By Robert Reich
Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina announced Tuesday that he won’t be seeking reelection.
McHenry steered the House as acting speaker during the chaos following Kevin McCarthy’s ouster. McHenry helped negotiate this year’s debt limit deal. He’s also one of the House’s most prominent policy wonks.
Retirements across both parties are already outpacing those of the past three election cycles.
The retirements are unlikely to alter the balance of political power in the House or Senate, since most come from “safe” districts that will almost certainly elect someone else from the same party.
But the retirements may alter the balance of integrity, making the Republican Party even less principled than it is now.
Some pending Republican retirees, like McHenry, are institutionalists who care more about policy than ideology. They respect the Constitution and want Congress to run well. A few actively opposed Trump.
McHenry was one of the handful of House Republicans who voted to certify Joe Biden’s victory in 2020.
Another House Republican who announced he won’t seek reelection is Colorado Representative Ken Buck.
Buck has denounced his party’s election denialism and the refusal of many Republican lawmakers to condemn the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. “We lost our way,” Buck told The New York Times. “We have an identity crisis in the Republican Party. If we can’t address the election denier issue and we continue down that path, we won’t have credibility with the American people that we are going to solve problems.”
Several other Republican institutionalists exited before the 2022 midterms. Former Republican Representative Anthony Gonzalez, who was one of only 10 House Republicans to vote in favor of Trump’s second impeachment, left because of threats received by him and his family.
Former Republican congressman Peter Meijer, another of the 10, also exited before the 2022 midterms. He stated that the day after the vote, he purchased body armor and made changes to his daily schedule due to threats against his life.
Meijer also noted that his colleagues who voted not to certify the 2020 election “knew in their heart of hearts that they should’ve voted to certify, but some had legitimate concerns about the safety of their families. They felt that that vote would put their families in danger.”
In the Senate, Utah’s Mitt Romney, a Republican institutionalist, will not be seeking reelection.
The degeneration of the GOP has occurred over many years. I witnessed the first major purge of so-called moderate Republicans in 1994, when Newt Gingrich took over the House. The Senate still contained a few moderate Republicans: I worked with Senators Mark Hatfield, Arlen Specter, John Chafee, Jim Jeffords, William Cohen, and Susan Collins on several pieces of legislation. I found them all to be thoughtful and reasonable.
But moderate Republicans are gone from Congress. Soon, any Republican lawmaker still possessing some integrity will also be gone.
The Republican Party is in an integrity death cycle. As the GOP is taken over by Trump’s enablers and sycophants, the few remaining principled Republican lawmakers want out. As they depart, the Trump rot spreads.
Republican lawmakers who remain are the most self-aggrandizing and least principled. Which in turn causes the GOP to degenerate further.
Tragically and frighteningly, this means that if Trump regains the presidency, Republican lawmakers in Congress and the states will be even readier to do his bidding.
This article was published at Robert Reich’s Substack