Number two: Bayh instead became a shameless sell-out. In January 2011, he stepped straight from the Senate into lucrative posts as a partner and “strategic adviser” at a prominent law/lobbying firm and as a “senior adviser” with a private-equity firm. Two months later, he signed on as a contributor to Fox News. By that June, he had joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a member of its anti-regulatory team. How’s that for making a difference?
Number three: The guy is crushingly boring. I say this not because Bayh is centrist or bipartisan or pragmatic or yet another middle-aged white guy with good hair and a nice smile. He is, to be sure, all of those things. But Bayh is something much, much more: the human equivalent of Ambien—anodyne to a degree that one normally associates with staff meetings, politicians’ autobiographies, and televised golf.
Those things noted, Bayh also may be just the man to win Indiana and help his party in its quest to retake the Senate—and not just because he has nearly $10 million in campaign cash left over from 2010. (Not that the money isn’t awesome, mind you.) Bayh’s peculiar charms have always played well with Hoosiers. And now, with Trumpsanity making an awful lot of people jittery, even some of Bayh’s more pronounced political warts could wind up being advantages.
It’s hard to overestimate how noxious progressives find Bayh, with his pro-business, mushy-middle politics. He’s the guy you look to if you feel passionately about cutting the estate tax, they snark. And that’s before you factor in Bayh’s post-Senate tenure of pro-corporate shilling.
Yet even his harshest Democratic critics acknowledge that Indiana is a solidly red state unlikely to pick a senator with the ideological profile of, say, Elizabeth Warren. Bayh’s middle-of-the-roadness, say party insiders, speaks to Indiana voters—as does his willingness to reach across the aisle and buck his own leadership.
For their part, Republicans stand ready to smack the bejeezus out of Bayh for his abrupt flight from the Senate. Monday afternoon, just a few hours after the Bayh news broke, the National Republican Senatorial Committee fired off a statement, sneering, “Evan Bayh is a lobbyist who backed the Obama agenda 96 percent of the time as he left the Senate in 2010, knowing he couldn’t win re-election thanks to his support for the toxic Democrat agenda.”
Democrats recognize that Bayh will need to explain storming out of the Senate in a high-profile fit of pique. But they insist that he can turn the experience to his advantage. After all, who among the American electorate doesn’t look at Congress today with some mixture of fear, loathing, disgust, and exasperation? With a bit of clever messaging, Bayh can credit his journey with helping him realize that, no matter how FUBAR the system seems, giving up on it is not an option.