It’s a big loss for Republicans, especially in Pennsylvania, where Pat Toomey has been inordinately successful for his entire political life. As the soon-retiring senator mentioned in his presser this morning, he’d never lost an election in the state, and didn’t have any reason to think he’d lose another one, either. Instead, Toomey has decided to just hang it up now and go back to the private sector, eschewing a gubernatorial run that many assumed would be next on his political career path:
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) announces he will retire in 2022: "After that, my plan is to go back to the private sector." pic.twitter.com/BgrwuZ5wlr
— The Recount (@therecount) October 5, 2020
The news began to leak out last night, and it set off speculation about the GOP’s ability to compete in the 2022 Senate race:
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey has decided not to run for reelection or for governor of Pennsylvania in 2022, according to two people familiar with his plans, a surprise decision by the Republican with significant implications for the state’s next elections.
He is planning to serve out his current Senate term but won’t run for either of those offices, seemingly ending his career in elected office, at least for now. A formal announcement is expected Monday. …
As the only Republican holding statewide office other than judges, Toomey was widely seen as the likely Republican favorite for governor in 2022. His decision not to run for that office or for Senate could create two wide-open contests on the Republican side, while depriving the party of running its most established current political figure in Pennsylvania.
It will also open a prime Senate target for national Democrats, regardless of who controls the chamber after this year’s election. A large number of current and former members of Congress, state lawmakers, and other local elected officials in both parties are likely to begin jockeying for position in both races.
That is especially bad news for Republicans, as they already faced a second consecutive election cycle with a significant seat disadvantage. This year, Republicans are defending eleven more seats than Democrats, including two special elections for GOP-held seats; in 2022, they will defend eight more seats than Democrats. If the GOP manages to pull off a miracle and hold onto the Senate in this year’s election, they’re going to have to keep up the miracle work in the next one to extend that control. And if Trump gets re-elected in this cycle, the midterms will likely not be kind to him … again.
Having Toomey retire now makes that 2022 cycle even tougher, but at least this gives Republicans plenty of time to start recruiting a replacement. The Keystone State isn’t as hostile to Republicans as, say, New York or other northeastern states, but it’s not exactly friendly territory either. The GOP would have had to work and spend in Pennsylvania to get Toomey re-elected, but now they’ll have to work and spend more in a cycle where resources and money will get stretched thin over 20 races as it is.
Plus, Toomey’s departure will likely hit fiscal conservatives especially hard. Toomey’s one of the last such figures in the Senate in either party, and the populist wave of the last few years means we won’t see many emerge in the near future, either. Toomey spoke about some of the work left to be completed, including the final disposition of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the “incomplete” work from the fiscal crisis that touched off the Great Recession. Toomey is one of the quiet voices behind the opposition to the rush to create helicopter money for this crisis too, which may not be popular in the short term but has a potentially prophetic quality to it for the long term.
Prophets have a tough time winning popularity contests, as the long history of prophets demonstrate. Toomey’s making a wise choice in that regard, but that’s a bad development for the rest of us.