There’s a lot of media talk lately about all the Republicans who are leaving office, refusing to seek re-election, resigning for some new venture or another — and the talk of the town is that these pols are fleeing in some sort of mixture of disgust, horror and sadness at the direction the party’s taking, post-President Donald Trump.
But this is a bit of faked news.
The headlines may rock, but the context is far less earth-shattering.
This, from The Atlantic: “Jeff Flake Joins the Conservative Exodus.”
And this, from The New York Times: “Two House Republicans to Retire, Continuing an Exodus Under Trump.”
“Exodus” is such a picturesque word, though. It’s biblical; it brings up images of great gobs of Israelites leaving one land for another, shaking off their sandals of the paganism and despicable practices of the Egyptian government as they flee.
Are we to seriously believe that Republicans are doing similarly because of Trump?
Come on now. That’s a bit disingenuous.
First off, we’re talking about a couple dozen House Republicans who said they won’t be coming back to Congress once their terms end. We’re not talking about droves; we’re not talking about majorities. We’re not even talking about significant percentages, when you consider a House of 435.
Roll Call reported in September that on average, 22 House members retire each election cycle, not just from Congress but from politics in general.
Nathan Gonzales opened his Roll Call piece this way: “A large crop of House members are likely to retire in the coming months, not necessarily because President Donald Trump is polarizing, the parties are divided, or Capitol Hill is ‘dysfunctional’ — but because 40 years of history tell us it’s going to happen.”
Right. History. Context. All good.
Since September, several more congressional members have announced the intent to leave office. But that’s still not enough to raise eyebrows — not enough to justify calling out Republicans as taking part in some sort of exodus. And certainly not enough to call out Trump as the reason for this supposed exodus.
As CNBC noted just a few days ago, a total of 21 Republicans and nine Democrats have announced plans to leave office when their terms expire in 2019. Half — 15 — are leaving the House to seek state Senate seats or campaign for governor offices. Five of the 10 running for governor are Republicans; another five, Democrats.
Six more of the exiting House members are running for U.S. Senate — four of whom are Republicans.
And if you look more deeply at the list of 12 House Republicans who’ve announced since January they’re not interesting in serving in politics any longer, you can see it’s not necessarily because of their anxieties over Trump.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, for instance, announced he was leaving office at the end of his term to spend more time with family and to move into another career venture. The media has buzzed a bit, seeing perhaps some seedier reasons for his looming departure — some darker reasons that can be attributed to a distaste for Trump. But Goodlatte’s term as chairman of the Judiciary Committee ends in December 2018. He’s limited by House rules from holding the leadership position again. Why would he want to take a step back in his political career, so to speak? That’d be akin to a demotion in the private sector from office manager to floor associate.
It’s the same-same for retiring Texas Republican Reps. Jeb Hensarling and Lamar Smith. Their committee chairmanships are coming to quick ends, as well.
Of course, one can look across to the Senate side and see plenty of prickly feelings between long-time pols and this newbie White House executive — specifically with Bob Corker and Jeff Flake.
But Flake, if polls can be believed, wasn’t exactly winning his primary fight against Kelli Ward. That’s partly because he fielded a lot of fire for a book he penned that painted Trump negatively, and partly because he was outed as a political party flak, a typical establishment Republican who took to whatever media that would have him to condemn Trump — all the while conveniently forgetting to mention the fact he voted for Trump-pressed policies and legislative platforms upwards of 90 percent of the time.
The media will have its say, however. The anti-Trump media will have its way.
Still, it’s at least a little bit funny that this isn’t the first Republican “exodus” we’ve seen under Trump.
In August of 2016, at the height of campaign season, The Hill reported: “Republican exodus from Trump grows.”
A couple months earlier, Salon had reported similarly — that “The GOP Exodus Has Begun: These Prominent Republicans Want No Part of Donald Trump.”
Enough of the exoduses already.
It’s a myth that Republicans are abandoning their offices in panic over Trump. It’s premature to suggest such. It’s irresponsible reporting and false narrative.
Now if 2018 elections bear much Democratic fruit at the expense of long-held Republican seats — if say, Goodlatte’s massively Republican district decides to suddenly switch and vote blue — then a red-flag can be rightly raised on Trump’s effect. But until then, characterizing Republican exits from office as an exodus is not only numerically off-base — it’s factually faulty, absent of historical context, tainted with political bias. In other words, it just ain’t so.
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