Recent news stories have reported that Sen. Orrin Hatch is thinking about running for re-election in 2018. The senior senator from Utah said in a television interview that he might run for re-election in 2018 if he was close to finishing tax reform and was needed in the U.S. Senate to complete that task. (Hatch currently is the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.) Hatch said the current term is “probably going to be my last term,” although he could run again.
These words are in stark contrast to what Sen. Hatch and his campaign were saying two years ago when he was running for a seventh term. On March 13, 2012, he told a reporter “I don’t have time to run after this one,” referring to his current campaign. And “I’ve said it will be my last term, but I want to make it the best six years anyone’s put in for Utah.” As the Deseret News reported at the time, Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen said then that the senator wants to “’get it out there in a definitive way so people understood’ he won’t run again.”
Now Sen. Hatch seems to be sending up a trial balloon to see whether Utahns would accept the idea of him running for an eighth term when he is 84. Moreover, he is attending fundraiser after fundraiser. Ostensibly, the money raised for his OrrinPAC will be spent to help other Republican candidates running this year. But that fundraising effort could be shifted to a Hatch re-election campaign.
This is a trial balloon that should be shot down, and quickly. Utahns should tell Sen. Hatch in no uncertain terms that he should squelch any idea of serving another term. Instead, he should keep his word to Utah voters. He asked for their support on the premise that he wanted only one more term. Suggesting that he might run again would mean the senator is breaking faith with the very voters who have re-elected him several times. I doubt that reneging on his campaign promise would leave a legacy of the senator he would want.
Unfortunately, by indicating that only he can get tax reform through, Sen. Hatch is showing he has succumbed to a common disease in government – the idea of indispensability. Like every other government official, he is not indispensable. Moreover, if the senator is still working on tax reform four years from now, that would suggest he isn’t really working hard enough on it.
Indeed, it is likely Sen. Hatch won’t work diligently on tax reform until after the 2016 election, over two years from now. He expects that a Republican president will be elected then and join a Republican Congress that will pass the kind of tax reform he wants. Of course, it is possible none of that will happen and Sen. Hatch may not get what he wants.
In actuality, tax reform could be accomplished much sooner than 2017 if Sen. Hatch and other Republicans were willing to forge a compromise with Democrats. Sen. Hatch was working effectively on tax reform proposals with Sen. Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and then chair of the Senate Finance Committee, until Baucus was appointed U.S. ambassador to China. Baucus’ replacement, Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, has been praised by conservative columnist George Will as someone who is willing to wage the tough battle of achieving significant tax reform to meet the nation’s pressing economic needs. If Sen. Hatch and House Republicans would be willing to cooperate with Wyden, tax reform could happen as early as this year.
Another reason for Sen. Hatch to stop sending signals about running again is the rare opportunity he has to concentrate on his job. If he wants to get tax reform done, he should make that his priority and forego any thoughts about re-election. That way he can leave office more as a statesman who spent his time doing the best he could to solve the nation’s problems rather than as a politician worried about the next re-election campaign.
Richard Davis is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of BYU.