One of the more enjoyable reads in the election post-mortem was the New York Times‘s “How the House fell.” The article lays out the striking contrast between how the GOP’s divided caucus helped seal their own defeat while a hyper-disciplined Democratic caucus worked in unison to triumph.
But let’s focus on the Republican side of the equation in this post, and come back to the Democrats in another. What’s clear from the Times‘ reporting is that while Donald Trump drove the GOP messaging into the ground, the House Speaker Paul Ryan’s abysmal management skills spurred an exodus of members that set Republicans up for near-certain failure.
It all began with Ryan’s choice to go after the purely partisan goal of repealing the Affordable Care Act as the GOP’s first experiment in unilateral control. Not only was the legislation not a sure thing, it immediately split the caucus between the hardliners and the “moderates” on an issue that is notoriously complicated and not even remotely in the GOP’s wheelhouse. The moderate-conservative fissures deepened with the tax bill, even though Republicans actually succeeded in getting that to Trump’s desk. Ryan also stepped all over the toes of the GOP lawmakers chairing House committees. The combination of not building consensus amid his caucus along with micromanaging his committee chairs had disastrous results.
The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. [Ed] Royce held a quickly diversifying Orange County seat that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 even as it re-elected him. But he told colleagues that he bitterly resented the fruitless, politically damaging health care debate, and announced his retirement in a statement that took the N.R.C.C. by surprise.
Within weeks, Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, followed suit. Though he had pledged to seek re-election, Mr. Frelinghuysen was incensed over the way Mr. Ryan treated him during the tax overhaul debate — the speaker, Mr. Frelinghuysen told associates, had threatened to eject him from his chairmanship.
On Tuesday, Frelinghuysen’s seat, NJ-11, turned blue. Meanwhile, ballots are still being counted for Royce’s seat, CA-39.