No matter where you find yourself on the political spectrum, from Republican to Democrat or somewhere in the middle as an Independent, there is something we can all agree on - America has never been as engaged in politics as it is today. Maybe it is the never-ending news cycle between cable networks like Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. Maybe it is the ever-growing social media presence of politically charged news, memes, and GIFs.
Maybe it is the fact our neighbors, family members, and co-workers just can't seem to quit discussing it. Whatever it may be, one thing is clear - both parties are undergoing a substantial re-branding. This (along with several scandals) has led to a number of retirements and resignations from various seats at the state and federal levels and opened the door for new rising stars. We will take a look at a variety of outgoing and up-and-coming Republican candidates making headlines.
High-Profile Retirements In 2018
The 2016 election of Donald Trump as President of the United States may well be the most surprising and eye-opening event in the history of U.S. politics. It rewrote all the rules we thought dictated the political arena. From campaigning to debating, to moral character, everything we thought we knew to be true no longer was. It left a lot of career politicians and Republican candidates taking a long, hard look at themselves and considering whether they still had a place in a party and a country that is rapidly changing.
Couple that with the rise of the #metoo movement and the subsequent unmasking of powerful men who had been using their positions to harass and assault women for years, and you have the perfect storm for numerous exits from seemingly stable and long-term officials. Here are some of the more noteworthy Republicans who will no longer be serving in Congress:
High-Profile Retirements In 2018
Sen. Bob Corker (TN)
Sen. Jeff Flake (AZ)
Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT)
Sen. Thad Cochran (MS)
Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis)
Rep. Trey Gowdy (SC)
Rep. Lynn Jenkins (KS)
Retirements And Resignations Due To Misconduct Allegations
Rep. Joe Barton (TX)
Rep. Trent Franks (AZ)
Rep. Blake Farenthold (TX)
Rep. Patrick Meehan (PA)
Rep. Tom Garrett (VA)
Some Republicans have even chosen to resign from Congress abruptly, without even finishing out their terms. Two such House member are Rep. Pat Tiberi of Ohio, who left to take a job as President of the Ohio Business Roundtable and Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, who announced his retirement in April, several months before the midterms. Regardless of the reasons behind these departures, be they personal, ethical, or ideological, one thing is certain - They have those in leadership positions scrambling to find suitable Republican candidates to not only fill and hold their seats in their absence.
Republican Leadership In A Changing Party
With the mass exodus of Republican representatives in both the House and the Senate, it is only natural to wonder who the next generation of conservative leaders in Congress will be. Many people thought Paul Ryan, who was the Vice-Presidential nominee in 2012 for Mitt Romney, was blazing a trail that could have ultimately led to the White House one day. Trey Gowdy was another conservative darling being looked to as a long-term leader in the party for his relentless pursuit of the truth in several democratic corruption and scandal investigations. Both are relatively young in the political world, and both have now retired.
Both parties are undergoing massive shifts in their bases and their overall structures. As Democrats are trying to find a platform to include a broad coalition of their traditional base, minority groups, and the emerging Democratic Socialists, Republicans are trying to find a place for the growing hard-line conservatives, tea partiers, as well as the influx of populists into their ranks. All of this has led to an upheaval in the dynamics of both parties and an especially precarious position for elected officials searching to find their place in a rapidly changing political landscape.
The fact is that the future leadership in the Republican party is most likely to be decided by what happens after the midterms when the battles over the funding for the border wall, healthcare, and immigration really intensify. This will be an opportunity for new voices to be heard, and new leaders to step up with proposals and ideas that can gain traction in an increasingly divided and, now Democratically controlled, House of Representatives. If any current representatives or recently elected Republican candidates can put together legislation that finds sweeping approval by his or her own party, the opportunity to rise into positions of influence and leadership are wide open.
Republican Candidates Who Might Challenge Trump In 2020
Many feel that the turmoil roiling through the Republican party can be placed squarely on the shoulders of President Trump. Whether they agree with the policy decisions and the accomplishments of his administration or not, the constant tweeting, personal feuds, continually going off script from his advisors, and overall negative perceptions are just taking too big of a toll on the party. This leaves the door not only open for but also encourages Republican candidates to mount a primary challenge to the incumbent president, something not seen since Pat Buchanan failed in his bid to unseat George H. W. Bush in 1992.
For the first time in 26 years, we are hearing serious rumblings as well as outright calls for a primary challenger, with several names being floated as potential candidates. Here are just a few:
Gov. John Kasich (OH)
Governor Kasich was perhaps the most stubborn of Donald Trump's primary opponents during the 2016 campaign. He refused to drop out of the race long after it was mathematically impossible for him to overtake Trump. Even after Sen. Ted Cruz ended his campaign firmly in second place, Kasich vowed to continue on to the convention, leading Trump to quip that he was "running third in a two-man race".
Sen. Ted Cruz (TX)
Sen. Cruz and Candidate Trump had an especially contentious primary contest in which personal insults, name-calling, and character assassination became a daily occurrence. Their families were even included in the mudslinging, leading Cruz to decline formally endorsing Trump at the Republican National Convention. Although their relationship seems to have become less fractured while working together in Washington, and Trump has even campaigned for Cruz in his Senate race, there is little doubt Cruz still has presidential aspirations and may view 2020 as a prime opportunity to seize against an embattled president.
Sen. Jeff Flake (AZ)
Sen. Flake was one of the earliest and loudest critics of President Trump, and after he announced his retirement at the end of his term, it was clear he felt the freedom to become even more vocal on his dislike for him. He has said countless times that he "is not ruling anything out" when questioned about a potential 2020 run, and has declared that whether it is himself or somebody else, Donald Trump will have a primary challenger. He has given multiple speeches to various conservative groups in which he is highly critical of the president, drawing distinctions between himself and Trump.
Sen. Ben Sasse (NE)
Sen. Sasse has been highly critical of Trump since the primaries, stating on Facebook that if Trump won the nomination "conservatives will have to find a third option". Having built a national reputation as a traditional conservative, championing small government, the pro-life agenda and the "sanctity of marriage", he may consider himself to be the best option to end Trump's presidency at one term.
It is also possible that an unknown republican candidate could step in between now and 2020 to launch a primary bid against Trump. Few of us knew much about Evan McMullin before he tried to prevent Nominee Trump from claiming victory in the conservative state of Utah by placing himself on the ballot in the general election.
All of this uncertainty and confusion within the political landscape leads us to just one conclusion, and that is that anything can happen at any given time. In a world with a 24-hour news cycle, where every day there is a new scandal or controversy, and a trending hashtag can create a new superstar or destroy a lifelong political veteran—the truth is we just can't be sure what will happen next. We do know there is an opportunity like never before for qualified and engaging Republican candidates to step up into roles it would have normally taken years to ascend to. There is a vacuum within the party waiting to be filled by anyone who can withstand the whirlwinds of modern day politics in America and many can't wait to see who will be next in line. Without a doubt, these are interesting times we live in.