Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Mac Thornberry

Rep. Mac Thornberry to retire

Six down.

Rep. Mac Thornberry

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, announced Monday that he will not seek reelection in 2020, making him the sixth GOP congressman from Texas to say he’s retiring in recent weeks.

“It has been a great honor for me to represent the people of the 13th District of Texas for the last 25 years,” he said in a statement.

“We are reminded, however, that ‘for everything there is a season,’ and I believe that the time has come for a change. Therefore, I will not be a candidate for reelection in the 2020 election.”

Thornberry joins five other Texas Republicans in Congress who are not running for reelection — U.S. Reps. Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Mike Conaway, Will Hurd and Bill Flores. But Thornberry’s exit is somewhat different from other Republicans’ shocking retirements over the summer. The last remaining Texas Republican from the class of 1994 and the dean of the GOP delegation, Thornberry was expected by many to retire soon. He will turn over his post leading the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee in January 2021, thanks to Republican term limits for committee chairmanships.

We did hear about this possibility before, with the end of his term on the House Armed Services Committee as the likely reason. CD13 is one of the reddest districts in the country – I mean, Trump got 79.5% in 2016, Ted Cruz got 79.2% in 2018 – so this has nothing to do with re-election fears, as is the case with some of his soon-to-be-ex-colleagues. I don’t know how he felt about Trump – Thornberry was among the quieter members of the GOP Congressional caucus – but I wouldn’t expect him to have to deal with that much on the trail, and being in the minority plus losing his plum committee assignment sure seems like good reasons to hit the road to me.

By the way, looking back at the 1994 election results sure is a trip down memory lane. There are now three members of Congress from that year who will (barring anything wildly unexpected) be there in 2021: Lloyd Doggett, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Eddie Berniece Johnson. Doggett and SJL were also members of the class of 1994, with Doggett succeeding Jake Pickle, who retired, and SJL ousting Craig Washington in the primary. EBJ is the sole member who was there before 1994, having arrived in the 1992 election. Four other members – Sam Johnson, Joe Barton, Lamar Smith, and Gene Green – stepped down in 2018. Of the incumbents who are expected to be on the 2020 ballot, only eleven – Doggett, SJL, EBJ plus eight more – were there prior to the 2011 redistricting: Louie Gohmert, Kevin Brady, Al Green, Mike McCaul, Kay Granger, Michael Burgess, Henry Cuellar, and John Carter. Of them, McCaul and Carter had close shaves in 2018, with McCaul already facing strong competition for 2020, while Cuellar does and Granger may face strong primary challenges. Change can be slow in Texas, but it does happen.

Who might be next to retire from Congress?

We may see some more exits in the coming years, some voluntary and some not.

Rep. Mac Thornberry

Retirement talk is generally speculative until an incumbent makes an official announcement.

But many Republican operatives bet that U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the most senior Republican from Texas in Congress, could make the upcoming term his last. That’s because Thornberry, currently chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is term-limited out of being the top Republican on that committee, in 2021. Thornberry’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Beyond a severe loss of power in Washington, there are potentially bigger problems ahead for Texas Republicans. Every Republican incumbent from Texas who successfully ran for re-election saw his or her margins shrink over Democrats from contested 2016 races. Some of these numbers should not be troubling. For instance, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, won his race this year by 46 points, rather than 50 points in the prior cycle.

But five GOP incumbents – [Mike] McCaul and U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Kenny Marchant of Coppell, Pete Olson of Sugar Land and Roger Williams of Austin – saw their 2016 margins shrink this year to single digits. These members will likely have to work harder for re-election in 2020 than ever before, and those battles will take place in suburban stretches of Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston that have become increasingly hostile to the GOP.

[…]

The 2018 results could well prove to have been a fluke, brought on by the coattails of outgoing U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke who ran the best Democratic statewide campaign in a generation in his unsuccessful bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. But anxiety is high among members and their aides that Texas can no longer sustain so many GOP incumbents – particularly after political maps gets redrawn during redistricting in 2021. Members with an eye on retirement might well wait to see the outcome of the redraw before deciding whether to call it quits.

The East Texas seat of U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, is another possible vacancy to watch, though not related to his future re-election prospects. With an increasingly higher profile as a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and a past career as a federal prosecutor, Ratcliffe has emerged as a contender to be Trump’s next U.S. attorney general to replace the current acting AG, Matthew Whitaker.

As the story notes, the delegation has been pretty stable. In 2012, after the last round of redistricting and with four new seats added, there were only eight new members. Three were in new seats, of which one (Roger Williams, CD25) was in the district Lloyd Doggett abandoned to run in the new CD35. Of the other four, two defeated incumbents: Pete Gallego knocked off Quico Canseco in CD23, Beto O’Rourke knocked off Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary for CD16. Only Randy Weber in CD14 and Joaquin Castro in CD20 succeeded members that had retired. Between then and this year, Reps. Ruben Hinojosa (CD15) and Randy Neugebauer (CD19) retired, and the now-convicted Steve Stockman (CD36) left to pursue a doomed primary against Sen. John Cornyn in 2014. This year was a bonanza for new faces, and there’s a decent chance we’ll have a few more over the next two cycles.