Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) announced late Thursday that he won’t seek re-election in 2020, setting up a possible Democrat pick-up of the seat in a state with rapidly changing demographics. Olson said he was retiring because he needed to have more time for his family.
“As someone who has long advocated for policies that put our families first, it’s time for me to take my own advice and be a more consistent presence to help our family,” Olson said. Olson had been critical of President Donald Trump’s tweets in recent weeks, but didn’t mention that in his statement.
Olson is the fifth Republican to announce that they won’t seek re-election in 2020. Two Democrats have said they are retiring.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer said he was confident that Olson’s seat will remain Republican. After thanking Olson for his service, Emmer said, “Whoever the socialist Democrats nominate will be forced to defend their party’s radical agenda of socialized medicine and killing oil and gas jobs with the Green New Deal in a solid Republican district.”
Olson’s district in Texas has been solidly Republican in the past, but the rapid growth of the district, including many minority residents, will make it a strong target for Democrats in 2020 and could make Texas more vulnerable than it has been in the past. Olson won his last race by only five percentage points rather than the 10 that had been historical for the district.
Just a day before Olson’s announcement, Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI) also announced that he would not seek re-election for his district in the suburbs north of Detroit, citing the need to spend more time with his family and son with special needs. Mitchell had been similarly critical of Trump’s tweets and also complained that “rhetoric overwhelms policy” on Capitol Hill.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy did not attribute the retirements to Trump or any complaints about the toxicity of Washington politics, however. “No, I think the reason people retire is their own personal decision in the time and place where they are. Some people retire because the voters decide to retire [them] and they still want to stay. That’s the makeup of our government,” McCarthy said to reporters on Thursday.
Still, Republican retirements are bound to make it harder to overcome a 38-seat deficit in the House, which turned Democrat in the 2018 midterms and is now obstructing parts of Trump and the GOP’s agenda.
It turns out that the same no-holds-barred, brash style that undoubtedly got Trump elected may be pushing away some Republican politicians who have become comfortable with a kind of futile gentility. But Trump’s style is more than just a persona to attract those who are sick and tired of political correctness. It reflects who he is.
It is unlikely that the president could change his style even if he wanted to at this point. And he shouldn’t.
Republicans like Mitchell and Olson are better off retiring if they want to continue playing by the old rules, in which Democrats continually take advantage of Republicans’ civility. It has never really worked for them.
Instead, the GOP should take these retirements as an opportunity to put forth bolder candidates who can give the Democrats as good as they get — with both integrity and strength.