As part of his coy cat-and-mouse game, Hatch said the other day that he was still undecided as to running again. Even though he had said the last time around that his seventh term would be his last.
But, he said, he might be more likely to stand down if someone he liked — say, former Massachusetts Gov. and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney — would run.
Seats in the Senate — and the House, and the Legislature — are not property to be willed to a favorite son or other chosen one. They are public offices to be filled at the pleasure of the electorate.
That power is effectively taken away, though, when long-term incumbents openly waffle over their decision on when to hang it up. As long as he maybe possibly might be running, Hatch's fund-raising ability, name recognition and other perks of inertia make it overwhelmingly difficult for any would-be challengers — or successors — to gear up, especially for a statewide race.
Anointing an heir apparent has pretty much the same effect. All the other possible candidates will see their path to victory disappear, and many of the state's best and brightest, many of whom would serve the state and nation quite well, will quit before they start.
As 2018 has hurtled toward us, Hatch, and various contributors to The Salt Lake Tribune's op-ed columns, have suggested that his service to Utah, to the nation and to various segments of the economy is so unsurpassably wonderful that the heavens might fall if he has the bad judgment to retire.
Hatch came to the Senate the same year Jimmy Carter came to the White House. Carter has spent the last 36 years building homes for poor people and wiping out diseases in Africa. Hatch is still right where we put him all those years ago, aiding and abetting a $20 trillion debt while reforming neither the health care system nor the tax code.