Pat Toomey: The GOP Will Miss Him When He Is Gone

Sen. Pat Toomey (R., PA) speaks during a Senate committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 5, 2020.
(Alex Wong/Reuters)

Republican senator Pat Toomey formally announced Monday he will neither run for reelection nor run for governor in 2022. For free-market, small-government conservatives, this is terrible news.

The move was not, as some speculated, a prelude to endorsing Joe Biden. “I hope to be serving these last two years with President Donald Trump reelected,” Toomey said in his announcement. “I support his campaign, I support his reelection.”

It’s hard to begrudge Toomey the decision to hang it up after two six-year terms. He turns 59 later this year. He’s done a lot of what he wanted to do in his ten years in the Senate, and the longer-term prospects for shrinking the size and spending of the federal government don’t look terrific, whether it’s a second-term of Trump, President Biden, or President Harris at some point in the future.

Toomey chased Arlen Specter out of the GOP early in the 2010 cycle, won two extremely hard-fought Senate races in a state that is purple at best, and is probably about as fiscally conservative as they come. (With one exception, Toomey was a full-spectrum consistent conservative, particularly considering he represented a swing state.) Lots of folks adopted the Tea Party as an identity to get elected; Toomey was for controlling spending long before it was popular and long after everyone abandoned it. Toomey doesn’t have a bad relationship with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell or other GOP Senate leadership, but he doesn’t always agree with them, either. He’s wonky, cerebral, serious, and data-driven in a political era that doesn’t reward any of those traits. Much has been made of the Republican’s troubles in the suburbs in recent years. Back in 2016, Toomey carried Bucks County, 52 percent to 46.5 percent. His buttoned down, calm, even-keeled style reassured the soccer moms and white-collar commuters.

That lone exception was Toomey’s openness to a small deal on expanding background checks for firearms that never became law; he alienated the NRA while the Democrats, broader left, and Philadelphia Inquirer never gave him much credit for his effort to reach a compromise. Both populist Republicans and Democrats of all stripes largely hate Toomey for who he is, and neither side gives him much credit for where they agree. Early in the Trump years, I remember seeing Facebook posts from Pennsylvania Democrats demanding he oppose Steve Bannon’s role in the White House — as if Toomey and Bannon ever had anything in common, or as if the Senate held confirmation votes for White House advisers.

Toomey is a bright man with principles who cares about the details of policy and who doesn’t get into histrionics. How productive can life in the U.S. Senate seem at a time like this? He’s got some time before retirement — why would he want to spend the rest of his life in a legislative chamber where the best-case scenario for the near future is probably exercising the filibuster regularly? Why not do something else with his life, in a nonprofit or private sector?

Toomey’s not gone yet, but his commitment to principle and appetite for workable conservative policy solutions is missed already.

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