I felt it, like a tremor in The Force. Not the predictable doom that faced Jon Ossoff in his bid to snatch the long-Republican-held Georgia 6th Congressional District for Democrats — but the predictable freakout by Democrats that their inability to win it is evidence of an existential crisis from which the party will never recover.
People, please. Enough of the overwrought hand-wringing. Enough of the shortsighted Sturm und Drang that bogs the left down in endless navel-gazing and finger-pointing that blinds it to incremental gains it achieved. If the overall goal is to win back the House then, for the love of God, Democrats must stop the endless search for the silver bullet or quick fix and develop an appreciation of the long game.
Yes, it is a pity that Ossoff didn’t win the Georgia race. But he lost to Karen Handel (R) by 3.8 percentage points in a district that the previous Republican incumbent — Tom Price, now secretary of health and human services — won by 23.2 points in 2016. A seat he won in 2004 with 100 percent of the vote and no Democratic opposition. Price’s predecessor, Johnny Isakson, won his last election to the seat in 2002 by 60 points.
Meanwhile, Democrats did better than expected in the special election for South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District. Archie Parnell lost to Ralph Norman (R) by 3.2 points. As the New York Times points out, this was a seat “redrawn to heavily favor Republicans after the 2010 elections.” Current White House budget director Mick Mulvaney used to hold it. He won reelection in 2016 by 20.3 percentage points.
This comes on top of the 7-point victory Rep. Ron Estes (R-Kan.) eked out in April’s special election to replace current CIA Director Mike Pompeo. And GOP establishment candidate Ed Gillespie’s 1.2-point win over an acolyte of President Trump’s in the Virginia Republican gubernatorial primary is a danger sign like all the others for the Party of Lincoln.
It would have been great if the Democrats had won even one of the four special elections this year. And, as former House speaker Newt Gingrich wrote last April after Ossoff failed to avoid a runoff in the special election, “ ‘Almost’ doesn’t win elections.” But that doesn’t mean Democrats should completely ignore the gains they have made.
The base is energized and eager to seize the House to be a more effective brake on Trump’s turn-back-the-hands-of-time agenda. All Democrats need to do is find the most effective way to communicate their alternatives to Trumpism. I don’t buy the self-defeating knock that Democrats don’t have a message. They do, especially when put up against whatever is coming out of the White House and Capitol Hill. And if they spend more time on figuring out how to communicate them — the high priest-vs.-warrior dilemma — than on attacking each other for near-misses at the ballot box in 2017, they could reap the benefits of those incremental advances by winning the big battle in 2018.
They just have to decide how badly they want it.
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