Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), the Republican whip, is leaving the Senate. Last week, Senator Kyl formally announced that when his term expires on Jan. 3, 2013, he’s out the door. But not a day sooner. And while he may not be able to quash completely the countless and inevitable ruminations on his “tenure” or “legacy” as a public servant, there’s one thing Kyl wants to make clear: He’s not done yet.
“First of all, I’m not retiring,” Kyl tells (nay, scolds) National Review Online in an interview, “We’ve still got 20-plus months of real hard charging left to go.”
Which is great news for the GOP and the conservative movement, because if the tremendous outpouring of support in the wake of Kyl’s announcement is any indication, he will be dearly missed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) called Kyl his “right hand” and said a U.S. Senate without him would be “a big loss for the country.”
“Year in and year out, Jon Kyl has been everyone’s nominee for Most Valuable Player in the United States Senate,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.). “We will miss his leadership.” Regarding Kyl’s noted expertise on foreign policy, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) called him “a great guardian of America’s security and freedom.”
A senior GOP Senate aide stressed how fortunate Republicans are to have Kyl on their team, if only for two more years. “He’s just an incredibly intelligent guy,” the aide says, “always keyed in to the details of whatever policy the Senate would be working on at any given time, always with a very comfortable grasp of even the most complex issues.”
Club for Growth spokesman Mike Connolly praised Kyl for being a “strong conservative voice” in the Senate, when all too often such a voice was lacking. “He’s been a real leader for a long time on issues that others just weren’t willing or expert enough to lead on,” Connolly says. “He’s always fighting the good fight.”
For Kyl, a three-term senator (and before that, a four-term congressman), the barrage of friendly phone calls, kind words and warms wishes in the last several days has been a bit overwhelming. “It’s like being able to hear your eulogy without having to die,” he says.
Though Kyl’s announcement did not come as a surprise to many, he remains quiet about the reasons behind his decision. “There’s a time for everything,” he says. “And I’ve concluded that it’s the right time to complete my public service.” His health is good, and he’s “fairly confident” he’d be reelected if he ran, but Kyl explains that the decision was a long time in the making. Soon after winning a third Senate term in 2006, he determined it would be his last, and after reevaluating that decision following the 2010 midterms, he realized that “nothing had changed.”