Democrats have open door amid wave of Republican retirements

Democrats have open door amid wave of Republican retirements
© Greg Nash

The recent and ongoing mass exodus of Republican lawmakers from Congress ahead of the 2018 midterm elections has given Democrats a critical opening to take back key districts. In the past several months, Republicans have been departing Capitol Hill in droves, with more than 30 members announcing their retirement, run for another office, or already resigned. That’s more than double the number of Democratic exits in the same time period.

The outgoing range from long-serving senior Republican leadership like Rep. John DuncanJohn James DuncanTSA forced to check whether air marshals show up to work sober: report Loss of Ryan hits hard for House Republicans Ethics Committee to expand campaign finance investigation of Tennessee Republican MORE of Tennessee and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLighthizer to testify before Senate next week as trade war ramps up Senators introduce bipartisan bill to improve IRS Senate panel advances Trump IRS nominee MORE of Utah, to newcomers like Rep. Dave TrottDavid Alan TrottGOP doubles female recruits for congressional races GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team Pelosi: GOP discharge-petition holdouts helping Ryan ‘save face’ MORE of Michigan, and most recently to Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaHouse votes to disavow carbon tax Sparks fly at hearing on anti-conservative bias in tech House GOP questions FBI lawyer for second day MORE of California. So why are Republicans vacating their seats at a significantly faster rate than any other Congress in recent memory?

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Some Republican lawmakers have cited a desire to return to the private sector and spend more time with family. Others have announced gubernatorial bids or were forced out by scandal. One vague non-answer common among the departees emphasized that it was simply time to serve elsewhere. Other, however, have explicitly attributed the wave of retirements to an increasingly divisive and polarized political environment that has proliferated under the Trump presidency.

When Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains GOP to White House: End summit mystery The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia MORE of Arizona announced his exit in October, he stated his purpose as “freeing myself of the political consideration that consumed far too much bandwidth,” and criticized President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff: Surveillance warrant docs show that Nunes memo 'misrepresented and distorted these applications' Chicago detention facility under investigation following allegations of abuse of migrant children Ex-Trump aide: Surveillance warrants are 'complete ignorance' and 'insanity' MORE as “dangerous to our democracy.” Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentLots of love: Charity tennis match features lawmakers teaming up across the aisle Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups Dem, GOP groups prepare spending blitz for midterms MORE of Pennsylvania, who announced his decision in September, cited “increased polarization and ideological rigidity.”

As many in the media have correctly pointed out, a slew of these departures are from districts that narrowly carried the vote like Rep. Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoGOP campaign arm withdraws support from NJ House candidate who made racist statements GOP runs into Trump tax law in New Jersey Overnight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks MORE of New Jersey’s 2nd or Rep. Trott of Michigan’s 11th. They are also largely congregated on the East and West coasts in states like Washington and California, as well as Virginia and New Jersey.

These are the districts most vulnerable to repossession by Democrats, where the tightest races will be fought and the toughest questions asked of its Republican incumbents. These strategic vacancies represent an opportunity for Democratic lawmakers that, if properly leveraged, could potentially flip the House in their favor. Democrats need to secure just 24 seats to retake the majority from the Republicans-controlled House.

According to the Real Clear Politics average, Democrats now have an 11-point advantage in the generic ballot. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted earlier this month has that lead at 17 points. The poll, which asks voters whether they will vote Democratic or Republican for Congress, is historically a credible predictor of the House popular vote.

So how do Democrats translate this opening into a solid edge? Well, to begin with, they need an agenda beyond “resist Trump,” and a compelling message to convey it to the American people. Since its stunning 2016 defeat, the Democratic Party has expressed its desire to tap into the sentiments that won Donald Trump the presidential election.

First, however, Democrats must prove they value the concerns of the American people and explain how these issues will be resolved in language that resonates with ordinary citizens. Though the Democrats had every opportunity in 2017 to redefine their party and its message, intra-party bickering and indecision prevented progress.

Now is the time to building that agenda. In doing so, the Democratic Party must eschew the tendency to dissolve into an ideological debate that only pushes the centrist and progressive wings further into their respective corners in favor of a more populist appeal. Instead, they must put forward a set of pro-growth and inclusive economic policies. According to a January poll by the New York Times, 42 percent of Americans believe the national economy is better than it was a year ago.

Democrats should utilize this momentum and optimism to address several key issues. Increased infrastructure spending, affordable higher education and greater wage earnings are all traditional Democratic values that will resonate with American voters. Only once the Democratic Party sets a meaningful agenda can they begin to craft it into a compelling message that will resonate with the American people. They have shown they can stand up to Trump. Now they must prove they stand for something.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is also a Fox News contributor and the author of 11 books, including “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”