The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Will Hurd’s shocking retirement is the most painful in a string of House GOP exits

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.) is retiring. (Erin Scott/Reuters)
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It’s not a coincidence that the House’s lone black Republican, Rep. Will Hurd, is retiring in the weeks after President Trump significantly ramped up his racially divisive rhetoric.

The Republican Party under Trump is becoming a party that is not welcoming to someone such as Hurd. He was one of four House Republicans who voted last month to condemn Trump’s racist tweets that four minority lawmakers should “go back” home. That week, crowds at Trump’s rally in North Carolina chanted “Send her back!” about one of them, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Two of those four GOP House members are retiring. (The other is Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana.) Now there is just one black Republican in all of Congress, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

That reality stings for the Republican Party, at least the section of it that still thinks racial inclusivity, not inflammation, is its future.

In an exit interview of sorts with Robert Moore of The Washington Post on Thursday, Hurd referenced Trump’s outright racist tweets that four minority congresswomen should “go back” to their homes. It’s possible he was considering retirement before this, but you don’t have to read too much between the lines to understand this was the situation that helped push him out the door.

“When you imply that because someone doesn’t look like you, in telling them to go back to Africa or wherever, you’re implying that they’re not an American, and you’re implying that they have less worth than you,” Hurd said.

Hurd represents the exact kind of district Republicans need to hold on to or win to retake the majority in 2020. His border district is 70 percent Hispanic; it’s a battleground district in a state that has the potential to become a battleground state.

Hurd’s district is an example of the places where many think the not-too-distant battles for power will play out. He doesn’t seem to see much future there for his party, at least not under Trump.

"When you look at trends, the two-largest growing groups of voters are Latinos and young people. And we know what the broader trends are happening there,” Hurd told Moore.

If Democrats can get a foothold in Texas congressional races, or even statewide, it could entirely change the balance of power in Washington; Texas is that big and important. (As 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke noted at the primary debate this week, Texas has 38 electoral votes.)

Last year, Democrats picked up two seats in Texas, and O’Rourke nearly unseated Sen. Ted Cruz (R). Hurd’s district was always a top target for Democrats, but now, the seat gets that much more difficult for Republicans to keep without a popular incumbent. Another retiring Texas Republican, Rep. Pete Olson, could present a pickup opportunity for Democrats, too. And after O’Rourke’s record-breaking Senate race, Democrats have recruited former viral congressional candidate MJ Hegar to take on Sen. John Cornyn (R) in 2020. The Fix has the race listed in the top 10 likely to flip seats.

But Hurd’s retirement reverberates beyond Texas for Republicans. He is one of nine Republican House lawmakers to call it quits rather than try to run for reelection under Trump, opening up seats across the country for Democrats to try to seize.

Also unhelpful to Republicans: A disproportionate number of retirements have been of women. House Republicans are losing two of their 13 female lawmakers. One of them, Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama, struggled to win her primary in her 2018 reelection after voters in her district held a grudge against her for saying she wouldn’t vote for Trump after he was caught on tape bragging about sexually harassing women.

Why are so many Republicans retiring? This is the first year in nearly a decade that Republicans have been in the minority, which is certainly one contributing factor. The House is a majority-rule chamber in every aspect (how committees spend their time, what bills you vote on, and whether your side’s bills win or lose), so being in the minority isn’t very fun.

“I think it’s a confluence things,” said GOP strategist Alex Conant in an email to The Fix, “including the lack of power that comes with being in the minority, the prospects of tough re-election campaigns, a certain amount of Trump fatigue, and great private sector opportunities.”

Trump has also been making life difficult for these lawmakers for the past three years, and now the prospect looms of another election cycle tied to him, followed by another four-year term. With very few exceptions, none of them want to be talking about how “dangerous and filthy” inner cities are, or trying to defend tariffs on China when Republicans have traditionally opposed tariffs, or why Trump gives Russian President Vladimir Putin the benefit of the doubt about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election over his own intelligence agencies, or any number of policy and political indignities Trump has put the party through.

The transformation of the Republican Party to the Party of Trump has not been pretty for many Republicans. And of the retirements, none highlights that more than that of Hurd.

Hurd may be waving the white flag on where the Republican Party stands today. But he may not give up on the party after Trump: Moore reported that Hurd could be considering a presidential run in 2024.