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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Ding-dong Orrin Hatch will be gone but Romney could easily be worse

Try putting yourself in Orrin Hatch’s shoes; earlier this week the 83 year-old Utah senator announced his retirement, bravely conceding it was time to abandon his comfortable hut in the epicenter of the DC bog after serving seven terms in the upper chamber.

Seven times six, that’s 42 years, which means Hatch’s haunted the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol building for over half his life. One out of every two days Hatch’s breathed in oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide Romney Trumpon God’s green earth were spent dressed in the suit of a federal elected official. The only problem now is a lot of people are having a hard time determining whether Hatch’s four decades-plus-long tenure is an accomplishment worthy of celebration or a travesty symbolic of everything that’s wrong with the Washington political swamp.

One way or the other the establishment is losing one of its most trustworthy creatures. Hatch made it sound like it was a difficult decision to walk away.

Lisa Hagen of The Hill reported, “Hatch, 83, made the announcement in a video posted to Twitter. Hatch's retirement comes despite President Trump's public encouragement for Hatch to run for reelection.

“’I've always been a fighter. I was an amateur boxer in my youth, and I brought that fighting spirit with me to Washington,’ Hatch said in the video. ‘But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching.’”

It’s funny Hatch mentioned boxing because no doubt his fighting ring days were so long ago that hardly anyone recalls what he did before he was swallowed up by politics. Historians will pore over Hatch’s record in the coming months highlighting his successes and failures as a lawmaker but the real issue where he’s concerned is why would the people of Utah – or any state for that matter – keep sending the same guy to Washington for these impossibly long durations?

Think about it. The Washington Hatch first encountered in 1976 doesn’t exist anymore. 1976 was the year Ronald Reagan dueled non-elected President Gerald Ford for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination; it was also the year Americans sent the buck-toothed, straw-haired country bumpkin Jimmy Carter to the White House; the “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati Reds defeated the New York Yankees to win their second straight World Series title; the United States was celebrating its bicentennial and the disco craze was still in its infancy stages.

It was an entirely different world back then; country singer Alan Jackson even immortalized 1976 in a song about his youth, singing,

“Rocky burned up the movie screen, and I was turnin' seventeen
Tie-dyed shirts and Levis jeans, lookin' cool at the Dairy Queen
Tryin' to impress a young woman in her Sunday dress…

“Eight track tapes were still in style and Elvis was still alive
Wonder Woman sure looked fine, Bionic Man was still Prime Time
And that girl I liked, we kept on tryin till we got it right”

The girl in Jackson’s song became his wife; simpler times indeed. To further put it in perspective, Hatch’s senate years spanned seven different presidents. This means he could have attended eleven inaugurations – and had a pretty good view of the events from his VIP seat, too.

As would be expected Hatch’s fellow senators lauded his career, praised his colloquial manner and labeled him a “statesman.” But does over forty years in political office automatically qualify one for the title?

Michelle Malkin doesn’t think so, writing at CNS News, “’Statesman’ isn't a title earned by mere length of service. It's not a cheap status conferred like an AARP card or IHOP senior discount. A politician who notches decades of frequent flyer miles back and forth between Washington and his ‘home’ state, enjoying the endless perks of incumbency, does not acquire statesmanship by perpetual re-election and political self-aggrandizement.

“The idea of amassing $4 million to $6 million campaign war chests, as Hatch did the past two election cycles, is antithetical to the ideal of statesmanship. In the days of Cincinnatus and George Washington, self-sacrifice and civic virtue marked true statesmen. Affability, which Hatch is credited with possessing by his backroom Democrat chums, was no substitute for the humility exhibited by statesmen who volunteered to relinquish power at the very height of it -- not in its waning twilight.”

It’s true; politics and public service is no longer viewed by those in office as a civic duty to be endured solely for the sake of the common good. It’s hard to remember these days but the Founding Fathers all suffered severely in their personal lives in order to bring about a new nation. On a recent trip to Williamsburg the young gentleman portraying Thomas Jefferson lamented he had to spend an average of eight months out of every year away from home throughout his lifetime.

America’s preeminent founder George Washington often wrote of wanting to leave public life behind to retire and grow crops at his beloved Mount Vernon; similarly, wife Martha Washington traveled to every winter camp during the Revolutionary War, not only to raise the spirits of the commanding general but also to boost the morale of the troops. For this couple such sacrifice was a duty; an obligation to be taken seriously, not gratuitously.

Washington’s neighbor along the Potomac River in Virginia, George Mason, despised public life so much that to this day, well over 200 years later, Mason’s as renowned around these parts for his desire to avoid being called away from home as he is for penning the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the precursor to the Declaration of Independence and federal Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Mason served because he felt compelled to do so and it was not a labor of love in any sense.

And as was depicted in the meticulously historically accurate HBO miniseries John Adams, the Massachusetts statesman spent years at a time away from his family to the point where his children grew up without him around and hardly knew him whenever he returned home. Despite his prolonged absences Adams’ love story with wife Abigail is the stuff of legend – a far cry from today’s tawdry tales of ruling class sexual adventures and funny business that makes every modest person blush.

These men and a great many others who came after them never viewed holding political office as something that was perpetually sustainable let alone enviable. Their only intention was to complete their service and return to the aspects of their personal lives and professions that truly interested them – which in contemporary times would be considered boring and unsophisticated.

To spend 42 years holding the same office (like Hatch did) would have been unfathomable to the Founders -- that’s what kings used to do, possess title and power for life. By all appearances Orrin Hatch is a good man yet as Malkin pointed out he’s adopted the ways of Washington in order to propagate his career and enrich himself largely at the public expense. If living as a senator was unpleasant then no one would see it as a lifelong ticket to free travel and luxurious excess.

42 years makes Orrin Hatch a poster boy for term limits; the same goes for disgraced newly “retired” Rep. John Conyers and a host of Washington pols who’ve outstayed their welcome by decades, not just years. How can it be claimed Hatch or his similarly situated lifer colleagues were able to grasp what conditions are like “out there” among the common folk? How can you govern when you’re out of touch?

The blame isn’t solely Hatch’s; the Utah Republican Party deserves its share of condemnation for continuing to nominate the man – though to its credit the Beehive State GOP did toss out Senator Bob Bennett during the Tea Party wave of 2010, nominating and electing Senator Mike Lee in his stead.

Similar to Hatch, Bennett became a figurehead of the disgraced Washington GOP establishment, endorsed by elites like Mitt Romney. Bennett’s fate might have awaited Hatch in 2012 had the state party not changed the nominating rules for senators, though Hatch’s personal popularity would have been difficult to overcome for grassroots conservatives looking to oust him.

Speaking of Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee is widely rumored to be the next-in-line to try for Hatch’s seat. Conservatives who may have been initially excited at the thought of another vacant senate seat in a safe Republican state were no doubt disappointed to learn Romney could end up Hatch’s successor.

Mitt has never held office at the national level though it’s almost certain the former Massachusetts governor known best for flip-flopping and big government leanings will join with the establishment wing of the party (that opposes much of what Trump stands for) and could therefore do more harm than good.

Others are slightly more optimistic about Mitt’s potential, arguing Romney may have been more conservative if he hadn’t run for office several times in ultra-liberal Massachusetts.

W. James Antle III wrote in the Washington Examiner, “If Romney had never run for office in Massachusetts and stuck to Utah politics, he would never have supported legal abortion. He may never have become known as a ‘flip-flopper.’ And he likely would not have been responsible for Romneycare, the state healthcare law that later formed the basis of Obamacare.

“All in all, Romney would have been a much cleaner conservative candidate for the Republican presidential nomination both times he ran. And perhaps this would have aided him as a ‘Never Trump’ voice during the 2016 primaries.”

I doubt it. Most conservatives wholeheartedly supported Romney in 2012 only because he was pitted against Obama – and any Republican would have seemed like Ronald Reagan when placed side-by-side with the great leftist divider of the twenty-first century.

Should Romney commit to run to replace Hatch most people predict he’ll win easily in the state he went to college (BYU) and remains very popular to this day. Mitt will be 71 when and if he joins the senate and that fact already makes him an elder statesman. How much influence would a washed-up career pol really have as a junior senator? Probably no more than the body’s other GOP presidential loser, John McCain.

The establishment media already suggests Senator Romney would be a “foe” of Trump, but here’s thinking Mitt would quickly recognize he’d get a lot farther by joining the Trump train instead of opposing it. Romney’s niece (and current chair of the RNC) says her uncle isn’t a #NeverTrumper. That’s probably true though Trump may have preferred Hatch to keep his seat instead of handing it to Romney.

Time will tell how Orrin Hatch’s retirement will play out. Regardless, there will be new blood in the senate after Hatch’s departure – and that can only be a good thing. Mitt Romney would add a new establishment presence to Washington – but would he really just be a thorn in Trump’s side?

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