Oh yes: Orrin Hatch reportedly planning to retire, Romney to run for his seat

Don’t whine. Trumpers need an establishment enemy in the Senate to hate and Romney is the perfect foil. You won’t have Corker and Flake to kick around by 2019 and McCain might retire before then for health reasons. Ben Sasse will still be there but he’ll need to tone down his Trump-bashing with his own 2020 reelection bid creeping up. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are reliable no votes but neither one of them is likely to spar with Trump rhetorically as Corker and Flake have done. And we’ve all seen how timid the, ahem, libertarians — Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz — are when it comes to battling with Trump. All three of them just endorsed Roy Moore, for cripes sake. They’re not going to wrangle with a populist POTUS.

It’ll be Senator Romney by default who’ll quickly become the base’s prime hate object and the de facto leader of the anti-Trump caucus. It’s gonna be lit. Lit, I tell you.

Unless of course Romney rolls over and becomes a Trumper too. In which case “Salon Conservatives” club will disband in ruin and disgrace.

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, according to five sources familiar with the situation…

Sources close to both men said plans have already been set in motion for Hatch to retire and for Romney to run, but they cautioned that the timing of the announcements has not yet been finalized, and that either man could still change his mind. They spoke on condition of anonymity, because the plans are not yet public, and the subject is sensitive to Hatch. Already, though, the expected developments are reshaping the state’s political landscape…

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 Republican establishment is eager for Hatch to ease gracefully into retirement next year and for Mitt to take his place. Is that because Romney’s king of the RINOs? Nah. They’re afraid of Hatch getting Flake-d by Steve Bannon, upset in a Republican primary by a populist candidate who’ll be difficult to control in the Senate. Flake stepped aside because he knew he couldn’t win a primary against Bannon-backed Kelli Ward; Hatch would be much harder to oust given his long tenure and the fact that he hasn’t attacked Trump regularly this year, but he’s vulnerable. A Salt Lake Tribune poll published last week found no fewer than 75 percent of Utah voters say Hatch probably shouldn’t run for reelection, with fully 56 percent saying he definitely shouldn’t. Pit him against, say, Boyd Matheson, whom Bannon is eyeing as a challenger in Utah, and there’s at least a chance that the incumbent goes down. It’s happened before, after all. It was in Utah that the tea party first flexed its electoral muscle, ousting Bob Bennett in favor of Mike Lee in 2010.

Normally even an aging, weakened Hatch would still be the establishment’s best bet to hold the seat given his decades of incumbency. But Utah is a special case. When the Tribune asked Utahns who they’d prefer to see in Hatch’s seat, here was the response:

Note that even Hatch himself can’t crack double digits with Romney in the field. A few days after that ran, the paper published an editorial calling on Romney to “be a savior for Republicans” and run for Hatch’s seat. He’d be running in a heavily Mormon state as the first major-party Mormon presidential nominee, with universal name recognition. He’s anti-Trump, “globalist,” a surer thing to hold the seat than the current occupant is, and wealthy enough to self-fund in case any spending is needed. He’s a McConnell/NRSC dream candidate.

The main suspense with a Romney Senate run isn’t whether he’d win or lose but how outspoken he’d be about Trump on the trail. My guess is “not very.” The lesson of Jeff Flake is that only a fool speaks ill of the king with an election in front of him. Romney’s much safer than Flake is, running in a red rather than purple state and starting with much higher favorable ratings locally than Flake had, but bashing Trump can only hurt him and galvanize a populist challenge. If he stays neutral and focuses on the Republican agenda, he’s unbeatable. (He’s almost certainly unbeatable even if he doesn’t.) The minor suspense is whether Steve Bannon will try to bait him into attacking Trump, or at least populists, by pushing a challenger aggressively in the primary or if he’ll write off the race as unwinnable and concentrate elsewhere. Like I said up top, Romney will likely be a useful foil for populists as a senator. If Bannon’s playing the long game, it’s in his interest to look the other way, let Romney win the seat easily, then set about exploiting him as a villain to mobilize populist opinion for the next six years.

Anyway. In honor of Mitt’s looming return to politics, it’s time to dance.

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