A wave of retiring Republicans spells trouble for Donald Trump in 2018

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is losing lawmakers fast.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is losing lawmakers fast.
Image: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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The ninth senior Republican lawmaker in the House of Representatives retired this year. He is one of 35 members of Donald Trump’s party who are stepping down from their House seats rather than face the public in November.

Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, who represents a suburban New Jersey district and serves as the chair of the Appropriations Committee, a powerful role that gives him a share of control over every dollar spent by the US government, said today he will leave office after his term ends. Voters in his district backed barely backed Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and Democrats are confident in their candidate, former Navy aviator and federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill.

Political strategists say these resignations are a key indicator of how party leaders rate their chances of remaining in control of the chamber next year, regardless of their public rhetoric.

Some of the nine resigning chairs, including Jeb Hensarling of the Financial Services Committee and Lamar Smith of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, would not have retained their plum posts due to term limits. But several could have expected to be in key positions if the Republicans hold on to their majority‚ like Diane Black of the Budget Committee, Greg Harper of the House Administration Committee, or Jason Chaffetz of the House Oversight Committee, who retired last summer.

Few would be interested in toiling in the minority. Other senior Republicans who aren’t committee chairs, like California’s Darrell Issa or Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have also bowed out ahead of the first midterm elections of the Trump era. Others, like Blake Fahrentold or Patrick Meehan, are stepping down because of sexual misconduct allegations.

Symbolism aside, the retirement of prominent candidates will make work more challenging for the National Republican Congressional Committee, by forcing it to spread its resources more thinly across an increasing number of competitive races.

Elections for US Congress in 2018 have become the focus of opposition to Trump’s presidency, and is likely the only path for those who seek to impeach him. To wrest control of the House from Republicans, Democrats need to win 24 seats. Despite the prevailing political mood favoring them, few political prognosticators currently expect Democrats to win the chamber. The current rankings from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and the Cook Political Report expect that Republicans will maintain a bare majority in the House.

Part of their reluctance to predict Democrat wins comes down to how districts are drawn to favor a Republican majority; one major factor that could change the outcome next fall are court challenges of electoral maps in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

But if the numbers aren’t on Democrats’ side, their counter-parts certainly see momentum, as even the chair of the NRCC conceded earlier this month.

“I think at this point they need another 10 to 15 seats [to put the House] in play,” Republican Rep. Steve Stivers told Politico. “They’re still not there yet. But they’re moving in the right direction, clearly.”

That was nineteen days, and two retirements, ago.