Another week, another set of prominent incumbent members of Congress deciding not to run for reelection. By the latest count, we are now up to at least 38 House Republicans announcing early retirement, plus 17 Democrats. Both counts are exceptionally high for this early in the cycle.
Why are more than one in nine current House members calling it quits? Being a member of Congress in 2018 is a miserable job, and it's not likely to get much better in 2019.
Certainly, many retirees are Republicans who are either term-limited out of committee chairmanships or facing tough reelection bids in districts that voted for Hillary Clinton. That explains part of it. But there are bigger forces here too.
In an era of national elections, candidates have little control over their own electoral fates. In an era of big outside money, they can't even control their own campaigns. And because party leadership centrally plans so much of what happens in Congress, members have no ability to exercise any independent policymaking capacity. Divisive polarization means constant gridlock and a Congress whose main legislative activity is voting on whether to keep the government funded every few weeks. Hardly rewarding work.
Individual members of Congress have less autonomy and control than at any other time in recent memory. No wonder they're retiring.