Special Elections are odd ducks in American politics. A lot of pundits try to use them as Roman Seers did the entrails of chickens. And both groups had probably the same rate of success. The elections can serve as insights into how parts of the Country view the then political status quo. The US government is still, regrettably, a duopoly. So no matter how much candidates try to make it all about them, special elections are tied to the parties. A vote for a Republican in the special election is a vote for the Trump agenda. A vote for a Democrat is a vote against the Trump agenda. This why pundits like to see them as massive bellwethers.
Going against that concept is a special election allows the parties and their various political surrogates to concentrate their firepower (i.e. money) on a single election in a manner they cannot replicate during a general Congressional election. Yesterday’s Georgia 6 special election cost the parties approximately Fifty Million Dollars ($50,000,000.00). To replicate that in 2018, across 435 Congressional Seats would require spending Twenty-One Billion Seven Hundred Fifty Million Dollars ($21,750,000,000.00). While that might be the most honest “shovel ready” jobs politicians could create, it just ain’t happening.
While they might not be bellwethers, special elections can serve as a canary in the coal mine for political parties. If the party out of power racks up surprise victories, the party in power needs to take notice. If the party out of power keeps losing, they need to reassess their strategy.
For example, the January 2010 win by Scott Brown’s the vacant Massachusetts Senate seat (along with the Republican victories of the governorship of Virginia and New Jersey in November 2009) should have been a wake-up call for Democrats that the American public was very uneasy with the Democrat’s agenda. They should have stopped with Obamacare. They opted not to do so. And the result was the 2010 wave election.
The Republican victory in GA-6 does not qualify as a bellwether. While this would be an Ossoff victory would have been an upset (the first Democrat to represent the District since ’78), the closeness of the race would have mitigated against it. The intense focus of the democrats on that election would have been something they would not have been able to replicate 18 months from now. But, take Handel’s 3.8 point victory and the 3.1 point victory by Ralph Norman in the under-reported election in South Carolina and the GOP should pause for a moment. While they have won all of the special elections this year, the margin of victory has been incredibly small, especially in traditional Republican districts (the last poll for SC-5 had Norman up 53-37. Given his 52-48 victory, all of the undecideds apparently broke for the Democrat). And these districts have been in various parts of the Country, giving a better snap shot of America’s views. The people may not like the Democrats, but they are clearly not enamored with the Trump Agenda.
The Republican party is going to be battling some strong headwinds in 2018. Historically, midterm elections are referendums on the party in power. The lower the popularity of the President, the worse his party does. Having a President with a popularity rating in the low 40s is never been a good sign for his party. If the GOP wants to insulate itself from any chance of losing the House, they will need to come up with a legislative agenda they can pass. And given the short-attention span of the President (Last week was announced as infrastructure week and very little in the way of policy was set forth) and the risk aversion of the Senate to initiate anything (see the one infrastructure policy Trump did announce), and Paul Ryan needs to put together a group of high profile bills he knows he can pass to show the American People Congress is doing something.
As for the Democrats, they also need to keep in mind that these elections are not bellwethers. But they also have to overcome the fact that when it comes to picking up Republican seats, they are 0-4 in special elections this year, despite backing truckloads of money into each of the races. And in each case they came tantalizingly close to winning, only to lose in the end. Between 1990 and 1994, the Buffalo Bills were the AFC Champions and played in Super bowls XXV through XXVIII. They lost each one. Almost all were heartbreakingly close games.
The Democrats are the now the Buffalo Bills of Politics.
The Democrats need some serious introspection. It is said that armies are always preparing to win the last war. The special elections show the Democrats are always prepared to lose the last election. The idea that they could run a campaign solely built on a hashtag (#Resistance) and blind opposition to the President has to be considered a failure. The idea they could bring someone into Georgia Six who didn’t live there and was funded by major donors from outside of Georgia was a hell of a gamble that failed spectacularly. (And Ossoff whining this morning that despite his campaign spending $40 million that somehow a lack of campaign finance is the reason he lost shows a stunning lack of awareness). I would commend you to read this long twitter rant by someone who lives in the District to understand how badly the Democrats handled this.
And the blame has to start at the top with Nancy Pelosi. She has been the leader of the House Democrats since 2006. With Hillary wandering the back woods of Chappaqua like some sort of pant-suited Bigfoot, Pelosi is the “Face of the Party”. The minority leader is the poster child for costal liberal elitism. The day she retires (or is ousted from Leadership) will be a sad day for GOP fundraisers. And her policy agenda s shows a complete lack of awareness of the reality that allowed Trump to win the presidency.
But even party members have to get a grip. During Ossoff’s concession speech, there were reportedly cries of “Not our Congressman”. This continual refusal to acknowledge the other party’s victory as legitimate is doing it no favors with those people who don’t live breathe and eat politics. National Review’s Kevin Williamson summed it up best:
So, the election didn’t go your way. That means America is finished, defeated, corrupted beyond redemption? Grow up. Nobody said being free would be easy. We, all of us, have work to do — childish fantasies and childish temper tantrums aren’t getting it done.
The Democrats have to stop treating anyone who opposes them as being some sort of racist, misogynistic xenophobe. This strategy failed in 2016. And it has failed five times in 2017. A new strategy is required.
The biggest problem with the Democrats is they love the pomp and circumstance of being the opposition. But they don’t like the details. In contrast, the Tea Party was founded in not in opposition to President Obama, but to his policies. The Tea Party had a very clear agenda: they were for cutting spending, reducing taxes and reigning in government. They had very clear goals. And the Tea Party was equally clear they were ready, willing, and able to work with President Obama. It was Obama who decided to ignore the Tea Party and opted instead to become President Phone & Pen.
Democrats keep trying to replicate the 209-2014 Tea Party movement and failing. Sure, the Occupy Wall Street protests had all the visual hallmarks of the 1960s protest movements. But they never had a solid agenda of what they wanted to have happen. It was always this vague re-hashed of discredited Marxist-Leninist ideas. The #Resistance is the same thing. The main agenda item for them is the impeachment of Trump. That idea precludes any idea of them working with the President. Which means, from a practical standpoint, whatever policy ideas they get around to promoting have no shot of being implemented. Trump is nowhere unpopular enough for people to realistically believe he would be convicted by Senate. And while the #Resistance makes noises about also impeaching Pence and installing Pelosi as President, they have failed to produce a single item about the Vice President to even remotely suggest he has done anything that could be considered a misdemeanor, never mind a high crime. A vote for the #Resistance is a vote for a futile gesture.
The Democrats can be the party of No. But they have to have solid agenda. If you oppose Trumpcare, then have a basic plan for how to fix Obamacare. Opposing tax reform? Then what’s the bullet point ideas you have? Show the American people there is something more than just a foot-stomping, holding your breath until you get your way from the party.
The one good thing about this is neither party will actually undertake any introspection. They will continue doing what they normally do. And so the 2018 election will be decided, as every election since the fall of Berlin Wall, by the words of the Apocryphal Harold Macmillan:
“Events dear boy, events.”
And since the duopoly is content to let events controlled their fortunes, it gives opportunities to third parties to step into the breach.