The pattern is becoming more blatant to say the least. This month Republican Senator Ron Johnson announced that he was leaning toward retiring next year. Then Republican Senator Roy Blunt announced that he’s definitely retiring next year. The list just keeps getting longer. Richard Burr, Richard Shelby, and Pat Toomey are also retiring – and this is on top of the steps Mitch McConnell has been taking to lay the groundwork for his potential early retirement. So what’s behind all of this?
There are individual explanations for why some of these Republican Senators could be bailing. Burr is facing potential insider trading trouble. Shelby is 86 years old. But most of these retiring Senators are fairly young and scandal-free. In such case, there are logically only a handful of reasons to retire instead of seeking reelection.
The first is that you expect to lose reelection anyway. But most of these retiring Republican Senators would have had a greater than 50-50 chance of winning in 2022. The second reason is that you expect your party to remain in the minority after the next election, and you don’t want to stick around for that. If Republican Senators really are expecting to lose the 2022 midterm battle, they must know something we don’t. As of right now the Senate is 50-50, and the Republicans would need to gain just one seat in order to regain majority control, which feels like a realistic possibility.
It makes you wonder if Republican Senators really do know something we don’t, and they expect it to come out before the 2022 election, and they expect it to harm their party’s prospects. For instance, Donald Trump will certainly be criminally indicted before then in at least one jurisdiction. Are they afraid that Trump’s prosecution will expose the kinds of GOP secrets that could cost the party its viability?
In any case, while all these retirements have to be seen as good news for Democrats, this is not the time to get complacent. The Democrats certainly have a shot at flipping the Senate seats in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, and perhaps others particularly if the Republican incumbents aren’t running. But flipping even one Senate seat takes an extraordinary amount of work. It also requires the discipline to focus your hard work and donations on the Senate races that are the most winnable, and not merely the Senate races where the incumbent Republican is the most repulsive.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report