At the time, I believed this to be a calamity: Whatever you thought of his opinions, Fulbright was a distinguished senator and thoughtful participant in the foreign policy debates; Bumpers was a supreme mediocrity – and remained as much throughout his four terms in the Senate. It seemed grotesque for Arkansas to cast aside a statesman in favor of a blow-dried Claghorn. Moreover, the senior senator from Arkansas, John McClellan, was planning to retire in two years: Bumpers could have chosen to wait and, at 51, succeed him in the Senate without vanquishing Fulbright.
In retrospect, I suppose, it could be argued that Fulbright served for five terms in the Senate, and had enjoyed a certain eminence for decades: No one is entitled to lifetime tenure in political office. But I still tend to think that the qualitative difference between Bumpers and Fulbright was decisive, and at 69, Fulbright was in good health and full possession of his faculties.
In a sense, things are exactly the reverse in Wyoming. It is true that Mike Enzi has been a stalwart, reliable, low-key public servant who does not necessarily deserve to be retired. Yet no one has ever accused him of distinction, and at a moment when the Republican Party could use some smart, articulate, and ambitious voices in Congress, the choice between Mike Enzi and Liz Cheney seems obvious. So Republicans in Wyoming have a difficult decision: abandon an old friend, or tarnish a rising star. But much is at stake, and politics is a notably unsentimental business.