Orrin Hatch Announces Retirement, Opening The Door For Mitt Romney

After forty years in the Senate, Orrin Hatch announced that he will not seek re-election this year, thus opening the door for Mitt Romney to succeed him.

Orrin Hatch Mitt Romney

Orrin Hatch, who has represented Utah in the Senate since 1977 and currently serves as President Pro Tempore of the Senate, a position that puts him third in the line of succession to the Presidency, announced on Tuesday that he will be retiring at the end of his current term, opening up a Senate seat in a reliably Republican state:

Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the longest-serving Senate Republican, announced on Tuesday he will retire at the end of the year, rebuffing the pleas of President Trump to seek an eighth term and paving the way for Mitt Romney to run for the seat.

Mr. Hatch made his decision public on Tuesday afternoon via a video announcement, according to two Republican officials briefed on the plans.

“When the president visited Utah last month, he said I was a fighter. I’ve always been a fighter. I was an amateur boxer in my youth, and I brought that fighting spirit with me to Washington,” he said. “But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching.”

Mr. Hatch, 83, was under heavy pressure from Mr. Trump to seek re-election and block Mr. Romney, who has been harshly critical of the president. But Mr. Hatch, who emerged as one of the president’s most avid loyalists in the Senate, decided to retire after discussing the matter with his family over the holidays. The veteran senator was also facing harsh poll numbers in Utah, where 75 percent of voters indicated in a survey last fall that they did not want him to run again.

Mr. Hatch’s decision comes just weeks after Mr. Trump signed a sweeping tax overhaul into law, a measure that the senator helped write as chairman of the Finance Committee. The bill represented something of a capstone to Mr. Hatch’s four decades in Congress and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, even deemed it as such last month in what was seen as a subtle effort to usher his colleague to the exits.

“It would be difficult to defeat Mitt Romney if he were running here,” said David Hansen, a longtime Utah Republican strategist and chairman of Mr. Hatch’s political organization.

But Mr. Hatch had privately told Mr. Romney he was not sure he was ready to leave a seat he has held since 1977 and White House officials did all they could to nudge him into another campaign. Last month, Mr. Trump flew with Mr. Hatch on Air Force One to Utah for a day of events that was aimed entirely at lobbying the senator to run again.


The president has had Mr. Romney on his mind. Over golf earlier this year, Mr. Trump asked Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, what he thought of the former Republican nominee. (Mr. Graham said he praised Mr. Romney and predicted he would be a solid senator.)

Mr. Romney repeatedly assailed the president during the 2016 campaign, calling Mr. Trump “a fraud,” and Mr. Trump returned the favor, stating that Mr. Romney “choked like a dog” in the 2012 race. The two had something of a rapprochement after the election when Mr. Romney was briefly considered as secretary of state, but White House advisers are uneasy about having such a well-known critic in the Senate.

But as the president prodded Mr. Hatch to stay, voices in his home state were urging him to go. On Christmas Day, The Salt Lake Tribune named the senator “Utahn of the Year,” but not for flattering reasons.

“It would be good for Utah if Hatch, having finally caught the Great White Whale of tax reform, were to call it a career. If he doesn’t, the voters should end it for him,” the editorial concluded.

More from The Salt Lake Tribune:

After 40 years in the Senate, Utah’s Orrin Hatch said Tuesday he plans to retire at the end of the year and not seek re-election, ending breathless speculation on whether the powerful senator would try for an eighth term.

Hatch, who has $4.7 million in his campaign account and a fundraiser scheduled this weekend, said he has been honored to serve and that he’s a fighter — but that the time has come.

“Every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves,” the senator said in a video released by his office. “For me, that time is soon approaching. That’s why after much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I’ve decided to retire at the end of this term.”


Polls have shown that three-quarters of Utahns wanted Hatch, 83, to retire, though the senator had said he was listening to pressure from President Donald Trump, fellow senators and other Utah leaders in weighing another term. He said Monday that was not to be.

“Although I will miss serving you in the Senate, I look forward to spending more time with my family, especially my sweet wife, Elaine, whose unwavering love and support made all of this possible,” Hatch said.

The senator had said recently his wife had urged him not to run again.

Hatch, who began serving in office in 1977, had promised his 2012 bid for office would be his last, though he backtracked later, saying he may need to seek another term because of his position as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and as the eldest Republican, the Senate president pro tem, third in line for the presidency.

For his part, Romney has posted messages on both his Twitter and Facebook pages:

This announcement doesn’t come entirely as a surprise, of course. For much of last year, Capitol Hill and Utah itself was rife with speculation over whether Hatch would run for re-election or not. Initially, the signals that were coming from the Senator and those close to him indicated that he was inclined to retire, but that he was more likely to do so if Mitt Romney agreed to enter the race to succeed him. For his part, Romney made it known that he would only consider running for the seat if Hatch decided to retire. The speculation about Hatch’s retirement began to fade, though, as the year went on and reports surfaced that President Trump himself was lobbying Hatch to reconsider his apparent inclination to leave the Senate at the end of this year and run for re-election notwithstanding his previous promise. Had he done so, it’s unlikely that Hatch would have faced any serious opposition in a Republican primary and that he would be re-elected easily in a General Election. Indeed, it has been several election cycles since Democrats in the state put up anything other than token opposition to Senator Hatch, and the candidate they did nominate typically received only minimal assistance from outside the state given the fact that any such investment would have been a waste in a race where a Democratic candidate had essentially no hope

As for Romney, Hatch’s announcement means that the attention now turns to him and that the race to succeed Hatch will essentially be on hold until Romney makes his intentions clear. If he does decide to run, it’s unlikely that Romney would face anything but token opposition in the Republican primary. Outside of Hatch, Romney is probably the most popular Republican in Utah, a fact demonstrated by the results of the 2012 Presidential election, where he won the state by nearly half a million votes, the largest margin of any Republican or Democratic candidate since Utah became a state. Additionally, a poll taken last September indicated that Romney would win rather easily in a General Election against virtually any conceivable Democratic opponent. If Romney does run, of course, then there will be much attention paid to the fact that he is known to be a long-standing critic of President Trump’s, something he demonstrated quite well back in March 2016 with a speech during which he openly attacked Trump in a manner that none of Trump’s Republican opponents ever even tried to equal. The prospect of an equally critical Senator Romney in the Senate is reportedly one of the reasons that the President was urging Hatch to reconsider his decision to retire.

Romney will likely wait at least a few weeks before making any formal announcement, but all indications are that he’s likely to decide in favor of running. If that’s the case and he does indeed win, then things in Washington could be quite amusing to watch.

FILED UNDER: 2018 Election, Congress, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CSK says:

    Trump must be fuming that Hatch has thwarted him. Say Romney does decide to run–and he probably will. What’s next? Bannon rushes to Utah to try and find the biggest crackpot in the state to primary him? Trump goes on a Twitter rampage telling Utahns not to vote for Romney? Sarah Palin endorses whatever loony-toons Bannon dedges up from the bottom of the barrel?

  2. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Good riddance to Hatch….4 decades of sucking on the government teet.
    Can Romney actually win something? Even in a reliably Republican State it seems iffy, given his record.

  3. inhumans99 says:

    President Trump has to be a bit nervous because Mitt already has his potential gaffes that would end his run for President already out of the way…binders full of women, doofy looking underwear being revealed to public, dog travelling on roof of car (that was Romney right?), and of course, the will forever live in infamy comment 47% are takers/moochers.

    Up against Obama he had a chance but did not succeed, however, up against someone who now scares more than a few of the people who elected him…President Trump, I think he has a real shot at making President Trump a one term President.

    Would he be the same as a Democratic President, no…still will screw the middle class (the man is uber wealthy after all), still will kiss the butt of big business who wants even more national parks open for exploitation, will still be on the side of the pro-life community, etc., he is a Republican after all, but whatever now lower than ever bar he needs to clear should be much less of an issue than it might have been under different circumstances.

  4. CSK says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    Well, bear in mind that Romney was elected governor twice in Massachusetts, possibly the bluest state in the union. And Utah is very red.

  5. Kathy says:

    The question is whether Bannon can find a pedophile bigot Christian Fundamentalist Trumpkin to lose another solid Republican Senate seat.

    As to Romney, I’d temper my expectations. It’s easy to be bold politically when one has nothing to lose.

  6. Not the IT Dept. says:

    This is the Mittster we’re talking about. The guy whose campaign in 2012 was so careful to be deferential to Trump because he was the average guy’s idea of what a rich person is. It’s nice that he’s discovered that a spine is something more than just for holding your jacket in place. Let’s see if he keeps it up.

    And if this is some kind of preliminary to running for the Republican nomination in 2020….the mind reels.

  7. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    He only won one term, and that was about all he has ever won.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: The first part should be easy, bigot Fundamentalist Trumpkins are available in abundance. Pedophiles too. The only difficulty is finding a Fundie Trumpkin outed pedophile.

    As to expectations, yes, I wouldn’t hold very high ones for Mitt. He owes Trump biggly for taking away the title of biggest liar to ever run for prez.

  9. CSK says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    I stand corrected. But he probably would have won had he run again. Massachusetts is odd, and I say that as an eighth-generation inhabitant of the state. It’s very blue, but it does elect Republican governors. The state house is overwhelmingly Democratic, and , with the brief exception of Scott Brown (who ran against a Democratic candidate no one could stand), its U.S. senators and reps have been Democrats for going on 40 years.

  10. Sleeping Dog says:


    Romney didn’t run for a second term as Gov in Mass, as he was afraid he’d lose and hurt his chance to win the 08 Repub presidential nomination. He would have faced Deval Patrick whose business experience would have neutralized Romney’s purported strength and the left came out in force for Patrick in 2006.

    But we’re talking Utah, and I’ll take Romney in the Senate over Hatch, there is at least a glimmer that he won’t be a Trump toady.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    I think Scott Lemieux at LGM said it best:
    Anyway, this is sure to be major political development. A Republican senator who is a lockstep vote for Trump’s agenda and appointments and a lockstep vote against any attempt to investigate him will be replaced by a Republican senator who is a lockstep vote for Trump’s agenda and appointments and a lockstep vote against any attempt to investigate him but occasionally gives quotes to the media suggesting that he finds Trump vaguely distasteful. No more will civility be thrown under the bus! It will be a game changer on steroids!

  12. MarkedMan says:

    Not of immediate importance to the political landscape but I hope Hatch’s departure will eventually allow a crackdown on the supplements market. Hatch has made life living hell for any government agency that starts to investigate safety of the supplements or cleanliness of the factories where they are made.
    (If you think supplements have any medical value then I think you are… optimistic. But assuming you are right and I am wrong, the fact that every time an outside lab tests supplements to see if they contain the things they say they do, they find out that the amount ranges from 0% of claimed content to 300% or more, and everything in between. And the most recent round of tests sponsored by the NYTimes showed they contained random additional things including nut oils and gluten, without any warnings on the label. And, no, price or reputation doesn’t seem to have any correlation with accuracy or purity )

  13. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @CSK: What’s next? Easy–the good people of Utah exchange a reliable Republican vote who is a stalwart (dare I say rabid?) supporter of Trump for a reliable Republican vote who may, occasionally, say mean things about the President.

    So basically same song, second verse (same as the first).

  14. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: And Scott Lemieux did say it better over at LGM. H/T to gVORo8.

  15. CSK says:

    Trump has just announced–via Twitter, natch–that on Monday at 5 p.m. he will be announcing “THE MOST CORRUPT AND DISHONEST MEDIA AWARDS.”

    The capitals are his.

  16. Scott O says:

    40 years in the senate and the thing he will be most remembered for is shamelessly sucking up to Trump.

  17. Kylopod says:

    The Bannon movement is very unlikely to stop Romney, if he decides to run. Romney won more than 70% of the vote there in 2012. Trump didn’t even break 50% of the vote. While he beat Hillary handily, the Mormon third-party candidate McMullin drew in more than 20% of the vote–a larger share than any other third-party presidential candidate in any state since 1992. According to CNN’s exit polls, Trump’s favorability rating in the state was 34/63–probably his worst rating in any state that he won. (Heck, it’s worse than even in some of the states he lost.) In the primaries that year, he came in a distant third place, with barely 14% of the vote.

    Utah is one of the most conservative states in the country, but it’s also perhaps the most anti-Trump red state. After what happened in Alabama, I wouldn’t totally rule out the possibility of a Democrat winning in Utah over some unbelievably bad Republican candidate–but I don’t think Utah Republicans would ever nominate such a candidate in the first place. It just isn’t Bannon/Trump country there.

  18. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:


    Trump has just announced–via Twitter, natch–that on Monday at 5 p.m. he will be announcing “THE MOST CORRUPT AND DISHONEST MEDIA AWARDS.”

    Sort of like if Putin announced a MOST AUTHORITARIAN LEADER PRIZE…and awarded it to anyone but himself.

  19. Franklin says:


    someone who now scares more than a few of the people who elected him

    I don’t think the evidence necessarily supports you. I just read a day or two ago that only about 7% of Trump voters would now change their vote if they could.

  20. James Pearce says:

    Indeed, it has been several election cycles since Democrats in the state put up anything other than token opposition to Senator Hatch

    Once again, an utterly pathetic showing from the party that claims to be the voice of the voiceless…..

  21. al-Ameda says:

    Back in 1976, when Hatch was in his first run for the Senate, he criticized then Democratic Senator Frank Moss, a three-term incumbent. saying: “What do you call a Senator who’s served in office for 18 years? You call him home.”

    Naturally Hatch ran on, among other things, the empty-calories promise of term limits.
    41 years later ….

  22. James Pearce says:

    @al-Ameda: Gonna put these quotes real close together, in the hopes of making a mental connection:

    41 years later ….

    Indeed, it has been several election cycles since Democrats in the state put up anything other than token opposition to Senator Hatch

  23. al-Ameda says:

    @James Pearce:

    Indeed, it has been several election cycles since Democrats in the state put up anything other than token opposition to Senator Hatch

    I understand your point, however I meant only to highlight Orrin’s snappy put down of Moss – 3 terms!!! – and Orrin’s oh-so-brief 7 terms of service.

  24. James Pearce says:


    I meant only to highlight Orrin’s snappy put down of Moss – 3 terms!!! – and Orrin’s oh-so-brief 7 terms of service.

    Sure, I get it. It’s a righteous quip.

    But liberal Utahns don’t need righteous quips. They need Democratic representation.

  25. An Interested Party says:

    Yeah, I’m sure it would be just so easy for a Democrat to win in Utah…I mean, while we’re at it, why not wish for magic unicorns and a pot of gold too…

  26. James Pearce says:

    @An Interested Party:

    I’m sure it would be just so easy for a Democrat to win in Utah

    Does it have to be easy to warrant the attempt?

  27. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Pearce:

    Does it have to be easy to warrant the attempt?

    No, but it does have to make sense in order to be an effective use of resources.

    Utah hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since Johnson in 1964, and even that was the only time it has done so since 1948 with Truman. It hasn’t voted anywhere near a Democrat for Congressional representation since the mid 1990s. It hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1970, and even that guy was originally elected with less than 40% of the vote, solely due to a GOP split over McCarthy.

    State Senate? 83% Republican controlled. State House? 83% Republican controlled.

    Congressional districts? Redrawn / gerrymandered further in 2010. They are, in increasing order of magnitude: R+13, R+16, R+25 and R+26.

    Trying to run a Democrat in that situation is an utter waste of time, money, resources and political capital which are all better spent elsewhere.

    But then, I suspect you already know all of that.

  28. Monala says:

    @HarvardLaw92: lo and behold, I am agreeing with James twice in one day. I thought one of the lessons of Doug Jones’ victory was, as much as possible, to run a Democrat for every seat?

  29. HarvardLaw92 says:


    You can’t be serious. Do you fathom for a moment that Jones will actually be re-elected in 2020? If so, I have a lovely bridge I’d be willing to part with.

    The lesson of Jones victory is to run a Democrat when and where you have at least something of a favorable chance of not wasting your time and money. To do otherwise bleeds finite money and resources away from other races that we might actually win. Jones didn’t win. Moore lost. Had Strange prevailed in the primary, Doug Jones would be a footnote nobody had ever heard of. It only made sense to support him AFTER Moore won the primary, and only because he did.

    That place is not Utah, and certainly not against Romney (who I needn’t remind you took 73% of the overall vote there and swept every county with at least 50% of the vote on his last statewide outing).

    Cold, hard reality time: we have no – zero – chance of flipping Hatch’s seat. It’s a fools errand to waste our powder on trying, especially when we have our own problematic seats to defend in this cycle.

  30. James Pearce says:


    Trying to run a Democrat in that situation is an utter waste of time, money, resources and political capital which are all better spent elsewhere.

    I disagree.

    Nothing will grow there because the ground hasn’t been prepared and any attempt to prepare the ground is struck down with, “Nothing will grow there.” Is this just a self-fulfilling prophecy?

    Here’s why the Democratic party needs to at least try in Utah and Alabama and all the other places they don’t want to serve: Because they have constituents that live there.

  31. JohnMcC says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I find myself disagreeing. There was no assurance that Judge Roy would be the nominee and of course no expectation that pedophilia would become an issue until well after Mr Jones had launched his campaign.

    In Utah a Dem could wind up facing Jason Chaffitz in a year when painting a Trump face on one’s R-party opponent would be a victorious strategy for the right Dem.

  32. Matt says:

    @James Pearce: I don’t know why people are downvoting this post as James is correct. I know his tone was part of the problem but the message is true. Democrats need to show people who they REALLY are. Right now those people are only being exposed to caricatures of Democrats as defined by right wingers. There are many good people there who would actually consider voting Democratic if they had a local charismatic face to attach to the policies. Hell just getting through the noise to explain Democratic policies would be a start. Sure the odds of winning are slim but this is something long term. Also you never know when another Moore might happen.

    I was always a big fan of Dean’s 50 state strategy….

    EDIT : I’m not saying the DNC and such should dump millions into Utah but a small token amount just to get their voice out wouldn’t be that much of a cost. Especially if it helps to push the state purple enough to force the RNC and crew to start spending more themselves.

  33. MarkedMan says:

    @Matt: The DNC already puts in a token effort in 50 States. The question is whether they should make a serious effort. There are a number of issues with running a Republican in a state like Utah, but number one is lack of good local candidates. In order to develop a credible candidate, the local Dems need to build up the party from the county level. We have a lot to learn from the Tea Party there. They were motivated and ran for office at all levels.

    One thing that makes this really difficult in an overwhelmingly Republican state is that it is hard to attract relatively non-political people who just want to get things accomplished. Looking around and seeing that only Republicans hold meaningful office, they tend to become Republicans, leaving the Democrats to harvest the true believers, who tend to spend a lot of time with like minded people and one-up their zeal until they have moved so far away from the mainstream they have no chance of being elected to anything. This happened in reverse in CA, where a once powerful Republican Party is a shell of its former self, purity-policed by its most zealous members. You know, the types that read Ayn Rand in sophomore year of college and never got beyond thinking “If only we could get rid of the libruls I would become the Alpha Male in the room!” These are the kind of wingnuts that look at Steve Bannon and say “Boy-Howdy! I want me some more of that!”

    The DNC and wealthy donors could make a difference here. They would need the discipline to focus on very mundane local issues and slowly build up over 4-5 two year election cycles. But it’s hard to get people motivated for that, especially when the final result is that maybe we get an extra house member or, once in a blue moon, a Senator. Perhaps one way to motivate is to show the importance in how the states can hold the line against polluters, discrimination and corruption. Here in the DelMarVa (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) peninsula, its been a pretty constant thing that Delaware and Maryland are fighting to keep the bay healthy for the crabbers, the oystermen, the commercial and recreational fishermen and the recreational boaters and beach combers, while VA basically lets Purdue and the large commercial hog farmers dump their animals sh*t into the water. Since the Chesapeake Bay isn’t actually aware of state lines, the Virginians hold everyone else back. A more solidly Democratic, non-corrupt VA would make a huge difference here.

    (I should make a note that my analysis may be out of date. This “Virginia is for Pig Sh*t” theme was certainly true when I lived in B-More 20 years ago, but the state has certainly become more liberal. Maybe that has meant it cleaned up its act. I should check into it.)

  34. MarkedMan says:

    @Matt: FWIW, I don’t usually down vote Pearce and I only occasionally reply to him, mostly to point out that, whatever he may say about his political beliefs, his comments are indistinguishable from those that would be made by a moderately intelligent Trump supporter who is trying to be clever in steering conversations in a direction more beneficial to Trump, without being so obvious as to outright proclaim his Trump allegiance.

    I certainly think you, on the other hand, raise a legitimate point, and so have responded separately.

  35. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Which is why I noted that it made perfect sense to throw resources into supporting Jones once Moore had become the candidate.

    Just as it would have made perfect sense to ignore him if Strange had won the primary.

    All the rah rah and “wouldn’t it be great if we could find our balls” in the world won’t change the fact that Romney will almost certainly be the nominee on the GOP side, and he will wipe the table in Utah with whomever we might find to run against him.

    Regardless of how much we spent.

    I’m more worried about defending seats. McCaskill. Nelson. Donnelly of Indiana. Tester. Heitkamp. Casey. Manchin.

    Just to name a few of the quite vulnerable Democrats in this cycle. Give a choice between spending money to defend those seats or throwing it down a drain in Utah, it’s a no brainer.

  36. James Pearce says:


    his comments are indistinguishable from those that would be made by a moderately intelligent Trump supporter

    Have you ever met a Trump supporter that was “moderately intelligent?”

    (I have said very critical things of the Dems and the left, that’s true, but that’s no cause to think I’m a Trump supporter.)


    I’m more worried about defending seats. McCaskill. Nelson. Donnelly of Indiana. Tester. Heitkamp. Casey. Manchin.

    A lot of those Senators hold hard fought seats in “red” states. Defend them….and expand the map, too. It’s possible. Might take years and won’t be easy, but it’s possible.

  37. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @James Pearce: Yeah, but that’s a long game and maybe the dems don’t have the stomach for it. Cherry picking is much easier.

  38. Kylopod says:

    @James Pearce:

    Have you ever met a Trump supporter that was “moderately intelligent?”

    I’ve met many Trump supporters who are moderately intelligent. I know at least two who are highly intelligent.

    There is nothing new about the fact that intelligent people sometimes do stupid things.

  39. Matt says:

    @James Pearce: I’ve met several who are above average in intelligence. I’ve been working on one for a couple years and have slowly pushed him out of the Alex Jones fevered swamps of the right. He’s a good person and he even admitted he would vote for Sanders if he was nominated (the first Democratic candidate vote for him ever). He just is quick to believe people who are misleading and outright lying to him.

    Another one basically intellectually lobotomized them-self when it comes to politics. I can talk to him about all kinds of other subjects fine but as soon as Trump turns up he’s spouting stuff that is easily verifiable as false. Once again it comes down to his trust of news sources that are propaganda mouth pieces for the right.

    The other ones I don’t know well enough to give more details on.

    I have also met a LOT of dumb supporters including one who swears that we won’t be paying income taxes this year…

  40. Matt says:

    @MarkedMan: I’ve been battling the flu so I didn’t quite get out what I meant. You on the other hand covered what I was trying to say far better than I.

    Thank you