Just when Orrin Hatch thought he was out, Donald Trump pulled him back in.
After months of quietly laying the groundwork for his own retirement, the 83-year-old Utah senator has signaled to Republican allies in recent weeks that he’s having second thoughts about leaving office when his term ends next year. Interviews with 10 people familiar with the situation—some of whom requested anonymity to speak candidly—suggest that President Trump’s efforts to convince Hatch to seek reelection have influenced the senator’s thinking.
This perceived about-face by the seven-term senator has enraged loyalists to Mitt Romney, who had been planning to run for Hatch’s seat (at the senator’s urging no, less). Meanwhile, many Utah Republicans have grown impatient and aggravated with Hatch as he repeatedly postpones announcing his reelection decision.
While it remains possible that Hatch will ultimately bow out—clearing the way for a Senator Romney—many in the state party now worry that a decision to run again would prompt an angry backlash from grassroots conservatives and establishment elements alike, leading to a chaotic primary fight.
“The feeling is he is holding the field hostage by running out the clock,” said Derek Miller, the CEO of Utah’s World Trade Center who said earlier this year he was considering a bid for the seat. “Not a bad political strategy, but it is viewed as selfish behavior that is detrimental to the party and the state. It seems to frustrate even Hatch’s longtime supporters.”