By this measure, Democratic performance in Ohio’s 12th District special election might be called the Ziploc opening. Or maybe the Cascade cascade. The Democratic candidate, Danny O’Connor, appears, as of Thursday, to have lost by one point in a district that went for Donald Trump by 11 points in the 2016 presidential election. And most of O’Connor’s gains likely came in white-collar suburbs, among college-educated white voters who have been alienated by the president.
Democrats nearly secured a seat Republicans have held since 1982. “Nearly” is the coldest comfort in politics. But if Democratic candidates make comparable gains across the country in November, they will win control of the House.
Democratic strategists, however, will make a tremendous mistake if they assume that “white collar” means Oberlin College-educated anti-Trump marchers in genital-shaped headwear. To win the House, Democrats need to secure gains in the suburbs of places such as Atlanta, Houston and Dallas. At least some of these voters are Baylor University-educated fathers or mothers packing Ziploc-bagged sandwiches to be eaten by children at Christian schools.
In November, many Republican leaners and independents will face a difficult decision. The national Democratic Party under Nancy Pelosi and Charles E. Schumer doesn’t share their views or values. But President Trump is a rolling disaster of mendacity, corruption and prejudice. What should they do?
They should vote Democratic in their House race, no matter who the Democrats put forward. And they should vote Republican in Senate races with mainstream candidates (unlike, say, Corey Stewart in Virginia).
Why vote strategically in this case? Because American politics is in the midst of an emergency.
If Democrats gain control of the House but not the Senate, they will be a check on the president without becoming a threat to his best policies (from a Republican perspective) or able to enact their worst policies. The tax cut will stand. The Senate will still approve conservative judges. But the House will conduct real oversight hearings and expose both Russian influence and administration corruption. Under Republican control, important committees — such as Chairman Devin Nunes’s House Intelligence Committee — have become scraping, sniveling, panting and pathetic tools of the executive branch. Only Democratic control can drain this particular swamp.
Alternatively: If Republicans retain control of the House in November, Trump will (correctly) claim victory and vindication. He will have beaten the political performances of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in their first midterms. He will have proved the electoral value of racial and ethnic stereotyping. He will have demonstrated the effectiveness of circuslike distraction. He will have shown the political power of bold, constant, uncorrected lies. And he will gain many more enablers and imitators.
Perhaps worst of all, a victorious Trump will complete his takeover of the Republican Party (which is already far along). Even murmured dissent will be silenced. The GOP will be fully committed to a 2020 presidential campaign conducted in the spirit of George C. Wallace — a campaign of racial division, of rural/urban division, of religious division, of party division that metastasizes into mutual contempt.
This would leave many Americans entirely abandoned in U.S. politics: Catholics who are both pro-life and pro-immigrant. Evangelicals who are conservative but think that character matters, that compassion counts, that racial healing is a Christian calling. Traditional Republicans who miss a time — not so long ago — when leaders such as Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush modeled grace and led the West in defending freedom.
In a democracy, a vote is usually not a matter of good and evil. It is a matter of weighing competing goods and choosing lesser evils. The possible outcomes this November come down to this: Trump contained, or Trump triumphant.
Democrats, I suspect, will make a victory harder than it should be. A significant number seem to view Trump’s vulnerability as an opportunity to ideologically purify their party. They are actively undermining the job of containing the president by alienating centrist voters they need to turn the House.
But this does not change the political and ethical reality. The only way to save the GOP is to defeat it in the House. In this case, a Republican vote for a Democratic representative will be an act of conscience.