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Five of the 20 Republican senators up for reelection in 2022 have announced they will not run again. Several more may join them. Three of the Republican departures are in what are possible swing states. Midterm elections are supposed to cost the incumbent president's party congressional seats. That gets harder in the present atmosphere. (Not one of the 14 Democratic senators up for reelection has chosen not to run).
The voluntary departures are surprising because they rarely happen. Ordinarily, only seriously deteriorating health motivates some senators to quit and old age encourages a few more to leave. Senators are much more likely to stay too long than leave too soon.
The reason is not complex. Senators like where they are and what they do. They are not exactly coddled, but there are perks: staff, regular time off, a free lunch regularly, travel home and abroad at no cost. But, beyond the fringe benefits, there is also serious work that elevates. Every senator thinks, looking into the bathroom mirror each morning, 'I am one of 100 people affecting the lives of millions today and tomorrow.” Good senators take justifiable pride in what they do, and the worst enjoy reflected glory. Senators, regardless of skill and commitment, want to stay.
This year is different. Some Republican senators have had enough of endless partisan posturing and rare bipartisan agreement.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, one of the five departing Republicans, said, 'It has gotten harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make policy on substantive policy.”
Beyond substance, there are the demands and burdens of reelection campaigns: endless days of miles and smiles and back slapping and money grubbing. They are used to it all and are refreshed by the cheers of party allies. Finding millions of bucks is mostly left to others.
But, this post-Trump year, leading up to the election, every Republican senator must face a purity test. Traditional conservatives are faced with likely primary opposition from rabid Trump supporters. In Missouri, politically reliable Republican, Roy Blunt is attacked as someone who did 'not sufficiently support Donald Trump.” He isn't running again.
Here at home, Chuck Grassley, hardly a liberal firebrand, already has an opponent. James Carlin, currently in the state Legislature, is a Trump echo. He says of the 2020 election, 'There is unequivocal evidence of fraud,” and breathlessly sees 'American freedoms at risk.”
Grassley, with almost 50 years in office and of unquestionable loyalty to his Republican Party, is anathema to the Trump-Carlin destructive wing. The Republican Party he and most Iowa Republicans embraced and cherished is in danger.
There are Trump-Carlin voters who won't vote for Grassley, or any other moderate conservative, in the general election. In Iowa, it is unlikely, but possible, that pouting stay-at-homes might make a difference in outcome.
The Trump flat-earth society that denies reality, drools hate and self-righteous division, demeans the historic party the departing senators embraced. In doing that, Trump ideologues also may make it harder, maybe impossible, for five departing Republicans to be replaced by five arriving ones.
Norman Sherman of Coralville has worked extensively in politics, including as Vice President Hubert Humphrey's press secretary, and wrote a memoir 'From Nowhere to Somewhere.”