Does the 23rd GOP Retirement Spell Doom for Retaking the House?

Representative Ted Yoho of Florida’s 3rd District said yesterday he won’t seek reelection next year, becoming the 23rd GOP congresscritter to make such an announcement.

If you’re starting to get spooked, it might be because in 2018 — before the Democrats took back the House as was widely predicted — 26 Republicans declined to stand for reelection. Typically, widespread retirements are a sign that the other party is about to win bigly. Does that mean the House GOP is just 11 months away from becoming an even smaller minority?

I don’t think so.

On the surface, a bunch of GOP retirements looks like a bad portent, just as it did in 2018 and 2006. But for starters, Yoho’s announcement was a long time coming. “I ran on a pledge to serve four terms — eight years and come home,” he reminded reporters (and voters) yesterday. “I truly believe a person’s word is their bond and should live up to their word.” And his Gainesville-based district in northern Florida has a Cook rating of R+9, making Yoho’s soon-to-be-former seat unlikely to change parties even in a Democrat wave election. Both Romney and Trump scored an impressive 56% with 3rd District voters in 2012 and 2016, respectively.

The Atlantic’s Russell Berman wrote last month, back when “only” 22 members had decided to retire, that “the trend mirrors 2018, when more than two dozen Republicans retired ahead of the midterms, foreshadowing the blue wave that swept in a Democratic majority.” But his own numbers dispute that notion. Out of the 23 retiring GOP members, only one represents a district that voted for Hillary Clinton: Will Hurd in Texas’s 23rd Congressional District, which went for Clinton by 3.4 points in 2016, and which Hurd himself only barely won reelection in 2018. Two other Texas seats, the 17th and 23rd, might be competitive since Trump won them by “only” mid-single digits. But given Trump’s strong popularity with Republican voters and his massive war chest, competitive might not mean much for Democratic contenders there. One other district — North Carolina’s 2nd– was recently re-dawn, so we can’t compare the results from previous elections. But Cook rates it a safe R+7.

Maybe the wave of retirements indicates that some members don’t feel confident that the GOP can retake the House next year, but it certainly does not indicate that the Dems are about to flip a bunch of seats.

We’re also witnessing the ongoing realignment of the two national parties. Up until recent years, there were plenty of socially conservative Democrats, mostly in the South and West — but they’re a vanishing species. Today’s Democratic Party is much more urban and much closer to being uniformly left-wing.

The same is true of moderate and left-leaning Republicans, although it is safe to say that the GOP “purge” of RINOs, squishes, NeverTrumpers, etc., is less further along than the Democratic purge of moderates and social conservatives. Or as former Ohio congressman Jim Renacci wrote for Daily Caller last week, “rather than reading these retirements as a sign that Republicans are preparing for another bad election cycle, conservatives should see the massive turnover as a great opportunity for the GOP.”

As Renacci also noted, under GOP speakers Boehner and Ryan, the opportunity to push for major conservative legislation and deregulation was mostly “squandered.” A little realignment in the GOP is a necessary thing in today’s polarized climate, and given widespread voter disappointment with previous GOP majorities, probably a good thing as well.

There are grounds for optimism on the re-aligned — well, the re-aligning — GOP taking back the House next year, too. Trump will be running for reelection next year as an incumbent well-loved by yuge numbers of Republicans, and with metric craploads of money to spend. In 2016 Trump ran as an untested upstart viewed by many with suspicion, so it seems like a safe bet that Trump will enjoy longer coattails than he did in 2016.

House Democrats, too, seem intent on squandering their barely one-year-old majority. They’re full-steam ahead on impeachment, even though it’s turning off the independent voters who gave them their majority last election. “Mishtalk” noted on Tuesday that Independent support for impeachment peaked way back in October (a political lifetime ago), and even that peak never breached the essential 50% mark. Since then, we’ve had weeks of hearings, endless hours of pro-impeachment news coverage, and two articles of impeachment filed… and yet support among Independents has trended down to 43.7% from a high of 47.7% six weeks ago.

That’s why you’re seeing freshman Dems tiptoeing around the impeachment tulips — they like their seats and don’t want to lose them because voters are angry with Schiff, Nadler, and Pelosi. Yet the leadership presses on, fully captured by the party’s Impeach-at-Any-Cost Looney-Tunes Wing.

The usual disclaimers apply, of course: Predictions are hard, especially about the future; a lot can change between now and Election Day; also I drink. But looking ahead to the next Congress assembling on January 3, 2021, you’ll see more opportunity for gain than risk of loss.