Putting aside the Covid-19 relief bill and Dr. Suess, the big news in Washington this week - among close watchers of politics - was the surprise announcement that Republican Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, who had been expected to seek re-election next year, will instead retire from Congress.
There is an Idaho connection here. Bear with me.
Blunt has been a Capitol Hill mainstay, a two-term senator (first elected in 2010) and seven-term House member (first elected in 1996). He has been a leading figure in the Republican caucuses in both chambers, more or less toward the philosophical center of each. His 2010 and 2016 elections were relatively close, but Blunt has had a strong electoral record in a state which has been trending toward his party, and was widely favored to win next year.
Is there some political reason he might want to opt out - some reason why he is not the first but rather the fifth Republican senator to opt out for 2022, a mid-term year in which candidates of the party not holding the White House usually do well?
Could be. Blunt has not been one of the members of Congress known for criticism of Donald Trump and voted for him twice in impeachment cases, but he has offered a few tart comments here and there. He is maybe a 96 percenter, not a 100 percenter, not a full-throated all-the-time and every-hour lay-down-my-life defender of the former president and all the various conspiracy theories and cultural battles associated with him; he has tried, in other words, to take the job of senator seriously. You could also say that he is in no sense an outsider; he is very much a part of the Washington establishment, and - here’s the point - in some places that’s a significant negative mark.
In today’s environment that may be enough to generate a primary challenge from the hard core.
Now: Does the description of Blunt remind you of anyone in the Senate from, oh, Idaho?
Senator Mike Crapo, who is up for re-election next year, and has given some indications that he will run again, matches up with Blunt in a number of ways. He too served first in the House (first elected there in 1992) and has been in the Senate for a while (first elected in 1998); 2022 will mark three full decades in Congress for Crapo. He is part of the establishment; he cannot plausibly be regarded as an outsider insurgent. Much of what you could say about Blunt (like him or not) you could also say about Crapo, and for that matter about the other four senators announced for retirement: Richard Burr of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. One news story remarked, “Each is the kind of legislator out of fashion in the party today.”
So, assuming Crapo runs (which for now looks to be the case), might he draw a challenge from within the party?
He hasn’t done anything to go out of his way to draw one, but in today’s environment Republican loyalty isn’t a matter of checking off the boxes: It’s also a matter of culture and intensity.
That’s what’s been bouncing against Governor Brad Little, who seems highly likely to draw a challenger from the activist wing of the party, someone like Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin or former Representative Raul Labrador or maybe someone else. The atmosphere will almost guarantee significant support - maybe enough to win, maybe not - for any serious challenger to the governor, and he may not be the only office holder so targeted. (Attorney General Lawrence Wasden comes to mind too.)
Might Crapo draw someone like that as well?
That’s not a prediction such a challenge would necessarily succeed. A de facto slate of activists ran for a bunch of major offices in Idaho in 2014, and hit a wall. That may happen again.
Or maybe the environment will be different.
One year from now, the 2022 primary election will be deeply underway. We’ll know in a few months what the current political environment in Idaho generates for that round. But it may be more worthy of close watching than is now apparent on the surface.