On the national political landscape, the talk for nearly two years now has been about the oncoming Democratic wave in the 2018 midterms. Fueled by historically low approval ratings for President Donald Trump, a massive surge in Democrat-related activism, and the historic trends of poor performances by the President’s party in his first set of midterms, the thinking has been that the Democrats have a strong chance to take the House of Representatives for the first time since 2006 and they have a decent shot at making the Senate 50-50. The outlook for both chambers has become far brighter for the Democrats this week.
Just days ago, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) joined a growing list of Republican lawmakers announcing they were not seeking re-election. These retirements are often seen as a concession of the harsh political landscape facing the GOP in November. Ryan is the 38th Republican member of the House to stand down, according to a list published by Pew Research Center. This is the largest number of retirements for a single party since 1992, when 41 Democrats chose to retire. In the 1992 Congressional elections, Democrats lost a net-total of 9 seats but were able to maintain their overall majority in the lower chamber. Thirty-eight retirements, a number that still has time to grow, is the highest total for the Republican Party since 1930, according to the same research from Pew.
This is a very concerning sign for the GOP. Many long-time leaders of the party do not trust their chances for reelection, most of which have historically been considered safe seats, and are choosing to retire than fight on and go out in the disgrace of defeat. The current Generic Congressional ballot, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, puts Democrats at 46.2% and Republicans at 39.6%. This has become closer in recent weeks but is still a wide margin that should encourage Democratic candidates, voters, and donors.
Early on in the election cycle, it seemed like the Republicans would at least be safe in the Senate, simply because the list of seats up this year forces Democrats to defend 10 seats in states that Trump carried. Recent polling seems to indicate that, while Senators like Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) may be in tough races, Democrats are performing well in contests for seats that Republicans hold.
A poll from Middle Tennessee University this week found former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen with a 10% lead over Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn in the race to replace Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), who this week said that voting for the GOP tax bill may have been one of the worst votes he’s made in his decade in office. While it’s unlikely that Bredesen, 74, will manage a double-digit win in Tennessee, the victory of Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama late last year shows it is possible for moderate Democrats to find success in former Republican strongholds.
In Arizona, Republicans may be forced to defend two Republican-held Senate seats at the same time. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who recently railed against President Trump at the NHIOP’s Politics and Eggs event, announced his resignation in 2017, sparking a three-way battle for the Republican nomination between an establishment candidate, Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-AZ-2), and two Tea Party or Trumpist candidates, former State Senator Kelli Ward and former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whom President Trump pardoned last year for defying court orders protecting undocumented immigrants from illegal profiling.
McSally should be able to hold off Ward and Arpaio and win the nomination for Flake’s seat, but there’s a serious chance that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) could pass away or resign soon, due to complications from brain cancer, and open up another seat that Ward or Arpaio would likely have a strong chance of winning. Either Ward or Arpaio would enter the race with severe baggage; Ward has been endorsed by fascist former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and Arpaio was pleased to compare a prison he ran to a “concentration camp.” If McCain remains in office through the election, it is unlikely that he will be able to serve out his complete term, which ends after the 2022 elections. This would open up another opportunity for Ward or Arpaio to run for the seat and, probably, endanger Republican chances in the same manner that Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore did in his race in 2017.
Ryan is the most senior Republican to announce his retirement, but he likely won’t be the last. A recent poll found that Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking Republican woman as the Chair of the House Republican Conference, with a neck-and-neck race in her Spokane-based district against Lisa Browne, the former Chancellor of Washington State University-Spokane. McMorris Rodgers has held her seat safely since 2005. With two of the most senior House Republicans choosing to either step-down or face a far-closer-than-normal election, combined with extreme swings towards the Democratic Party in nearly every special election since President Trump took office, there should be real fear in Republicans about losing control of Congress altogether.
Up and down the country, Republican lawmakers are feeling the pressure for their relationship with the White House – and the wrath of their constituents. It’s worth noting that some of the most popular Republicans in the country are the Northeast Republican Governors who have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from the toxic Trump Administration, especially Charlie Baker (R-MA) and Phil Scott (R-VT), as well as New Hampshire’s own Chris Sununu.
Batten down the hatches, it looks like there’s more than a blue wave coming in November. It’s shaping up to be a tsunami.
The cover image is taken from vox.com. Blackburn image is taken from CNBC. The third image is taken from PBS.