Unlike the position of U.S. Senator, which is a pretty sweet and exclusive job even for members in the minority, the attractiveness of a job in the House of Representatives is highly dependent on the status of your party as a whole. This is especially true for Republican members who have served in the majority and had the opportunity to shape events who are now feeling the sting of their impotence with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in charge.
Many of these Republicans have no desire to continue to serve in these circumstances, including some who have completely safe seats. This pretty well describes Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia who announced his retirement on Thursday.
Graves, just 49 years old, first came to Congress in 2010, when he won a special election to replace fellow Republican Nathan Deal, who resigned in order to pursue his ultimately successful bid for governor (and to short-circuit an ethics investigation by the House). Then a state representative, he defeated state Sen. Lee Hawkins in an all-GOP runoff by a 56-44 margin. Safely ensconced in a rural district in the state’s northwest corner that’s long given Republican presidential candidates more than 70% of the vote, Graves never faced anything resembling a serious challenge for the rest of his career.
I don’t know Graves’ particular circumstances, but giving up a safe seat at 49 years of age seems to indicate that he’s not enjoying life in the minority and that he doesn’t see things turning around after the 2020 election. It appears that this perception is widespread within the House Republican Caucus:
In terms of raw totals, the number of GOP retirements is running slightly behind where it was in early December of 2017. However, because the Republican caucus is so much smaller now than it was then, on a percentage basis, the GOP is leaving a greater proportion of its seats open.
The Republicans haven’t helped their retainment efforts by limiting how many years members can serve as the chairman or ranking member of a committee. Quite a few of the upcoming retirements are related to this self-imposed rule. Serving in the House minority is a miserable experience, but it’s mitigated a bit for the select few who serve as the top Republican on important committees. By forcing some of these folks out of their positions, they’ve incentivized quite a few highly senior members to spend more time with their families.
However, if the Republicans were optimistic about retaking control of the House, they wouldn’t be retiring at a higher rate than they did two years ago. They know that even if Trump wins reelection, he’s likely to do so without a popular vote advantage. They know that the electorate is polarized in a way that makes House members vulnerable in many historic Republican strongholds. So, even a successful Trump candidacy is unlikely to help them win back the majority.
For this reason, it would be better for them if Trump were not their party’s nominee in 2020. The only way that could happen is if Trump were convicted in an impeachment trial in the Senate and barred from seeking office again. This would open up the nominating process and allow for a candidate who pursues a more inclusive strategy that has more appeal in swing districts, particularly in the suburbs.
Yet, almost no House Republicans seem willing to help this process along. It’s kind of pathological from a political perspective.