After String of GOP Retirements, Pence Aims to Secure Congressional Majorities

The 2018 midterms are just nine months away, and Republican incumbents continue to drop out of Congress left and right. Yet the ongoing stream of deserters doesn’t appear to concern the current Republican administration. In fact, according to the White House, the GOP will extend their majorities, not lose them.

The last week has been an impressive one when it comes to GOP retirements from the House. The most well-known Congressman to announce he will not run for reelection is US Representative Trey Gowdy.

As Care2′s Kevin Matthews notes, Gowdy is a four-term incumbent from a very red district in South Carolina, so technically he shouldn’t be in danger of losing his seat. Local pundits suspected the decision had something to do with a fresh opening on the appeals court in his district — a lifetime appointment – but Gowdy’s close acquaintances say he’s not interested in the job.

Gowdy joins Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who announced on January 29 that he will not seek reelection, ending a two decades long career in the House. Frelinghuysen represented a wealthy district that President Donald Trump won by just one point in 2016.

Together, Frelinghuysen and Gowdy are the eighth and ninth GOP congressmen to retire since the beginning of 2018, bringing the full set of Republican House defectors up to 34. Democrats need to gain 24 seats in order to take the House.

Even so, the White House appears undaunted about the midterm prospects. Not only is the Trump administration dismissing the idea of a Democratic wave, but officials are also suggesting that the Republican party will actually increase their majorities in both chambers. As Politico reports:

Vice President Mike Pence is launching one of the most aggressive campaign strategies in recent White House history: He will hopscotch the country over the next three months, making nearly three dozen stops that could raise tens of millions of dollars for House and Senate Republicans, all while promoting the party’s legislative accomplishments. If done right, Pence said in an exclusive interview with POLITICO backstage before his speech to the House and Senate GOP here Wednesday night, Republicans could expand their majority in both chambers.

The vice president’s plan relies on a couple of key factors. The first is the idea that Republicans can swerve away from their less popular policies — deporting immigrants, dismantling health care and ceaseless race-baiting — and pivot to the new tax reform package that just went into effect.

Based on the assumption that most workers are now seeing an increase in their take-home pay, the GOP hopes to ride that newly stuffed pocket into November. But when the 2018 tax season arrives and workers realize that the government under-withheld income taxes to provide an economic boost — and that many may not get refunds, or may even owe taxes — the election will already be over.

The second strategy relies on a massive money advantage. The RNC raised almost twice the funds that the DNC did, although individual committees on the DNC side made up for some of that disparity. And that’s only the beginning of the money Republicans will have to invest in elections.

According to Politico, big donors are prepared to give very generously to the GOP now that they have received extremely large tax cuts — essentially using a percentage of their new windfall to pay politicians to run for office so they can get more windfalls in the future:

“Luckily, the Senate passed tax reform and someone came up with the brilliant idea of repealing the individual mandate — which essentially shoots a hole in the boat of [the Affordable Care Act] so it will die a slow, simple death,” Texas-based donor and fundraiser Doug Deason said. “The gravy was drilling in [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge], which Republicans have wanted forever.” Deason, who was one such donor frustrated with the party’s efforts, built a Lone Star State coalition of wealthy Republican donors last year who refused to give money to Washington Republicans until the gridlock broke in Congress. Pleased with the tax reform efforts, he said he’s since called off the strike.

With a virtually endless stream of dark money at hand and a vice president ready to spend the next nine months on the campaign trail rallying his troops — and using administrative power and resources to do it — the Republican party very well could blunt, or even reverse, the potential blue wave expected this midterm. And considering how much damage the GOP has managed to do with just their small majorities, the idea of Republicans gaining more seats should terrify us all.