Ohio Republican Rob Portman’s departure from the Senate is an ominous sign for the GOP hopes of winning a majority of the chamber in 2022. Another Republican could well win the seat next year — in fact, in the abstract and based upon recent history, the GOP nominee is more likely to win in the Buckeye State. But Portman running for another term would have made the race uncompetitive and allowed Republicans to focus their resources elsewhere. Portman won 58 percent of the vote in 2016 and almost 57 percent in 2010.
Portman is the definitive “work horse, not a show horse.” He’s spent his time in the Senate focusing on not particularly splashy but consequential issues such as opioid addiction, human trafficking, veterans’ mental health care, human rights, and the First Step Act. The Ohio senator noted today that 82 of his bills were signed into law by President Trump, and 68 were signed into law by President Obama. In his statement about his future today, he suggested lawmakers with his approach and philosophy faced a steeper and more difficult road ahead:
I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision.
“We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground. This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades.
Portman doesn’t create a lot of controversy, no one’s asking him to run for president, and he doesn’t create excitement as a guest on cable-news prime time. He just goes to work and gets bills passed, which used to be an important aspect of being a senator, back in the days before the federal government became an endless series of giant omnibus spending bills and executive orders.
The end of the Trump presidency has not ended grassroots Republicans’ hunger for splashy symbolic culture-war fights, often at the expense of getting legislation passed. A Republican political culture where Texas senator Ted Cruz thinks that getting into a Twitter war with Seth Rogen is a good use of his time is a culture where somebody such as Rob Portman is going to find something better and more productive to do with his life than serve in the Senate.