WASHINGTON — Imagine being swept out of power in Congress and relegated to the role of spectator and naysayer as your political opponents dictate the terms of legislative debate. Add in the specter of a painful slog to re-election, sharing the ticket with President Trump and being asked to answer daily for his every tweet and incendiary statement.
Now picture doing all of that only to risk landing in the minority again, possibly under the other party’s president.
Such is the plight of House Republicans contemplating whether to seek re-election in 2020, and the bleak outlook is taking its toll. A half-dozen Republican members of Congress have announced over the past two weeks that they will retire rather than face voters again next year, and more are expected to follow in the coming weeks, dealing an early setback to the party’s uphill battle to win back the House.
The rush for the exits is also providing evidence about how difficult the House Republican Conference is becoming for the few women and people of color who remain in it.
Among the retirements announced in the past week are Representatives Will Hurd of Texas, the only African-American Republican in the House, and Martha Roby of Alabama, one of only 13 Republican congresswomen. Representative Susan Brooks of Indiana, the head of recruitment for the party’s campaign committee, had been tasked with replenishing the ravaged ranks of Republican women; she announced in June that she would retire, an indication of the long odds of that effort.
“It’s a reflection of the pessimism Republicans feel about regaining the majority in 2020,” said David Wasserman, the House editor of the Cook Political Report, which tracks congressional races.
Speculation is swirling that Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, a 32-year veteran and moderate who has broken with Mr. Trump on critical votes, will announce that he will not seek re-election. And Democrats, buffeted in recent days by a crisis inside their campaign committee and eager to capitalize on the wave of exits, on Friday added four new names to their Republican retirement watch list: Representatives Adam Kinzinger and Rodney Davis of Illinois, Lee Zeldin of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
Democrats have plenty of money to press their advantage; the party’s House campaign arm has been crushing fund-raising records, and the most vulnerable Democrats are flush with cash to wage their re-election battles.
But those are not the only reasons that some Republicans are concluding it is not worth even trying. A toxic environment for Republicans in the House, where partisanship reigns and they are judged as much for their segments on Fox News as any policy effort, has taken a toll on lawmakers who are interested in pursuing legislative compromises.
“As the party reshapes itself, there are some members who aren’t as comfortable there as they were when they first came,” said former Representative Tom Davis, Republican of Virginia, who chaired the party’s congressional campaign arm from 1999 to 2003. “Especially for some of these members who buck the party on occasion, they are finding it a less hospitable place to be.”
Mr. Hurd, a moderate who won re-election in 2018 by only 1,100 votes, spent years trying to craft an immigration deal with Democrats only to see the effort collapse last year in the face of Mr. Trump’s opposition. The president’s style clearly irked Mr. Hurd; he was one of only four Republicans to join Democrats last month in voting to condemn as racist Mr. Trump’s tweets telling four congresswomen of color — all but one of them born in the United States — to “go back” to their countries of origin.
Ms. Roby had also been less than comfortable with the president’s conduct, and seen her career threatened for saying so. Weeks before the 2016 election, after leaked audio surfaced in which Mr. Trump could be heard bragging about grabbing women by their genitals and forcibly kissing them, she said he was “unacceptable as a candidate for president” and that she would not vote for him.
The comments helped earn Ms. Roby four primary challengers last year who argued that she had been disloyal to Mr. Trump, and she toiled to distance herself from her own criticism of the president, saying she supported his agenda. Mr. Trump ultimately endorsed her via Twitter.
For others who are less willing to publicly break with their party, the idea of being forced to embrace or excuse Mr. Trump’s statements and tactics has become increasingly unpalatable.
“A lot of people don’t want to have to run with Donald Trump, knowing the experience of last time,” said Brendan Buck, who served as a senior adviser to former Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, who retired last year.
That is particularly the case, he added, given the very real possibility that the entire exercise may amount to little.
“Being in the minority, you’re not accomplishing anything, and some of these guys are looking ahead at the prospect of being in the minority with a Democratic president again — and that would be even worse,” Mr. Buck said.
Republican officials argue that the exodus, while painful, is merely part of a biannual cycle of turnover for lawmakers looking toward their next chapters, particularly given party rules that bar them from serving more than three consecutive terms as committee chairs or ranking members.
“Retirements obviously hurt, but that’s a feature, not a bug, of the way the Republicans have set up their term limits,” said Chris Pack, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “We don’t have time to sulk, nor would we. It’s full steam ahead.”
Mr. Pack conceded that defending Mr. Hurd’s seat “will be tough,” but said the committee already has someone on the ground in his sprawling district, which extends from San Antonio to El Paso, recruiting candidates to succeed him.
Democrats smell blood, particularly in Texas, where in addition to Mr. Hurd, two other Republicans, Representatives Michael Conaway and Pete Olson, have announced over the past two weeks that they do not plan to run again.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, hoping to replicate the strategy it employed in California in 2018 to wrest seven seats from Republicans, opened a field office in Austin in April and has poured money and manpower into targeting several Republican seats there.
On Friday, sensing a new opening after what it was gleefully calling the “Texodus,” the committee said it had dispatched researchers into Mr. Olson’s district and those of two other Texas Republicans it is hoping to oust, Representatives Michael McCaul and Kenny Marchant, to comb through public records in search of dirt to, in the words of one operative, “make this as painful as possible” for them.