To the surprise of absolutely nobody (other than those who didn’t realize he was a candidate), former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper ended his presidential campaign recently. It wasn’t a surprise because, from almost the moment his campaign began, it was readily apparent that he would have little traction. Hickenlooper ran as a centrist in the Democratic primary, but that clearly doesn’t have much appeal to Democratic voters: fringe candidates like Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang have gotten more attention.

After ending his presidential bid, Hickenlooper decided that he would challenge first-term Republican Senator Cory Gardner, even though he repeatedly insisted he had no interest in serving in the U.S. Senate. Hickenlooper would’ve been wiser to focus his attention on the Senate race from the beginning, but he’s far from the only politician in recent years to make that mistake. Former Ohio governor John Kasich similarly ran for president as a centrist in 2016, but didn’t win a single state other than his own. Kasich could have challenged Sherrod Brown, one of the more liberal U.S. Senators and a Democrat representing a state Trump won, but unfortunately he wasn’t interested in further public service.

It’s certainly understandable why both Hickenlooper and Kasich would be more interested in running for President than the U.S. Senate. Most Americans consider the president the most powerful person in Washington, and with Congress increasingly deadlocked, it’s natural for governors to eye the White House rather than the Senate. That’s not the way the Constitution sets out our government, however. The powers of the presidency are supposed to be extremely limited, with the legislative branch as the most important. Congress is expressly authorized as the branch of government that writes the budget, approves treaties, and declares war. Over the years, they’ve delegated much of this authority to the White House, and although both parties talk a good game, neither seems much interested in reigning in the Oval Office when they control it.

If more moderates in both parties ran for the U.S. Senate, rather than mounting quixotic presidential campaigns, they could be far more effective in curtailing the extremes on either side. We don’t need moderates running around in Iowa and New Hampshire, tilting at windmills at the state fair and showing up on Sunday talk shows to bemoan the state of politics. That might make them feel better about themselves, but it doesn’t really accomplish much of anything. We also don’t need centrist senators who run for office, then quickly retire to a comfortable life as a talking head. That might help them pay their bills, but it doesn’t really help the country.

Instead, we need moderates who will not only run for the U.S. Senate, but who will win and stick around. The truth is, even though the ideologues like to portray moderates as wishy-washy fence-sitters, these days being a centrist is the hardest place in American politics. You’re constantly under attack not only from the opposition party, who goes after you in every election, but from fanatics in your own party who consider you impure. This is doubly true for U.S. senators, who are more well-known than most House members and earn more ire from national activists and commentators.

The solution for centrists, however, is not to shun serving in D.C., whether by declining to run or retiring, but by stepping up to the plate. Moderates need to recognize that they can’t win a battle if they refuse to engage in it; without them, the extremists win. The solution to the extremists taking over both parties isn’t for moderates to focus on winning the White House, but for more of them to run for the Senate so that they can serve as a check on the White House. In the closely divided U.S. Senate, a small group of senators can restrain the worst in both parties. We’ve seen this strategy time and time again in our history, which is why it’s always so disturbing that the senators most committed to getting things done are always at the top of the target list.

Right now, the country desperately needs more sensible U.S. senators who will chart their own course, working to preserve our country rather than simply pursuing partisan gain. Maine is fortunate to have one in Susan Collins, and hopefully soon other states will elect more in both parties, reducing the number of ideologues in Washington rather than swelling their ranks.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jimfossel

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