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Top House Republican: GOP May be 'Whistling Past the Political Graveyard' in 2018

tom cole at the capitol

The former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee cautioned today that his party is "whistling past the political graveyard" if not concerned about midterm elections.

So far, 27 House GOP incumbents have declared that they're not seeking re-election, compared to 15 Democrats.

"When the American people give you a majority, the control of the House, the Senate and the presidency, they expect you to do something with it," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told CNN, saying the party racked up "minor" wins until a major score with tax reform. "And I think over time that will help us a great deal, but look: No one's had a good midterm since 2002."

"I think you're whistling past the political graveyard if you think you're going to escape that challenging environment," he said. "...The other side is already mobilized and energized. Not much you can do to change that. So you have to give your own people incentive to go out and vote. I think we did that in December. But we need to continue on that track and frankly then we need to work with the Democrats where we can on things like infrastructure."

Cole said the "partial repeal" of Obamacare by doing away with the individual mandate was still "not a full repeal -- and it was pretty high profile when we failed in the United States Senate."

"I think we undid some of that toward the end of the year. I think we're in a good place now, but look: I don't underestimate what that cost us. We've run on that issue for three election cycles," he added. "That has been very good for us. When we had a chance to fix it, we didn't get it done."

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), who is running for re-election, told CNN on Tuesday that he's confident 2018 is "going to be good for Republicans like me," largely because of the tax reform bill.

"Historically, Democrats are supposed to do well in an election like this. But since I got to Washington, I won the closest Republican victory in the nation in 2012. I've been told that I'm not going to come back to Washington since even before I got sworn in. And what I've seen were historic victories for Republicans in 2014 and 2016. And I can remember the government shutdown of 2013 and all the terrible polling that came out for Republicans nationwide," Davis said.

The congressman said that if President Trump "wanted to come and campaign in central Illinois, I don't think I'd be the only member of Congress to welcome him to do that."

"Whether or not I align myself with President Trump or not does not mean that the Democrats are not going to make that the campaign message against me and many others," Davis said. "And I would say that it's going to be better for President Trump and me and many Republicans to talk about the areas of success that we worked together on, rather than trying to create this partisan divide that the Democrats will only use to their advantage."