Two moderate House Republicans announced surprise retirements this week, quickening the pulse of Republicans waiting to see if a wave of retirements will jeopardize the party’s path to holding the House majority in 2018.
As President Trump fuels uncertainty in Washington and his low approval rating raises question about whether the GOP can hold the House, there’s concern among Republicans that lawmakers facing tough reelection campaigns might begin to take the road of least resistance and retire.
Lawmakers intending to retire often announce their plans in the period between Labor Day and the end of the year. But this week’s decisions by Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) to skip reelection bids in competitive districts have fanned speculation once again that the GOP will soon see more lawmakers heading for the exits.
“[Trump] has pretty much failed to be an able leader of pushing the Republican agenda for all these reasons, whether it’s an unfamiliarity with a lot of the policy debates or a lack of support for some of the policy objectives ... That’s not a good place if you are thinking about the electoral prospects for the GOP in 2018,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia.
“The rationalizations that might explain why they are not running for reelection could seep into the minds of other Republicans holding these marginal seats. Obviously that could be bad news for [Republicans].”
Dent, for his part, pointed Thursday to congressional gridlock as the main reason driving him to give up his seat. He said he had been considering retirement since the bruising 2013 government shutdown, but ultimately felt this year was the right time.
“I’m frustrated by the polarization. Every basic task of governing becomes awfully difficult around here. Just keeping the government open or not defaulting,” Dent told reporters.
“All these types of issues just become much heavier lifts,” Dent said, sighing. “And because we can’t do basics, we can’t get those down, it makes it difficult to take on the big issues of tax reform, infrastructure, health care.”
Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats in order to flip the House. The path of least resistance includes victories in many of the 23 GOP-held districts that Hillary Clinton carried, and each retirement in those districts improves Democratic prospects.
Departures by moderates like Reichert, Dent and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who announced her impending retirement earlier this year, will also cost Republicans by forcing them to spend more money to keep the seats. While the seats held by Reichert and Ros-Lehtinen had already been on House Democrats’ radar because Clinton won in those districts, Republicans would have had an edge if the incumbents ran.
Democrats hadn’t included Dent’s eastern Pennsylvania district on their target list because he was seen as a strong incumbent. Without Dent, though, the district — which has swung between Republicans and Democrats in recent presidential elections — is back in Democrats’ sights.