Enough of the doom and gloom. Several of you made the point that 2018 was where Trump's racism lost. There is one unalloyed, really good piece of news for Democrats right now, and that's a large number of House Republican retirements in 2019 heading into 2020.
Three House Republicans said last week they would not seek another term next year, catching party strategists off guard. Those announcements came earlier than in a typical election cycle, when members who are ready to hang up their voting cards usually wait until after the August recess or after the Christmas break.
Republicans in Congress strategizing to win back the House say the rush to the exits reflects the depressing reality of life in the minority and a pessimistic view of the GOP’s chances of regaining the majority.
“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.”
The job of serving in Congress itself has changed in recent years. Members of Congress now routinely skip town hall meetings to avoid being confronted by angry constituents, they are frequently asked to defend President Trump’s Twitter habits and the House Republican Conference is increasingly influenced by a small group of hard-right conservatives.
“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.”
2018 did prove that defending Donald Trump is a losing proposition. House Democrats had their best midterm in decades, and turnout was through the roof. Unlike the polls, the retirements and the 2018 wins are facts.
Having said that, with Trump on the top of the ticket in November 2020, things could be different enough that Republicans could easily win the House back and then some. There are a lot of swing districts that Democrats are going to have to defend, and the gerrymandering issue is still a problem that Democrats will have to fight in states like Ohio and Michigan, Florida and North Carolina, where even massive Democratic margins will break against gerrymandered firewalls.
But defending Trump is becoming increasingly impossible for Republicans not named Trump, and that toll is becoming higher and higher for Republicans both in the White House, and increasingly in Congress.
[UPDATE] And another Republican, Mike Conaway of Texas, announced his retirement tonight.