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Republicans can’t let go of their interest in the 17th Amendment

Imagine looking at the landscape and concluding that one of the problems with our politics is that Americans are able to elect their own senators.


New Hampshire’s Republican U.S. Senate candidates participated in a debate over the weekend, it was a rather odd affair. For example, one of the candidates called for abolishing the FBI, and when one of his rivals disagreed, the audience booed.

But it was this tidbit from an NBC News report that stood out for me:

[Retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc and cryptocurrency investor Bruce Fenton] also said they support repealing the 17th Amendment, which allowed for the direct election of senators. Before that amendment was enacted, state legislators chose who would represent the state in the Senate.

In case this isn’t obvious, Bolduc isn’t necessarily a fringe figure: Recent polling suggests he’s likely to win the GOP nomination in this Senate race.

And that makes it all the more curious that he endorsed scrapping the 17th Amendment: Bolduc was effectively urging New Hampshire voters to elect him to the U.S. Senate, where he could advocate for a constitutional change that would prevent them from ever electing anyone to the Senate ever again.

If this sounds at all familiar, it’s not your imagination. In 2010 and 2011, as the so-called Tea Party "movement" took root, Republicans expressed a surprising amount of interest in tinkering with the Constitution. As longtime readers may recall, some GOP officeholders and candidates, for example, said they might want to scrap at least one part of the 14th Amendment. The right also hoped to “restore” the “original” 13th Amendment. A variety of conservatives, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said the 16th Amendment might need to be removed from the Constitution, too.

But many of these same Republicans seemed especially animated by the idea of repealing the 17th Amendment — so much so that it was described as “part of the Tea Party orthodoxy.”

The party gradually moved on to other priorities — dozens of pointless votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act proved more entertaining — though some tried to keep the embers burning. Two years ago this month, for example, Sen. Ben Sasse wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, advocating for the repeal of the 17th Amendment.

“The old saying used to be that all politics is local, but today — thanks to the internet, 24/7 cable news and a cottage industry dedicated to political addiction — politics is polarized and national,” the Nebraska Republican wrote. “That would change if state legislatures had direct control over who serves in the Senate.”

To be sure, such talk almost certainly won’t lead to constitutional changes, at least not anytime soon. But that doesn’t make it any less unusual that there are still some Republicans who believe one of the problems with our politics is that Americans are able to elect their own senators.