Alternate headline: Christmas comes late for Salon Conservatives.

In all seriousness, it was time.

Mr. Hatch, 83, was under heavy pressure from Mr. Trump to seek re-election and block Mr. Romney, who has been harshly critical of the president. But Mr. Hatch, who emerged as one of the president’s most avid loyalists in the Senate, decided to retire after discussing the matter with his family over the holidays. The veteran senator was also facing harsh poll numbers in Utah, where 75 percent of voters indicated in a survey last fall that they did not want him to run again…

Mr. Hatch’s decision clears the way for the political resurrection of Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee who is now a Utah resident and is popular in the Mormon-heavy state. Mr. Romney has told associates he would likely run if Mr. Hatch retires.

Seven terms in the Senate is a lotta terms — four more than Hatch’s predecessor, whom he derided as a career politician when he first won election in 1976. Trump was reportedly leaning hard on him to go for eight, though, despite Hatch’s advanced age and his promise in 2012 that this would be his last term. POTUS is eager to keep a sharp critic like Romney from gaining a soapbox in the Senate and potentially becoming a rallying point for anti-Trump Republicans, although I’ve never quite understood why. Romney isn’t popular among the national GOP base, about as out of touch with the party’s working-class grassroots as a politician can be. Because he embodies the stereotype of the country-club Republican so completely, he’ll be a useful foil for the populist president and Breitbart-style media.

So he’ll get scorched by the activist right every time he crosses Trump and he’ll get scorched by Democrats every time he votes with him. Comparing Trump unfavorably to Romney has been a fun Dem talking point over the past year, with Nancy Pelosi going so far as to say in October how nice it would be if Romney were president instead. All of that faux goodwill will go up in smoke the first time Romney votes for a Trump bill, just as there’s little left-wing goodwill for reliable right-wing Trump critics like Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse. The idea that they shouldn’t vote for Republican legislation purely in order to spite Trump, even if it lines up with their own priorities, is among the very stupidest but most durable Democratic critiques of Republican anti-Trumpers. Romney will get it worse than anyone because of his notoriety and his harsh criticism of Trump during the primaries last year. Frankly, from a pure utilitarian standpoint, he’s better off making nice with POTUS than by seizing the mantle of “Trump critic-in-chief” from Flake. The latter will leave him with few friends on either side. The former will at least give him some influence in crafting policy.

One key difference with Flake, though: Romney will hold this seat for as long as he wants it, whether he’s critical of the president or not. Imagine six full years of Trump and Mitt throwing verbal roundhouses at each other about the soul of America and the GOP. Looks like my blog content shopping list is covered until 2024!