The Washington Post

GOP’S fringe could be a big winner in 2022

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Incumbents tend to have a good feel for political headwinds, which makes congressio­nal retirement­s a reliable measure of approachin­g midterm elections. Incumbents are more likely to give up their seats when they expect their party to take a bath.

In 2010, 16 House Democrats opted not to run again — and Republican­s picked up 63 House seats.

On Monday, Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.) became the 18th House Democrat to announce he will pass on another term. At the same time, Republican­s have opened historic leads on the generic ballot, and they’re making remarkable strides in party registrati­on across battlegrou­nd states such as Pennsylvan­ia, Florida and Nevada.

At this point, it will be shocking if the GOP doesn’t net the five seats necessary next November to take back the House — and many more besides.

The past few weeks may foreshadow how a newly empowered Republican majority could behave come 2023. Fringe elements are increasing­ly emboldened; House GOP leaders accept (and thus passively bless) their outrageous behavior, and the redistrict­ing process pours gasoline on the fire in many states.

Going into Thanksgivi­ng, one of the fringiest, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R- Colo.) was caught on video telling an obviously fabricated story about a Capitol Police officer expressing concern that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-minn.), a Muslim lawmaker from Minneapoli­s who wears a hijab, could be a suicide bomber and referring to her as part of the “Jihad Squad.”

Boebert called Omar on Monday to express regret for the comment, but the call went sour when Omar asked for a public apology. Boebert said afterward in an Instagram video that it is Omar who should apologize “for her anti-american, antisemiti­c, anti-police rhetoric.”

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) went on CNN to discuss a weekend trip to Taiwan. Asked about Boebert, she replied that the comment about Omar was disgusting: “We have a responsibi­lity to lower the temperatur­e, and this does not do that.” This gentle comment prompted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R- Ga.) to tweet on Tuesday that Mace “is the trash in the GOP Conference.”

“I’m a pro-life fiscal conservati­ve,” Mace responded. “What I’m not is a religious bigot (or racist).”

On Nov. 17, only two Republican­s — Mace wasn’t among them — crossed party lines to censure Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-ariz.) for posting an animated video that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez (D-N.Y.) — something Gosar refuses to apologize for.

The only Republican­s to break ranks on Gosar were the same Republican­s who agreed to serve on the special House committee to investigat­e the Jan. 6 insurrecti­on: Reps. Liz Cheney, who faces a Trumpbacke­d primary challenger in Wyoming, and Adam Kinzinger, who has announced he won’t run for reelection in Illinois, where he was facing almost certain defeat in a GOP primary.

This is one of several ways that the once-a-decade redistrict­ing process is making life harder for Republican­s who are serious about governing. A Post analysis last week found that, in the 15 states that have approved new congressio­nal district maps, the number of districts where the 2020 presidenti­al margin was within five percentage points has fallen from 23 to just 10. In Texas alone, the number of competitiv­e districts is going from 12 to one.

This means lawmakers in both parties will have more reasons to fear losing a primary challenge from their right or left than going down in a general election. The decline in competitiv­e districts leads to more polarizati­on and less compromise, which is bad for democracy.

Suozzi, who is unlikely to be the last House Democrat to retire before spring, offers a window into the calculatio­ns many members are making. He’s giving up a competitiv­e House seat on Long Island — Republican­s previously announced plans to target him — to join a crowded Democratic primary for New York governor. The selfstyled moderate will be the underdog against Gov. Kathy Hochul, who inherited the job when Andrew M. Cuomo resigned in disgrace, and New York Attorney General Letitia James.

If there’s a large red wave in 2022, Suozzi’s chances of becoming governor may well be higher than his odds of getting reelected to the House. Republican­s made huge gains across suburban Long Island in November’s off-year elections, including knocking out the incumbent Nassau County executive — a job Suozzi himself held from 2002 to 2009.

With the GOP favored to win the House, Republican retirement­s become all the more notable. Kinzinger, an Air Force pilot who flew missions over Iraq and Afghanista­n, is only 43. He was one of the 10 House Republican­s to vote for Trump’s second impeachmen­t. Another in that group who is retiring is Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R- Ohio). The former NFL player is leaving Congress at age 37. Both are impressive conservati­ves, and their departures will be a loss for the institutio­n.

These gentlemen are voting with their feet based on what they expect the chamber to be like in 13 months. It stinks to be a Democrat right now, but it stinks even more to be a responsibl­e Republican trying to govern.

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