But Hatch's troubles also say something about the way in which the nation's political needle has been moving. Over the past four decades – and more sharply over just the past few years – the geopolitical center of America has shifted rightward. It hasn't happened on all fronts – certainly, there are some areas where the country has clearly moved to the left, such as views on gay rights. But on a host of other issues, from guns to the role of government, the center of debate has edged closer to the conservative position, while activists on the right have moved even further out on the political spectrum.
The move has been most pronounced on fiscal matters. In Washington today, when it comes to the size of government, the debate isn't over whether to cut spending, but by how much. It's not over how much to raise taxes to help alleviate a fiscal shortfall, but whether any kind of tax increase – even on the wealthiest few – is valid.
"I don't remember, ever, in my 45 years in this business, the debate in Washington being [almost solely], 'What are we going to cut?' " says Sal Russo, a top strategist for the Tea Party Express and a longtime Republican consultant who worked as an aide to Gov. Ronald Reagan and advised Hatch's 2000 presidential bid. "Washington is different than anything I've seen in 45 years."
When it comes to foreign affairs, a country that went into a crouch for two decades after Vietnam is now involved – however reluctantly under the current president – in three wars. Many Americans have also hardened their stance on illegal immigration, accountability in schools has become a prevailing ethic, and nuclear power and offshore oil drilling have come back, to a limited degree.