In today’s New York Post I take a look at Trey Gowdy’s sudden retirement and what it says about the state of the House GOP majority:
It’s worth noting that this move comes amid political green shoots for Republicans. After months of increasingly ugly polls, the generic-ballot deficit has stabilized in the mid-single digits, a survivable range for the GOP. Presidential approval, perhaps the best historical barometer for midterm performance, has crept above the 40 percent political “Mendoza” line for the longest period since last September.
And Republicans’ signature legislative achievement has risen in popularity as Americans see the impact of tax cuts in the news and in their paychecks.
Yet the GOP jailbreak continues. The House casualty list stands at 41 and counting.
And whether it’s the breakdown of regular order, the paralytic legislative process, consolidation of power within the leadership ranks or simply a calculated hedge against a rising Democratic tide, congressional chairmen are leaving the People’s House in droves.
So one can easily rationalize Gowdy’s decision, as one could each of the nine outgoing committee chairmen that came before him. Many, including Gowdy, leave behind safe seats, and weren’t responding to direct political threats. Now-former Budget Chairman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) is actually seeking a statewide promotion. And among those who were vulnerable, like Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, most were term-limited by strict House GOP rules.
In the case of Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen — himself both endangered and unlimited — the gavel may have been stripped even if he had returned. Which is to say each member exits under their own circumstances.
But, while Gowdy’s retirement won’t cost Republicans a seat, it represents the most visible indicator yet that as House control hangs in the balance, those with the most vested interest in holding serve are choosing flight over fight.
Read the full piece here.
Over at Medium I wrote up a tweetstorm on the Russia/Comey imbroglio and why Republicans might be haunted by the Access Hollywood tape and its anticlimactic aftermath.
Surely this was it. The SS Trump had hit an iceberg, and Republicans were scrambling for life jackets. He had survived ugly moments before, but this was different.
Or was it? The ever observant Chris Stirewalt noted the terms in which most of disavowals had been couched. They had left themselves a rhetorical bread crumb trail just in case.
Surely not, I said. There’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube.
In a way we were both right.
Full post here.
My latest piece in POLITICO Magazine uses a bumpy week of revelations to surmise when (if ever) Congressional Republicans might tire of this White House, and what would compel them to cut bait. For now voter sentiment is enough to keep them in line, but ultimately Trump’s hold on elected GOPers is only as strong as the promise of the Republican legislative agenda:
The collective action problem facing elected Republicans today is an echo of the dynamic that played out on the campaign trail. Whatever their true feelings, your average member is boxed in unless and until Trump’s numbers begin to crater with their voters; right now, his approval rating among Republicans is in the 80s. While most GOP congressional candidates kept Trump at arms’ length last year, a move validated by their performance, those who openly crossed him did so strategically and in relatively muted tones. The one time you did see a real jailbreak, with the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, it yielded around 50 defections; but those decisions—and the ensuing anticlimax—leave scar tissue to this day. During a crucial week for the health care bill, leaked audio surfaced of Speaker Paul Ryan backing away from Trump mere weeks before the election, an episode that remains a sore spot for the president.
And yet the stakes on the trail were different. Back then you only had to grit your teeth through the last few months of the election, hold on tight and hope for the best. Flash forward and Republicans actually hold all the levers of power. If it was hard to cross the party’s underdog nominee, the thought of breaking with the president of the United States with three and a half years left on the clock is exponentially more daunting. Moreover, the current trifecta may be a once-a-generation legislative opportunity, suggesting a heightened tolerance for Trump’s foibles. When you find yourself in the red zone on a decade’s worth of political goals, it takes a lot of lost yardage to force you to punt.
There still may be more fallout from the Russia meeting, to be sure. For now it feels like a political bomb that didn’t quite go off, even if the audible ticks sent the smarter pols scrambling. But it’s nonetheless an instructive moment when it comes to discerning the pain threshold for the elected GOP. The criticisms may grow louder with each unforced error by the White House, but as long as the legislative dream is still alive it’s hard to imagine any sort of full-scale break. If that dream dies, however, it’s every man for himself.
Read the full piece here.