We were wrong. Again.
Karen Handel not only won the Georgia congressional special election that 7 of the last 10 published polls had her losing, but she won it outside the margin of error of all those polls as well. She did it despite the fact that she was dramatically out-spent and President Trump is not that popular in the district. For example, Mitt Romney won the district by 23 points in 2012, but Trump won it by only 1.5 points in 2016.
So why did we blow it once more? For the following four reasons:
1. The status quo has changed.
My editor, Todd Erzen, likes to say “the status quo is the status quo until it isn’t any more.” I’ve been listening to him say it for a couple of years, but now I’m actually hearing him. A macro- and micro-paradigm shift have occurred. The macro-shift has happened culturally, and we’ll discuss that later. The micro-shift is that we are still analyzing trends and data as we did Obama-era analytics, such as the continued obsession with the fools’ gold of early voting numbers as some sort of metric. We’re assuming that since that was an omen of energy, GOTV organization, and new voter identification in the Obama years, it still is. It’s clearly not any more, but instead is essentially Democrats cannibalizing their own election day vote. We’re also assuming the traditional notion that an unpopular president drags down his party is still in play, and at the very least, that’s no longer happening to the extent we’re traditionally accustomed. This brings me to my next point.
2. Just because voters are angry doesn’t mean they’re not smart.
The false assumption that because voters are as angry as they’ve ever been, they’ve also lost their minds is causing us observers and pundits to lose ours. Collectively, down-ballot Republicans out-performed Trump in 2016, like in crucially important Florida, where Marco Rubio received a whopping 200,000 more votes than Trump. Since this data point showing that voters were already drawing a distinction between Trump and Republicans as a whole was already there, we shouldn’t have been surprised that Handel won a plus-8 GOP district by four times the margin Trump did. Trump didn’t have any coat-tails for Republicans to ride last fall, so we’re likely over-estimating the impact of his reverse coat-tails heading into 2018. Plus, though there may be a percentage of Republicans unwilling to embrace Trump, that doesn’t mean they’re willing to embrace Democrats instead, or sit by passively and let Democrats win. Once more, we’ll get to the reason for that in moment.
3. Just because the data comes from a partisan source doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
In the final days of the campaign, there was one public poll that had Handel winning. It came from Trafalgar, which is a GOP polling firm. Typically, we’re wise to be skeptical of partisan polling released right before an election. Especially when it says things are better for the home team than everyone else is showing.
However, as Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics pointed out, Trafalgar also had the late surge for Trump correct in 2016. I’ve documented before how often mainstream media election polling has been accurate, despite any liberal bias in their coverage. In fact, they practically nailed the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. It’s now time to afford the same accommodation to partisan polling from the Right, if it has a track record of accuracy like Trafalgar.
4. The current most potent force in American politics.
And now to the biggest factor of them all, which is the cultural macro-shift I previously hinted at.
Even without the polling trend in his favor, predicting John Osoff to win made perfect sense in politics as we’ve known it. After all, Trump’s approval rating is in the toilet overall and is now slipping with Republicans, too. Democrats also had the fundraising and energy, and the GOP’s health care proposals are more unpopular than Trump is.
Except this is no longer politics as we’ve known it.
Perhaps for the first time in American history, a major political party is attempting to impose radical cultural change on the country, radical change its base really believes in, which is how Osoff got to one million donors faster than even Obama did. That was money that Osoff raised almost totally from outside the district.
However, though this is radical change that the meager 15 percent of counties that voted for Hillary really wants, a majority of the country does not.
For decades, Democrats got minorities and working-class whites to vote for them with this bargain: You give us the votes we need to support our social causes, and we’ll use government to either subsidize you or provide you with a living. This bargain is how they were able to get fire and brimstone black pastors to mobilize their flocks for the same candidates Joy Behar supported — regardless of their obvious moral differences.
But the terms and conditions of this bargain have changed.
The coal miner is now being told his livelihood must take a back seat to the Left’s environmental agenda. The union carpenter and middle-class roofer are being told to put up with their jobs going to low-wage illegals in the name of faux tolerance. In other words, Democrats are demanding that these same people continue not only to vote against their own values, but also against their self-interest as well.
Telling your oldest voters “you’ll get nothing and like it” is a tough sell, which has isolated a party that was thinking permanent majority eight years ago into a bi-coastal association of progressive activists. These progressive activists are not content to live out their worldview in their own habitats, but desire to impose it on the rest of us, with policies so good that they have to be mandated. Oh, and bake that cake, bigot.
The Democrats might be the most ideologically extreme major party we’ve ever seen in American history, and that’s why Republicans are reaping the benefits despite the country all but abandoning conservatism. Folks may no longer believe in limited government and Judeo-Christian morality like they used to, but they’re scared to death of looking like a Berkley campus riot – even more scared than they are of Trump.
That’s why the most potent current force in American politics is fear and disgust against the Left.
With would-be assassin James Hodgkinson playing the role of black swan, all the while, Handel made Nancy Pelosi from the People’s Republic of California her opponent in the minds of Georgia voters.
Democrats had this problem before, until a southern up-and-comer named Bill Clinton convinced them to don a more moderate mask. It may be impossible for them to emulate that strategy nowadays, because it’s become a party of Leftists more than liberals in our time.
We’re no longer debating the role of government in our lives, but our very way of life. There’s compromise to be found in the former, but irreconcilable differences in the latter.