Republican Retirements from the U.S. Congress

In 2018, 39 Republicans (three U.S. senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives left politics, while other 13 sought another office, such as governor), together with 18 Democrats, did not run for re-election. In 2019, eight Republican representatives announced retirement, out of which six of them during the months of July and August 2019.

What is going on with all these Republican retirements?

There have been narratives that Republicans were retiring because they were fed up with the toxic political environment or were afraid of losing elections, but these narratives were prematurely formed or they lacked correlation.

There are three possible patterns that explain, single or combined, this phenomenon:

-(a) Republicans lose the majority in one or both chambers of the Congress,

-(b) some Republicans prefer to avoid a tough re-election, and

-(c) some Republicans are not aligned with President Trump’s direction imposed to the party.

According to a 2018 study, Republican retirees were slightly more moderate and less supportive of Trump than their colleagues who were on the ballot.

The 2018 Republican retirements represented the fifth-biggest exodus of any party in any election since 1974. However, there was no strong correlation between the party’s performance in the general election and its number of retirements. Even so, the situation was not thrilling for Republicans because losing incumbents makes it harder to hold a vacant seat.

Related to the 2018 retirements, the pattern of more competitive elections in Republican-held districts was more consistent. The partisan lean of the retirees’ districts was 15 percentage points more Republican-leaning than the national average, compared with 24 percentage points more for the other Republican incumbents. It seemed that many Republicans found retirement as more appealing than a tough re-election campaign.

Other factors included membership and committee term limits, scandal, age and the demands of the House speakership.

The 2019 Republican group of retirees, to date, is much smaller (eight) compared with the 2018 group (39). This makes the correlations less robust, but still worth reviewing. Political analysts have found the three aforementioned patterns, alone or combined, in the 2019 group, too.

Two of the eight retirees, Rob Bishop of Utah and Mike Conaway of Texas, would lose their ranking status on their committees because of GOP caucus rules that permit someone to lead a committee for only three terms.

Other two retirees, both from Texas, sit in vulnerable seats, Pete Olson and Will Hurd, from the 22nd District and 23rd District, respectively, which have been swing districts for a while. The same situation applies to Rob Woodall in Georgia’s 7th District.

As for the Trump factor, Hurd (who is the only black Republican representative), Olson and Paul Mitchell of Michigan (another retiree), all reacted against Trump’s tweets in which he told the four Democratic congresswomen of color, a.k.a. “the Squad,” to “go back” where they came from. It can be inferred that those not Trumpy-enough congresspeople were not excited about defending the president all the time. Generally, not that many Republicans speak out publicly against Trump.

Justin Amash of Michigan, despite his criticism of Trump, didn’t get a primary challenger in 2018, but he left the party in July 2019 because he got several primary challengers for 2020 and his renomination was looking rough. He hopes now to win reelection as an independent.

Republicans are also losing Susan Brooks of Indiana and Martha Roby of Alabama, of the 13 GOP women in the House. Both congresswomen announced (on June 14, 2019 and July 26, 2019, respectively) that they would not run for re-election. Roby had been a Trump critic in 2016 over the Access Hollywood video tape in which Trump talked about groping women.

It can also be inferred that, although the Republican Party does value women and minorities (10 percent of the nonwhite members in Congress are Republican), it values more those who will not promote more liberal values on race and gender. It is also true that many Republicans were elected in the U.S. Congress before Trump won the 2016 presidency.

There is a reasonable expectation that from now on the GOP will recruit more women and minorities who agree with the party’s views on racial and gender issues, so their number will eventually increase. A recent example include the Kentucky Republican attorney general candidate, Daniel Cameron (an African-American and former Mitch McConnell staffer), who praised Trump in the midst of the fallout over the president’s comments directed at Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings and Baltimore that have been condemned as racist. Another example is Ben Carson, the current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, seen by some as a good pick for the Senate in the years to come.

During the next period we will probably see more women and minority candidates realigned around Trump’s values and directions.

The Republican Party cannot be seen now as “the party of Trump” in its entirety, since many Republicans were already elected in the U.S. Congress before Trump won his 2016 presidency. However, there are now many Trump Republicans in the Congress and governor’s mansions. Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida can be regarded as less Bush-style and more Trump-style Republicans.

In the near future the party will be more aligned to Trump’s vision, since the president, although not the cause, has been the accelerator of a trend of being organized a coalition of people resisting the secularization and liberalization of the American society. This trend is in full motion and it cannot be reversed easily, even in the extremely improbable situation of Trump not winning his second term in 2020.


NOTE – A version of the article was previously published in AMERICAN THINKER.


TIBERIU DIANU has published several books and a host of articles on law, politics, and post-communist societies. He currently lives and works in Washington, DC and can be followed on MEDIUM.





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