Strange things are afoot on the Republican side of the House of Representatives these days. At last count, 12 GOP House members have announced they will retire at the end of this term; 11 of them will play out the string until 2021, while Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania has already hauled buns like a bakery truck. By contrast, only three Democratic House members have signaled their intention to vacate the premises after next year.
Given the fact that 23 GOP House Reps. retired before the 2018 midterm elections, it is entirely likely that there will be more Republican members of this 116th Congress to nope their way out the door. The remaining House Republicans are facing new pressures — minority status being tall among them — and I strongly suspect more than a few of them will find the grass greener away from the manicured lawns of Capitol Hill.
Of the 11 Republican House members planning to depart in January 2021, Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Mike Conaway and Will Hurd are by far the most interesting to Democrats seeking to maintain or augment their hold on the chamber. All four represent districts in Texas, and three of those districts are deeply competitive.
Trump’s divisive and racist rhetoric cost the Republicans dearly in suburban areas all across the country during the 2018 midterms. Marchant represents a Dallas/Ft. Worth suburb, Olson represents a rapidly diversifying Houston suburb, and Hurd represents a border district running from El Paso to San Antonio that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The abrupt retirement announcement of Rep. Hurd, the only Black Republican in the House caucus and one of only two in all of Congress, sent the party into a near panic. “The only type of Republican who can win Hurd’s district,” writes Matt Lewis for The Daily Beast, “would likely be a Hispanic who is allowed to criticize Trump. And since the latter is untenable, the GOP can wave goodbye to Texas-23.”
While the idea of “turning Texas blue” in a few districts is tantalizing for Democrats in the short term, the idea of Texas as a state moving out of Republican hands in future presidential elections represents nothing less than an existential crisis for the GOP.
The Democrats, at this point and for a long while now, can count on massive Electoral College hauls from California and New York before they get out of bed on election day. Texas has been a stalwart GOP fortress that, when combined with the reliable South and portions of the West, balances out the math. If that fortress is breached and Democratic presidential candidates start banking Texas’s Electoral College votes, prospects for future Republican presidents become grim.
“People grossly oversold GOP vulnerability in TX pre-Trump and are grossly underselling it now,” tweets RealClearPolitics senior election analyst Sean Trende. “Texas is an overwhelmingly urban/suburban state, so GOP weakening in the suburbs is felt disproportionately in TX. It could go blue, quickly, under this current configuration.”
That near panic over Rep. Hurd’s retirement announcement involves more than just bummer numbers for 2020. His departure reinforces the very real sense that the GOP has become the party of old, white, rural men. There is no room for growth with that constituency, and as those reliable white, male voters continue to go the way of all flesh, the GOP as currently constituted has nowhere to go but down in the long run.
Rep. Hurd was the rare congressional Republican bold enough to be publicly critical of Donald Trump, but he is not the only member of the caucus who didn’t sign up to be banner carriers in Trump’s overtly white supremacist revolution. A combination of the toxic atmosphere intensified by Trump, the frustrations of being in the minority and the dimming chances for retaking majority control next year are all fueling these retirements.
With Trump showing no sign that he intends to tamp down his campaign strategy of shouted white nationalism, retirements over his behavior promise to continue. “While Republicans have largely (but not entirely) given their votes to President Donald Trump’s agenda,” writes Russell Berman for The Atlantic, “the members choosing to leave are a further sign of the party’s frustration with the president’s frequent outbursts and — especially in the case of women and lawmakers of color — of a reluctance to run on the same ticket with him next year.”
A group of 39 Latino leaders, including Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, wrote a Tuesday editorial for The Washington Post that hammered home the nature of Trump’s toxicity:
Many will not want to hear or believe this: Hispanics in this country are under attack. Black and brown people in this country are under attack. Immigrants in this country are under attack. And President Trump is fanning the flames of hate, division and bigotry directed at us all — immigrants and U.S. citizens alike. Though the attack has been pervasive for many people in this country for years, it is becoming an epidemic that is quickly infecting more communities and posing a real threat to our country. The president is also providing cover for white nationalists, explicitly endorsing hate speech and tacitly endorsing violence.
Domestic violent extremism perpetuated by white nationalists affects Americans from all backgrounds. On Saturday, it was a Latino community; not long ago it was a Jewish congregation worshiping at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Muslims at a mosque in California. African Americans at Bible study in Charleston, S.C. Our gun violence epidemic is further fueling hate crimes. Since the Sandy Hook massacre of 20 elementary school children in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 there have been 2,193 mass shootings, resulting in 2,478 deaths and more than 9,000 injuries, including tragically in Dayton, Ohio, just hours after El Paso. We are all connected, and we must speak out.
Rather than speak out, these departing Republicans have chosen to flee. Had they spoken up earlier like Rep. Hurd and offered any sort of collective resistance to Trump’s white supremacist policies, the situation we find ourselves in might not be as dangerously wretched.
Of course, they didn’t resist. Soon they will be gone, and we will all be the better for it.