The sudden, yet not unexpected, news that Speaker Paul Ryan will not seek re-election is sure to spook major donors and lead to more retirements as Republicans face a stiff headwind in the upcoming midterm elections.
Each week brings new evidence for concern. The Mueller inquiry continues, with the expected questioning of President Trump looming. This week’s stunning news that the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York is investigating Mr. Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen threatens Mr. Trump personally and extends his legal problems. The markets have been volatile due to his recent trade announcements. And the legislative path for the rest of this year is treacherous.
Yet there is still some reason for hope.
A best-case scenario looks like this: The Mueller inquiry concludes with Mr. Trump untouched and with Mr. Trump not having fired any of the key players. The economy continues its strong growth trajectory with wages rising, investment increasing and private-sector job growth. The North Koreans agree to verifiably denuclearize after a historic bilateral meeting with Mr. Trump in return for reduced sanctions and new humanitarian and economic assistance. China follows up on their positive statements with a reduction on tariffs on American goods. A new NAFTA deal is announced.
This is the best scenario for which Republicans can hope, and it remains possible.
But hope is not a strategy.
Due to a favorable map, Senate Republicans should grow their majority in November, despite the national environment. Races in North Dakota, West Virginia, Montana, Indiana and Missouri all offer realistic pickup opportunities, and now Florida looks promising. Only Nevada and Arizona require defending Republican incumbents.
Conversely, the House Republican majority is facing a dire threat. The high number of GOP incumbent retirements, the revenge of the suburbs and Democratic enthusiasm are combining to give Democrats a real path to the 24 seats they need to retake the House.
This path begins in California and extends through the Midwest in suburban districts in places like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri.
We do not precisely know the national environment that will exist in the fall.
But every Republican in a potentially competitive district needs to be running with their hair on fire right now.
Here is what House Republicans need to do:
⦁ Detail your accomplishments. Incumbents have six months to educate their constituents on what they have done for them and explain their legislative and constituent services successes. This is an advantage they must maximize.
⦁ Use your office to earn media. A member of Congress can earn media on a regular basis. Not doing so is professional malpractice. Visit every daily and weekly newspaper in your district. Appear in the studio with every radio host. Hold open press events in every one of your media markets. Offer guest columns on key issues.
⦁ Invest in research, data and digital. These things will likely make the difference between winning and losing. You need a solid research book on yourself to identify vulnerabilities and research on all credible Democratic opponents. Data are far more sophisticated now than even two years ago. Make sure you identify your path to victory and know where those voters are. Use advanced digital platforms to efficiently contact those voters and build a grass-roots army.
⦁ Spend as little time in Washington as possible. There is very little that an incumbent can accomplish in Washington in an election year. Do not miss committee hearings or votes, but do arrive right before the first votes and leave immediately after the last votes each week. If you want to spend weekends in Washington, retire now. The stakes are too high. You should be campaigning or raising money — for yourself or for your colleagues.
⦁ Push your legislative priorities. All members, particularly vulnerable incumbents, can convince leadership that their key bills need floor votes. Choose wisely.
⦁ Define your opponent. Incumbents have a name identification advantage. Your Democratic opponent is mostly undefined, even after winning their primary. Define them early. Use the research to do this. Are they extreme? Are they a hypocrite? Do they have a controversial past? Do they have something disqualifying? There is no reason to wait.
⦁ Raise money and be disciplined. Resources are finite, and the map of competitive seats is too large to accept incumbents running poor campaigns. You should be raising more money than ever before. Use it to attract a first-rate campaign team. Be focused and disciplined. Leave it all out on the field.
⦁ Reflect your district. Make sure you are representing your district. Leadership will never punish a member who is “voting their district.”
It is shaping up to be a difficult midterm season for House Republicans, but each incumbent is responsible for their own race. Those who help themselves will be most deserving of help from the GOP.
Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington-based Potomac Strategy Group. He is a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and a former press secretary to two U.S. senators. His “Mack on Politics” podcast is available on WashingtonTimes.com.