Another day, another resignation. One by one, Republicans are slowly breaking away from Trump and standing down ahead of a tough mid-term election. It seems that the rats are leaving the sinking ship that is the modern Republican party at a time when Trump can ill-afford to lose them. After all, Republican have control of both Houses and those retiring could be wielding significant influence if they just stayed.
Yet, the resignations of Darrell Issa and Ed Royce from California are just the latest in a string of resignations that have been climbing up sharply since Donald Trump’s first six months in office. Issa and Royce will be the 31st and 32nd Republicans to announce their reluctance to fight another election. California is unlikely to be kind to Republican candidates in November, but all across the country, from Arizona to Ohio, Republicans are throwing in the towel.
It’s not hard to see why. Donald Trump’s recent successes such as the controversial tax bill are vastly outweighed by his own personal and political failures. Failing to repeal Obamacare, berating US allies, unable to condemn neo-Nazis, threatening nuclear conflict, outbursts via Twitter…and that’s just the start. Opinion polls put Trump’s approval rating in the high 30s at best, with no signs that it will increase beyond that. Republican voters till love him, but nationally, Trump is struggling to win over the majority of America.
This is part of the reason why Republicans are feeling nervous about November. If Democrats are looking to regain control over Congress, they need 24 seats and with the spate of Republican retirements, they can look forward to contesting 30 seats without incumbents. A president with an approval rating under 50% could lose around 40 seats or more. It’s true that the party in power almost always loses seats in the mid-terms but losing so many incumbents tips the scales in favor of the opposition.
It’s not just Trump though. A recent generic poll put Democrats ahead of Republicans by an optimistic 12-point advantage. in 2008, when Democrats seized control of both Houses under George W. Bush, they had an 8-point advantage that netted them 30 seats. Republicans had a 7-point advantage when they picked up 63 seats in 2010. What will 2018 give us?
Things get worse when you factor in Virginia and Alabama. Democrats had been slowly regaining seats at the state legislative level, but the high-profile races in both states proved that Democrats were regaining momentum. In both cases, the Democratic base turnout soared while the Republican base seemed less inclined. It remains to be seen if that is repeated this year.
Alabama was certainly the most devastating for Trump. A Democrat winning a Senate seat in one of the safest Republican states in 30 years seemed unthinkable, but the shock victory has made Republicans nervous for the same reason Democrats are excited: If Alabama can turn blue, nowhere is safe for Republicans. Bannon’s demise will ease worries over anti-establishment candidates courting controversy, but not by much.
This makes things incredibly difficult for the Congressional leadership, leaving them with a dilemma. They need to get more meaningful things done, especially with their razor-thin majority in the Senate, but confrontation, not cooperation, is the order of the day. This makes those who want to govern rather than rule frustrated, pushed to the fringes by combative colleagues and quick-fire Tweets.
The truth is that, much like the UK Conservative Party, Republicans are facing a wave from the left that they have little to no chance of stopping. Their actual achievements are buried under the mountain of self-serving and hypocritical actions while their defense of Donald Trump’s behavior (or more accurately, their silence), has left them unable to break away from their boss’ legacy.
Those retiring or resigning may seek other offices such as governor, but for many, they’re getting out while they can. Why stick around and be ousted from office when you can leave quietly on your own terms?
That said, it’s no sure thing for Democrats. Between the surface, there are still tensions and divisions while some are still unsure whether they can win over Republican seats. Trump might be unpopular but smart local campaigns and a strong turnout from Republicans can still cause an upset. Trump is still riding high with Republican voters, even if the base is slowly eroding under countless scandals.
The early races in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Arizona will be watched closely to see if Democrats can repeat their success from before while Congressional Republicans will be carefully weighing up each and every policy decision, especially vulnerable Republicans. Trump’s actions and Mueller’s investigation are two of the biggest unknown factors in the mix. As November draws closer, the actions of these two forces may determine who ends up holding the keys to power.
Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are getting nightmares over November 2018 as veteran Republicans quietly make their exit. They are right to be afraid. The Democrats are coming!