The current 117th Congress is only four months old, but already has five Republican senators and six republican representatives have announced that they will not stay in their current jobs. Add a number of Republican retirements in the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, and a The narrative has formed that longtime GOP stalwarts go to the exits because they are dissatisfied with the fanatical turn the party has taken under former President Donald Trump. “We live in an increasingly polarized country, where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people actively seek common ground,” said Senator Rob Portman said in January at the announcement of his retirement. “This is a difficult time to be in public service.”
On the one hand, Portman is right that being Republican in Congress is a difficult time. In the Trump (and post-Trump) era, there was notable sales among Republicans in Congress. Of the 293 Republicans who served in the Senate or House of Representatives on January 20, 2017 – the day Trump was inaugurated – 132 (45 percent) are no longer in Congress or have announced their resignation or resignation.
And a lot of those Republicans – let’s call them the “Ciao Caucus” – likely left because they disapproved of Trump. Fifty-seven of them have withdrawn or are withdrawing completely from politics – including Trump critics like former Senator Jeff Flake and former MP Will Hurd, as well as several members of Tuesday’s moderate group. Most obviously two former representatives. Justin Amash and Paul Mitchell – even leave the GOP to gain independence before they leave Congress. And some representatives – including former MP Mark Sanford, who only voted with Trump 71 percent of the time (one of the lowest odds for a Republican) – lost to a tougher primary challenger. (On the flip side, a Republican who lost elementary school reelection did so to you Fewer Conservative challenger: Former MP Steve King so openly supports white nationalism that the party has turned its back on him and thrown its support behind more moderate MP Randy Feenstra.)
Many more Republicans left for reasons unrelated to Trump. For example, 21 retired or announced they were retiring to run for other office, which they probably wouldn’t have done if they didn’t feel at home in the Republican Party. (In fact, this list features some of Trump’s strongest allies, including current Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former MP Doug Collins, and MP Mo Brooks, with whom he is running for the Senate Trump’s approval.) Another 29 Republicans wanted to stay, but only left because they lost in the 2018 or 2020 general election. Furthermore, the resignations category – which you may think includes some of the most defiant anti-Trumpers of all – actually leans towards Trump loyalists because eight of them resigned to join his administration. And even of the 57 members who have fully retired, some have probably done so for more mundane reasons than dislike of the direction Trump was leading the party in from powerful committee chairs.
Overall, the 132 Republicans who are no longer in Congress are only slightly more moderate than the remaining 161 Republicans. DW nominees uses voting results to quantify each member of the Congress’ ideology on a scale from 1 (most conservative) to -1 (most liberal). The Ciao Caucus has an average score of 0.482 while those who stayed have an average score of 0.492. (The more liberal Ciao Caucus score appears to be entirely due to the Republicans who lost the general election Moderate lean angle. Without them, the Ciao Caucus has an average DW nominate score of 0.495 – more or less as conservative as those who stayed.)
The question remains, however: did these 132 Republican departures open the door for more conservative replacements? In an obvious sense, they didn’t: thirty-nine of them were replaced with Democrats, allowing Democrats to control both the House (2019) and Senate (2021) and move the Houses to the left.
However, we are more interested in the impact of these departures on the Republicans at home. And all of these Republican sales have indeed driven the GOP caucus to the right: first, by weeding a few dozen of its members from swing districts and states, which, as we have seen, tended to be more moderate; and second, by replacing outgoing Republicans with more conservative models.
However, we should be careful not to overdo this either. There are 81 members of the Ciao Caucus who have been replaced by a Republican. Together they had an average DW nominate score of 0.504, while their replacements had an average DW nominate score of 0.555 – so more conservative but not overwhelming. And while a majority of the 81 (47 to be precise) have been replaced by more conservative Republicans, a good number (33) have actually been replaced by more moderate Republicans. The biggest difference, however, is that only five of the substitutes were significantly more moderate (a difference of 0.200 points or more) than their predecessors, while 17 were significantly more conservative.
It’s not difficult to find examples of seats whose members have become more conservative. Former MP Scott Tipton, a fairly well-established Republican (with a DW nominate score of 0.451), has been replaced by brand new MP Lauren Boebert (0.798). The late MP Walter Jones (a notable outsider, with a DW Nominate Score of 0.244) was replaced by a reliable Republican vote in Rep. Greg Murphy (0.547). Even Collins, a Trump favorite who was already fairly conservative (0.610), was replaced by someone farther to the right: Rep. Andrew Clyde (0.879). The biggest shift of all occurred in New Mexico’s 2nd Ward, where Rep. Steve Pearce (0.472) was replaced by Rep. Yvette Herrell (0.936), the most conservative politician in Congress. (In case you’re wondering, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene actually wasn’t a big right shift for her district: it has a DW nominee of 0.807, but her predecessor, former Rep. Tom Graves, was already very conservative. with a score of 0.716 of its own. Of course, Greene certainly has brought more rhetorical extremism to Congress.)
There are fewer examples of seats being represented by someone who is noticeably more moderate, but there are. DeSantis (0.663) was succeeded by Rep. Michael Waltz (0.416); King (0.613) was succeeded by Feenstra (0.413). Ironically, the two biggest swings to the left were the result of the departure of two of Trump’s loudest critics: Amash and Sanford. (They may have been against Trump, but they were still pretty conservative, with DW nominations of 0.654 and 0.686, respectively.) Your districts – both strongholds of old-school conservatism that moved left in the Trump era – are now represented by MPs Peter Meijer (0.235) and Nancy Mace (0.305), who are already developing their own reputation as outsiders. Club Trump heavily criticized for his role in inciting the January 6 riot and even for Meijer voted to indict Trump about that.
You can also add Senator Orrin Hatch’s transition to Senator Mitt Romney to this list. While DW nominees don’t see this as a major ideological shift (from 0.382 to 0.321), Hatch voted with Trump 96 percent of the time while Romney did one of the loudest anti-Trump Republicans in Congress. Even if the GOP becomes more conservative overall, fresh anti-Trump votes will still be added to the mix.
The Republican exodus since Trump took office has received a lot of attention – but too often coverage focuses on incomplete takeaways, like what the Republicans ‘resignation means to Democrats’ chances. Given that the vast majority of states and congressional districts are safe for one party or the other, the turnover has a far greater impact on the ideology and direction of the party itself. This story is complicated for the GOP as some moderates like Conservatives and some conservatives give way to the moderates. Overall, however, it seems like the conservative pro-Trump squad is winning.