Over the past week and a half, five House Republicans have announced they are retiring, leading to speculation that the party doesn’t expect to win back a majority in the House of Representatives heading into the 2020 election cycle.
“Between people finding themselves having to actually work hard for the first time in their long, lazy careers and members who came in in the majority and now hate life in the minority, it’s just getting started.”
In all there are eight Republicans who have already said they’re retiring and only one, Texas’ Pete Olson, is in a hotly contested district. However, more retirement announcements are expected to come in after the August break.
Reps. Rob Bishop of Utah, Mike Conaway of Texas, Paul Mitchell of Michigan and Martha Roby of Alabama all are in firmly red districts and will most likely be replaced by new Republican blood. Reps. Bradley Byrne of Alabama, who is seeking a Senate seat, and Greg Gianforte of Montana, who is aiming for governor, are running for different offices.
And yet they are part of a slew of Republicans leaving in the next election cycle a few months ahead of state filing deadlines. In all, there are 11 Republicans so far who are not seeking reelection. Three Democrats have announced they are retiring so far.
The House is currently made up of 235 Democrats, 197 Republicans and one independent, being former Republican Justin Amash of Michigan, who recently left the party in protest over President Donald Trump. There also are two vacant seats that were last held by Republicans.
If the Grand Old Party were to win back the two empty seats and Amash’s, it would need to win 18 other seats to regain the majority. However, the rash of retirements signal the party doesn’t believe it can win back the seats.
According to Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Bernstein, it’s all about expectations when it comes to House elections and the more a party thinks it will be a good year, the more resources it will attract to win — and the fewer defections it will have.
It’s true that in the current era of partisan polarization candidate strength may not matter as much as it once did. But overall it’s still better to have strong candidates, plenty of money and tons of volunteer hours, all of which are far likelier when party actors think the partisan tides are favorable.
Of course, it’s still too early to say whether these retirements will predict much about the election. But it’s something that Republicans are no doubt quite worried about.
Another article this week from The Hill notes the timing of the announcements is peculiar because members generally wait until after the August recess or Christmas break to retire, and this wave of defections could lead to a tsunami.
“We are in the minority. That is never much fun in the House,” said one senior Republican member of Congress, who asked for anonymity to provide a candid assessment. “The odds are against us retaking the majority.”
Transitioning from the all-powerful majority to the back-bench minority can refocus one’s outlook on public service, said Tom Davis, a former Virginia congressman who ran the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
“Moving from the majority to the minority changes your mindset about why am I here, am I getting things done,” Davis said. “It’s a very frustrating life for some of these members right now. There’s been no pay raise for 11 years. You’ve got to maintain two households.”
One of the big issues Republicans face today is having to constantly defend Trump’s rhetoric and tweets, the anonymous member of Congress said.
“Serving in the era of Trump has few rewards. He has made an already hostile political environment worse. Every day there is some indefensible tweet or comment to defend or explain. It is exhausting and often embarrassing,” the member of Congress said. Even if Republicans were to win back the majority, “our edge would be narrow, which means we would live under the tyranny of the Freedom Caucus. Frankly I wonder if this conference is capable of governing.”
Republican strategists say they are bracing for a new wave of exits after members check in with their families over the August recess. Two dozen Republicans won their reelection bids in 2018 by fewer than 5 percentage points; another 25 won by fewer than 10 points.
“There are going to be a lot more (retirements) to come,” said one consultant who works for House Republicans. “Between people finding themselves having to actually work hard for the first time in their long, lazy careers and members who came in in the majority and now hate life in the minority, it’s just getting started.”