Be Careful When Explaining House Retirements

  • Written by Inside Elections
  • Published in Politics
By Bradley Wascher

When now-former Rep. Mark Meadows officially resigned from Congress earlier recently, there wasn’t much shock among the Republican Party. After all, Meadows, known for leading the conservative House Freedom Caucus, had initially stated his intentions to not seek re-election, as he foresaw an increased role in the Trump Administration. 

That gamble paid off, because upon handing in his resignation, Meadows could simply walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to a new desk. The reliable Trump ally from North Carolina joined the White House as Chief of Staff, making him now the third representative elected in 2018 who’s leaving Congress early to pursue a different career. 

In all fairness, Congressional retirements occur by the dozen every election cycle. Most are for reasons similar to Meadows’: be it personal or professional, representatives choose to decline a subsequent term. Others might forgo incumbency to seek higher office statewide or nationally. Ultimately, though, the total numbers and causes vary year-to-year.

To make sense of 2020 retirements, I posted a preliminary analysis at First Past the Poll last September. At the time, a dominant midterm performance from Democrats led some people to believe swing-district Republicans were exiting out of fear of losing, possibly explaining why four times as many GOP House members had announced plans to not seek re-election.

But ultimately, seat competitiveness wasn’t the strongest justification behind the disproportion. Rather, many retirees had served multiple terms from safer districts, with only a handful of others apparently discouraged by the uphill battle of re-election. From both parties, most retirements were simply just that: retirements...or at least a decision to leave Congress without imminent electoral pressure. And why are more Republicans departing? House members in the minority, dissatisfied with being essentially powerless, perhaps have had a...

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