The Atlantic, citing “five sources familiar with the situation,” reports that “Senator Orrin Hatch has privately told allies in Utah that he is planning to retire at the end of his term next year, and if he does, Mitt Romney intends to run for his seat.” Hatch’s office snippily denied that any decision had been made.
But let’s presume that the decision has been made. It would make sense for Hatch. He would turn 85 only a couple of months into what would be his eighth term. And what would he have to achieve? He’s currently working to cement his legacy by ushering through a sweeping tax reform bill as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, after already having served as chairman of the HELP and Judiciary Committees in previous decades. One could see him fighting to stick around if he was protecting his seat from a crazy insurgent challenger—not that it would be assured that Hatch, who doesn’t have the best approval ratings, could even beat that crazy person at a Utah nominating convention—but he’s got Mitt Romney all lined up.
What’s far more confusing is why Romney, a 70-year-old former governor and CEO, would be interested in serving as the junior senator from Utah in a broken legislative body. Per the Atlantic’s reporting, Romney seems to be under the mistaken impression that such a gig would provide him with a useful leadership platform.
People close to Romney say his desire to serve in the Senate now—at a time of tremendous political upheaval and widespread GOP infighting—is multi-faceted. He has told friends that he is alarmed at what he regards as the recklessness and incompetence of the Trump presidency so far, and that he’s worried about what long-term effects Trumpism could have on the Republican Party. Friends also say he is restless and eager to get off the sidelines, and that after years of losing campaigns, the prospect of an all-but-guaranteed electoral victory is extremely tempting.
The part about how he constantly loses elections and is hankering to win one makes sense. But how does he imagine that being 13th or 14th in order of questioning at, say, a Senate Finance Committee hearing would allow him to serve as a counter to “the recklessness and incompetence of the Trump presidency so far,” or allow him to restrain the “long-term effects Trumpism could have on the Republican Party”? The Senate already has one Ben Sasse. Trumpism barely bats an eyelash.
If Romney is indeed “restless and eager to get off the sidelines” over these very issues, he could challenge Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination. That, however, would be the opposite of an “all-but-guaranteed electoral victory.” If he wants to make his voice heard, he could simply … give speeches and make his voice heard! There’s no need to make them to an empty Senate chamber.