Like all mariner tales, the story slips in like a schooner on a foggy, becalmed day. Rats, the story goes, might leap off the lines that held a boat fast to the dock if they knew the next voyage was doomed. And rats, as creatures of the bilge, always knew. When you see them on the lines do not sign on to that ship for she is bound for Davy Jones’ locker.
People today are rarely as superstitious as ancient sailors. But when you have far too many hours adrift at sea with no winds, like this Congress, the mind does wander. A change of leadership isn’t always up to the voters, as it were, but up to the crew and their desire to not miss the message of the rats.
Paul Ryan (R-WI) wasn’t the only Congressman to announce his retirement today. Dennis Ross (R-FL) announced his retirement soon from a district that is clearly very winnable in an ordinary year. Ryan’s district, the Wisconsin first, is also far more purple than it seems and has supported Democrats like Les Aspin in the recent past. Cathy Myers and Randy Bryce both look pretty strong.
To date, 43 Republican house members have announced their retirement. That’s nearly double the 24 seats the Democrats need to take it.
With the election of Conor Lamb the Pennsylvania 18th, a district that went Trump by 19, the chattering of the rats became very loud. Nationwide, the net swing is indeed around +13 for the Democrats over 2016, which is more than enough to take the House. With a good candidate that matches the district well, +19 is apparently within reach.
Not much has come from the Senate, where races are more competitive and the candidates line up early. Beto O’Rourke is running hard against Ted Cruz (R-TX) who won by 16 in 2012. Is Beto good enough for +3 on his own charisma? The short answer is that against Cruz nearly anyone probably does. So with the right chorus of vermin, or CNN commentators, the word might be that Texas is in play.
There are two critical issues, one which will play well with the public and one that probably won’t. This election is likely to hinge on Trump impeachment following recommendations from Mueller this summer and whatever else is dug up from Trump’s attorney, Cohen. It’s never a sure thing that impeachment will work, as it will require Republican Senators no matter what. But it will be an issue in the 2018 election and it will have traction.
The second item is redistricting following the 2020 census. It’s unreasonable for Democrats to take a majority of statehouses in one election, so solid progress has to happen in 2018. As it appears right now, it looks like Democrats will take a majority of statehouses this year. So nevermind.
How bad is this likely to be for Republicans? Keep in mind that the +13 that we are seeing is entirely from special elections, which are decided by those who bother to show up. They are habitual voters, which is to say older people. They always skew more Republican than a general election. The 2018 election is not a presidential year, so it isn’t likely to be too much stronger than these specials. But it might be.
A bet on Beto is not looking too terrible, even in Texas. On predictit.org, a site where you can bet on elections, er, buy futures on elections the money has Cruz up 70-30. That’s actually really lousy for a Republican in a statewide seat this far out.
We are set for an absolute rout this year. It won’t be about policy or anything substantial, it will be about getting rid of Trump. The rats have already left, long before the ship sailed.
Perhaps the old sailors were right. You can tell when a voyage is doomed, one way or the other.