Evan Bayh Plots a Senate Comeback

Progressive Democrats thought that they’d seen the last of Evan Bayh, but they haven’t. He will run for Senate to win back the seat he vacated in 2010. He reportedly has $10 million still in his coffers, so he’ll be off and running from the get-go, and that’s only one reason why DSCC Chairman Jon Tester thinks this is a major coup for his efforts to retake control of the upper chamber for the Democrats.

Whatever else you might say about Evan Bayh, he’s been victorious in a lot of statewide elections in Indiana. He’s already been elected Secretary of State (1986), and won two governor’s (1988 and 1992) and two Senate (1998 and 2004) races. By bowing out in 2010, he likely kept his record of electoral success unblemished.

With Senator Dan Coats (who also quit the Senate only to return) declining to run for another six-year term, the seat is open. Bayh will be facing Rep. Todd Young who is hardly a powerhouse candidate.

My first observation is that it has been well known for quite some time that Bayh was being aggressively recruited, and the fact that he held out for so long only to enter the race now must indicate that he’s seen some very promising polling. The fact that Baron Hill so willingly stepped aside to make way for Bayh indicates that his polling didn’t look nearly as good.

I already wrote about Indiana this morning in the context of Governor Mike Pence potentially joining a ticket with Donald Trump. After I wrote that, I saw this:

Why does Pence want to be Trump’s #2? The hard truth is that he’s not too popular in the Hoosier State, and he could very possibly lose reelection to a second term as governor of Indiana this November, which would end his political career. Joining Trump would let him get out of that pickle. His advisers tell National Review’s Eliana Johnson that they think even being on a losing ticket with Trump would position Pence as a top prospect in either 2020 or 2024.

It makes me wonder whether Bayh would rather run for another term as governor (yes, it’s allowed). After all, back when he decided not to run for another Senate term, Bayh took to The New York Times to explain why, and it wasn’t ostensibly because he knew he was about to get swept out of office in a tsunami of tea. It was because Republican and Democratic senators never have lunch anymore.

It shouldn’t take a constitutional crisis or an attack on the nation to create honest dialogue in the Senate. Let’s start with a simple proposal: why not have a monthly lunch of all 100 senators? Every week, the parties already meet for a caucus lunch. Democrats gather in one room, Republicans in another, and no bipartisan interaction takes place. With a monthly lunch of all senators, we could pick a topic and have each side make a brief presentation followed by questions and answers. Listening to one another, absent the posturing and public talking points, could only promote greater understanding, which is necessary to real progress.

Back then, there was much mockery, as if the differences between, say, Barbara Boxer and Jim Inhofe could become bridgeable if they’d only dine together once a month. But Bayh’s overall point was that “strident partisans” in the Senate refuse to “sacrifice short-term tactical political advantage for the sake of the nation” and Congress is stuck in “an endless cycle of recrimination and revenge.” Because “the minority seeks to frustrate the majority, and when the majority is displaced it returns the favor,” “power is constantly sought through the use of means which render its effective use, once acquired, impossible.”

This was a rather extreme case of Both-Siderism, worthy of David Broder, really. But I don’t dispute that it was no longer fun and not even remotely productive for Bayh to continue serving in the Senate. Has that changed? Is it about to change?

Not long after Evan Bayh announced he was leaving the Senate, I began openly calling him a troll, mainly for being a deficit scold and reinforcing idiotic anti-stimulus Republican talking points when he didn’t even have to cover his ass to help himself win another term.

What has Evan Bayh been doing with his time since he left the Senate? Well, for one thing, he’s been getting a fat check to advise Apollo Global Management, a firm specializing in “leveraged buyout transactions and purchases of distressed securities involving corporate restructuring, special situations, and industry consolidations.” In other words, he’s been doing the Mitt Romney vulture capitalist thing that is so popular with the American people and so outstanding for the Democratic Party’s brand.

On the other hand, he has a name, he has $10 million in his campaign fund, he’s running for an open seat against a comparative lightweight, and if he wins he’ll be able to cast a vote for Chuck Schumer for Senate majority leader. His candidacy puts another Republican seat in play and will force the Republicans to dilute their energy and resources just a little bit more.

I don’t know what he expects to be different or more satisfying in the Senate the next time around, but I expect he’d give progressives plenty of opportunities to grind their teeth in frustration.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.