But his loss is still a blow to Democrats’ hopes of winning the Senate.
Bayh resigned his seat in 2010, explaining his decision in a letter that was widely shared and, at times, very sharp. In The New York Times, Bayh argued that Washington had changed and that partisanship and division now ruled all. He diagnosed congressional dysfunction thusly: “strident partisanship, unyielding ideology, a corrosive system of campaign financing, gerrymandering of House districts, endless filibusters, holds on executive appointees in the Senate, dwindling social interaction between senators of opposing parties and a caucus system that promotes party unity at the expense of bipartisan consensus.”
But Bayh’s version of “bipartisanship” meant things like loving war and hating the deficit—and regularly voting to cut social services and benefits to reduce it. And Bayh, despite casting himself as a noble Cincinnatus, retreating from a political system that had debased itself, did not stray far from Washington, D.C. Instead, he stayed put, and made a boatload of money as a lobbyist.
And that’s because Evan Bayh didn’t quit the Senate because of the decline of bipartisanship—he quit the Senate because he knew he was going to lose in the 2010 bloodbath. When the Senate map became more favorable to him, he threw his hat back in the race, hoping that Donald Trump’s dysfunctional campaign would propel him to the White House.
But Bayh had too much baggage. He was a lousy senator during his two terms in office and spent the last several years lobbying, which is maybe the most hated profession in America, after mine. In many ways, Bayh symbolizes the worst of what Democrats offered for the Senate in 2016: bland, moderate, middle-of-the-road, semi-corrupt, and doomed.