President Trump went even further later that day: “The young man last night that ran, he said, ‘Oh, I’m like Trump. Second Amendment, everything. I love the tax cuts, everything.’ He ran on that basis,” Trump said Wednesday night at a private fundraiser. “He ran on a campaign that said very nice things about me. I said, ‘Is he a Republican? He sounds like a Republican to me.’ ”
Except, a few things are wrong with the reasoning of both men:
1. Lamb didn’t run as a Republican, as a conservative, or as a Trumpian candidate.
Lamb absolutely ran as a conservative Democrat, but that is far from being an actual conservative. To wit:
- Lamb wants to keep the Affordable Care Act in place. His opponent, Rick Saccone, wants it repealed.
- Lamb blasted the GOP tax plan as “giveaway” to the rich. His opponent supports the plan.
- Lamb said that he personally opposes abortion but that he doesn't think the right to have one should be taken away. His opponent flatly opposes abortion rights.
- Lamb wants to strengthen background checks for gun sales, although he doesn't think there should be new restrictions on guns.
- Lamb supports Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum, even though GOP leaders including Ryan oppose them.
Not to, like, preach the difference in ideology between Democrats and Republicans, but I guess we need to go there: Lamb is not a conservative. When he's in Congress, he will almost certainly be a vote against Republican priorities.
The only place where Lamb significantly broke with Democratic orthodoxy was on who should lead his party. He said he wouldn't vote for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to be speaker. That ended up being smart politics, because Lamb was able to neutralize attacks from Republicans that he is a “Pelosi liberal.” And it's not as though Lamb is the only Democratic candidate to do that. After the 2016 election, 63 House Democrats voted to oust Pelosi — her most serious leadership challenge yet.
After the Pennsylvania election, Politico surveyed Democratic lawmakers and hopefuls facing competitive races this November and found that about half a dozen are considering disavowing Pelosi, too.
As for Trump's laughable positing that Lamb tried to be more like him, that's just not supported by the details of the campaign. Lamb is a disciplined Marine veteran who stuck to the script and was as far from a freewheeling Trumpian character as one can be. Let's charitably leave the possibility that Trump was confusing Lamb with Saccone, who once said he was “Trump before Trump was Trump.”
And now for our second point: Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Lamb did run on Republican policies. That explanation still doesn’t explain why the Republican lost. All other things being equal, wouldn’t a Republican running in a Republican district do better than a Democrat allegedly pretending to be a Republican? If Democrats can beat Republicans at their own game, well then, Republicans still should have a lot to worry about.
It's pretty clear why Trump and Ryan would want to create an alternate reality that Lamb ran as a Republican or a Trumpian. Trump won the district in 2016, as I'm sure you've heard by now, by 20 points. The fact that Lamb even came close to winning it means he did it with the support of a sizable chunk of those very same Trump voters. And the fact Lamb ran as a Democrat (albeit a conservative one) means those Trump voters defected to the other side, a little more than a year into Trump's presidency.
That's a terrifying thought for Republicans. There are 119 congressional districts — 119! — that on paper are more competitive for Democrats than the one in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. That doesn't mean all of those are suddenly competitive, but Democrats don't need for all of them to be. They only need to net 24 seats in November to take back the House majority for the first time in eight years. And there are 23 seats Republicans hold now in districts Hillary Clinton won, not Trump.
In other words, Pennsylvania underscored that the Republicans' House majority is imperiled. That's a reality that at least two of the party's leaders don't seem to want to accept.