Bob Bernick’s notebook: Why I still think Orrin Hatch will retire

Well, it’s August – the month I was told U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch would announce whether he is going to run for an unprecedented 8th term next year or retire.

I’ve written before that various sources tell that Hatch will retire.

However, the 83-year-old senator continues to say he will seek re-election, unless his health, or his wife’s health, dictates otherwise.

Below I make my case that Hatch will retire.

I may be wrong. In fact, my wife of 40 years would tell you based on my personal history, I will likely be wrong.

Still, I believe the senator will step out of office because:

— His health, while certainly good for someone who has seen more than eight decades, is not what it was.

This is a sensitive area, especially in Mormon-dominated Utah where our civic, political and religious leaders’ aging is a little-talked-of topic.

But Hatch is clearly not the man he was – which is to be expected. What I’m being told by various folks, however, is that his decline has quickened in recent years.

The instances on TV of Hatch losing his train of thought, and being reminded of things by aides and friends, increase.

Several people the senator has spoken to about his immediate future, say he told them that if he indeed runs and wins, he likely won’t serve out all six years of this term, but will leave office early.

We’ve just seen how former Rep. Jason Chaffetz’ early exit has played in the media.

Will Hatch want a similar reception?

— Hatch is concerned about his reputation, his legacy. And it can only be harmed if he runs and loses, or runs, wins and then staggers to his political end.

Hatch’s friends have started fundraising for a “Hatch Foundation.” While Hatch continues to raise millions of dollars for his campaign chest, he is also fund raising for the foundation.

The idea is that Hatch’s papers would be housed in a university-based operation, which Hatch could chair, lecture and help students learn politics, both practical and philosophical. There could be internships, scholarships – the Orrin Hatch name going on for generations.

His reputation is enhanced upon retirement, not dragged through the mud as an ailing senator clinging to office.

— The practical politics of Hatch’s current situation are poor.

A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll released this week shows that 78 percent of Utahns want Hatch to retire, not run again.

While a recent UtahPolicy poll shows Hatch underwater on his favorable ratings, with 49 percent disapproving of him, and 45 percent approving.

In the 1990s, Hatch was getting approval ratings in the high 60s, or even 70th percentiles. The poll also shows Hatch has a real problem with Utah’s arch-conservative GOP wing.

These are really bad numbers for the senator.

If he runs again, Hatch will certainly be opposed by some younger, money-competitive Republican challengers.

Does Hatch want to risk the heartbreaking possibility of actually losing his office?

With the death of Obamacare repeal in Congress, GOP Senate leaders are now saying they will move on to tax reform.

This is right down Hatch’s alley. As chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, Hatch has 18 months to put together something significant in this area.

It could be the Hatch-(House co-sponsor) Tax Reform Act of 2018 – and go down in history as such.

After next year’s midterms, the Senate could be in Democratic hands. At the very least, it’s expected that Republicans in the House and Senate will get a clobbering, as Americans may turn against GOP President Donald Trump, who has the lowest approval ratings in history at the start of a presidency.

In short, even a Hatch re-election in 2018 could put the senator – tired and bone-weary – in the minority, his power sapped, facing two more years of defending an unpopular, crippled president.

Instead of begging for money and votes over the next 18 months, Hatch could be concentrating on real tax reform.

Orrin Hatch running again makes no sense to me – he risks all, the success of a university-based, well-funded foundation, and the respect of his fellow Utahns.

Wise counsel tells the senator to come home to Utah, run his foundation, and bask in the sunlight of a welcoming citizenry.