The specter of a Mike Pompeo candidacy for the open 2020 US Senate seat in Kansas continues to haunt the race and the Republican candidates who have declared for the primary.
Pompeo has enjoyed a meteoric political rise. In less than three years, he has gone from being 4th District congressman from Kansas to director of the CIA to his current position, U.S. Secretary of State.
Secretary of State is such an exalted position in American politics — past officeholders run from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to James Baker and Colin Powell — that the natural next step for those who are ambitious is the presidency. In short, one doesn’t go from negotiating one-on-one with world leaders and possibly single-handedly stopping or starting wars to fighting with 99 other senators for a coat hanger in the Senate cloak room.
Although recent attempts by former secretary of states to win the presidency have fallen short (Alexander Haig in 1988 and Hillary Clinton in 2016), a presidential primary run in 2024 by Pompeo could have a high chance of being successful. He has a military background, comes from Kansas, a bedrock Republican state and not too far from Iowa and its important first presidential caucus, and is a seasoned and assertive conservative with a genuine presence on the campaign trail.
And since taking the CIA job, he became a diehard supporter of Donald Trump, who enjoys near-90% polling approval from Republican voters.
So, why would Pompeo leave the friendly confines of being the world’s top diplomat and enter the 2020 GOP primary for Senate in Kansas? The first reason is that it’s probable he would be a sure-thing to win the primary and then the general election. One longtime political consultant in Kansas GOP politics said, “Everyone knows Mike Pompeo is the grand slam candidate.” Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell recently said that Pompeo is his “first choice” for the Senate seat.
Normally any Republican candidate would be a “grand slam” for the U.S. Senate — a Democrat hasn’t won in Kansas since 1932 — but this isn’t a normal year. Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is also running, and McConnell and other party heavyweights fear Kobach could get the nomination and then lose the general election. So add party pressure to the list of reasons Pompeo might run.
Another reason Pompeo could run for Senate involves the unpredictability of working for Donald Trump or any president for that matter. Trump has undergone enormous cabinet turnover in his three years in office, and no matter how close someone is to the center of power — and currently Pompeo has been dubbed by many insiders as “indispensable” to the president — they will be fired or pushed out if they are seen somehow to threaten the standing or re-election prospects of the president.
Heck, that’s politics, and the story is as old as the republic.
Finally — and this may be the most compelling — there’s the potential dangers of being caught up in Trump scandals, whether real or imagined. Already Pompeo is involved in the Ukraine investigation — he was on the line for the infamous phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president — and a future presidential run could go up in smoke if Pompeo’s name comes to be commonly preceded by “scandal-plagued.”
Given that possibility, an easy 2020 race and three years in the U.S. Senate before running for president in 2024 might look pretty appealing to Mike Pompeo.
Bob Beatty is a political scientist in Topeka. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.