RN: You’re not facing opposition in South Dakota. How have you finessed this issue — how do Republicans explain why they voted for TARP?

[JOHN] THUNE: There was a tremendous, broad support in South Dakota among the small business community, the financial community, the South Dakota pension funds, the governor — there was a tremendous amount of support at the time for taking the steps that we took. I think a lot of people would dispute or take issue with how it was used. But people felt like, even though many disagreed with it, we took the steps necessary to prevent the economy from a complete meltdown.

I’ve been watching the Bennett thing play out for the past few weeks and can’t figure out how he came to be seen as some sort of McCain/Graham/Frum/Brooks/Kathleen Parker hybrid who had to be purged post haste. I get the political logic of dumping him — the seat is entirely safe so there’s no risk in replacing him with a more conservative novice nominee — but the idea that Bob Bennett, who flew almost completely under the blogosphere’s radar until recently, is some sort of archenemy of the right is strange. Correct me if I’m wrong but what’s really going on here is (a) the grassroots wanted to flex some muscle by beating up an incumbent, (b) Utah’s caucus system gave them their best shot of doing that, and (c) in order to get people motivated, the resident Utah incumbent had to be depicted as the second coming of Nelson Rockefeller or something. Right? Again, it’s no big deal since the seat is safe, but if voting for TARP is a mortal sin, you’d better be prepared to excommunicate some people you like. Exhibit A: Enjoy the following video flashback from the C-SPAN archives. September 29, 2008.

Exit question: Is Bennett going to go the Lieberman route and run as an independent? If he does, he’ll do so without NRSC support. Looks like Cornyn’s finally learned his lesson.