A special election took place in Pennsylvania yesterday to replace a Republican congressman. At the moment, the Democratic candidate Conor Lamb is holding a razor-thin edge over the Republican replacement Rick Saccone, and once again we have a chorus of eager and gleeful Democratic cheerleaders out declaring that barely squeaking by in a district that leans Democrat 46 to 41% but that “Trump carried by 19 points” means the blue wave is coming.
I find it interesting that when the left does pull one of these elections out, it’s always by a nose. Funny, that. Moving on.
It does us no good to ignore PA-18 but likewise it does us no good to throw up our hands in defeat and phone it in for November like the fake news and the Democrats want us to. So let’s look a little closer at this race. This was a special standalone election to replace a Republican who resigned in disgrace after it was discovered he pressured his mistress to have an abortion (while it’s questionable whether she was ever actually pregnant, the takeaway here is we take out our trash). So you have a district that is being redrawn out of existence before November, and people who are soured on the GOP and RINOs in particular, in a district that already leans Democratic in a traditionally blue (arguably purple but pretty bluish purple) state. Once again you have a massive fundraising edge for the Democrat and a lackluster are-you-even-trying candidate on the Republican side. In addition, you have a Democratic candidate who did NOT run as the “let’s piss off Donald Trump” candidate and actually ran hard to the right, selling himself as pro-business and anti-gun control, and more or less leaving President Trump out of it. And it didn’t help matters that the Republican here seemed content to do the same. Yes, I know that President Trump came out to stump for Rick Saccone but it’s one thing for the president to support you, and another entirely for you to support the president. With all those advantages, it looks at the moment like the Democrats pulled off a win. So RINO-ing it up apparently didn’t save Rick Saccone, it just meant Gloria Allred got to keep her powder dry for another day.
It should also be noted that this is only the second flip out of several for national seats that has taken place since President Trump was elected. It should further be noted that, with the exception of this seat in particular, all these vacancies came up because the Republicans holding these seats in Congress got promoted to positions in the Trump administration. Of course that puts the seat in play and makes it possible to flip. Taking a seat out from under an actual incumbent is another matter entirely. Otherwise, Democrats have made small gains on the state and local level in either elections that don’t matter (like in Wisconsin) or in hopelessly deep blue states (like Virginia). In all of 2017, 98 special elections took place at the statehouse level. 17 of them resulted in a flip–and 3 of them resulted in Democrat seats going Republican. Yes, that means there has been a net loss of 11 GOP seats, but it should also be noted that four of those are in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. So what, you may ask? Little known fact is that there are 400 members of the New Hampshire House. That’s almost as many as are in the entire U.S. House, and it doesn’t take a lot of support to get in. Considering that New Hampshire is a blue-leaning-purple state, Democrats “winning” these seats is about as significant as winning an election for dogcatcher. Democrats also flipped 3 seats each in Oklahoma and Georgia, which didn’t even make a dent in the GOP majorities in either state–neither state is going blue anytime soon, children, which means nobody’s spending their money there on the GOP side.
For all these indicia that no, it’s really not a wave, there is a disturbing trend that the national GOP just does not seem to be able to wrap its head around. Ironically the trolls and the fake news have nailed this far better than most Republicans appear to be able to (h/t to Salena Zito who appears to be comprehending it) by pointing out that PA-18 went Trump by 19 points over Dr. Pantsuit. This election was not a referendum on President Trump. It was a referendum on the GOP. So far, the only loser on a national scale who came out in full-throated support of President Trump has been Roy Moore, and it took a nationwide scandal and the NeverTrumpers’ going all-in on a pathetically transparent lie just to get enough Alabama voters to say “screw this, I’m out” so Doug Jones could score a (wouldn’t you know it) narrow win. Previously, vocal Trumpists like Greg Gianforte survived a nonsense last-minute scandal, while Karen Handel sailed to a win over Jon “I want to be President Trump’s worst nightmare” Ossoff, and despite the failure of the national Republican party to get a clue and wake up, the Democrats have clearly been taking notes. Conor Lamb ran to the right and did not make President Trump his opponent. Rick Saccone failed to make President Trump his ally. It’s as simple as that. Rick Saccone could have brought this one home if his campaign had been “I will go to Washington to help President Trump do exactly what you elected him to do,” but instead he went with mumbled support and standard Republican talking points rather than even try to hitch his wagon to the Trump train. If there is a Democratic wave coming, it’s not coming because of President Trump. It’ll be of the Republicans’ own making.
President Trump’s support isn’t waning. He’s more popular at this point in his presidency than Whatshisname was, despite being under constant attack from the fake news. The Republicans, on the other hand, seem determined to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and if they continue to run and hide from the exact things they have claimed to want and support all these years just because it’s dressed up in a business suit and a MAGA hat, then they’ll deserve to lose.