Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch announced in a video message on Tuesday afternoon that he will not seek an eighth term to the Senate and will retire at the end of 2018.
“Every good fighter knows when to hang up their gloves,” Hatch said.
That’s not necessarily true in the Senate, where plenty of legendary members who are well past their sell date refuse to abandon the perks that seniority affords them. For Hatch, who turns 84 in March, there was little left for him to accomplish with another six years. As chairman of the Finance Committee, Hatch just ushered through the GOP’s tax overhaul (with help from some deputies on the committee, who picked up much of the workload).
Yet Hatch wanted to make clear that he would leave the Senate on his own terms. He would get testy when questioned about his future or when he sensed some might be pushing him out. His office responded aggressively to periodic reports that he had decided to retire and had blessed a Mitt Romney campaign to succeed him.
Hatch’s plans were muddled by the fact he had begun aggressively sucking up to President Trump. After the tax plan passed, Hatch suggested Trump could become one of the greatest presidents “maybe ever.” Trump, in turn, traveled to Utah with Hatch, and praised the longtime senator, in what was once widely seen as a move to forestall a possible Senate bid by Romney. (Except for a brief moment when Romney interviewed for a job in Trump’s Cabinet, Romney has been an outspoken critic of the president’s tone.) A close association with Trump might not have helped Hatch as much in Utah as it would in other red states, but having the backing of the party leader would have gone a long way toward clearing the primary field. That’s all moot now.
Hatch’s retirement may very well mean that, one year from now, Romney will be sworn in as the state’s junior senator. Why Romney would want such a job is unclear; he must have an unusual appetite, as a wealthy man in his 70s, to spend family holidays gaveling in pro-forma sessions of an empty Senate. Having a clean trade of Romney for Hatch, though, would be the ideal turn of events for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the GOP political establishment, who do not need to be devoting time and resources to another deep-red seat.
Just don’t underestimate the ability of the president and his political team, who despise Mitt Romney, to screw this up.