The Republican Party has been a dumpster fire this year. Actually, it’s been in disarray, lacking a core agenda and plagued by infighting for several years. It’s not even a party anymore, just a coalition of people who hate the media and fear the Democrats.
For the first time in modern history, as a party controlling all three branches, Republicans have enacted no major accomplishment in the first 150 days. They even passed a Democrat budget that jettisoned all their campaign promises. And yet …
Democrats still cannot win!
Democrats spent upward of $30 million in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District special election, breaking the record for a single House race.
Jon Ossoff raised money (a massive amount coming out of state) at a faster clip than Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders. The Dems got a liberal federal judge to allow thousands of new voters who didn’t vote in the first round to cast ballots in the runoff — in contravention to state law. And while this has been a traditional GOP district, it has trended away from Republicans in recent years, with Trump carrying it by only one point.
Moreover, Trump has a 60 percent disapproval rating in GA-6. This is the type of district Democrats must win in order to win back the House.
So, how did Karen Handel win with a very bland message, no strong and passionate conservative ideas, and Trump viewed so negatively by a not-insignificant number of GOP voters in the district?
The answer lies in another perplexing question from this season of special elections. How is it that a no-name Democrat candidate in Tuesday night’s other special election, a sleeper race in SC-5, came within three points of upsetting Republicans in a district Trump won by 19 points?
Add to this the fact that in Kansas’ Fourth Congressional District, Democrats lost by just seven points in April just months after Trump carried it by 27, and lost the Montana special election by just six after Trump carried the state by 20.
Yet, at the same time, Karen Handel improved upon Trump’s 1.5 percent margin in GA-6, despite facing the strongest-funded opponent of all time.
What this demonstrates is that the Democrat base is clearly fired up and electrified by its opposition to Trump. It is engaged and voting in low-turnout special elections and is willing to donate prolifically to national Democrat causes. Moreover, clearly many people who voted for Trump are disappointed in Republicans, and sending them a clear message.
However, in GA-6, where Democrats nationalized the race — accentuated by the fact that candidate Ossoff wasn’t even from the district — they created a push-pull effect with the GOP base, and reminded swing voters and soft Republican-leaners of the radical nature of the national Democrat agenda. It was the classic binary idolatry of the “lesser of two evils.”
While the GOP base clearly isn’t as fired up as the Democrats — given that it is in power but doing nothing with it — Republicans are always able to scare the base into voting by flashing pictures of Nancy Pelosi across the television.
Swing voters and lean-GOP voters are also repulsed by the radical agenda of national Democrats — an agenda a congressional candidate cannot hide from when nationalizing the race the way Ossoff did (unlike the Democrat candidates in the other sleeper elections).
Voters are willing to lodge their protest against the GOP by voting for low-key hometown Democrat candidates but are unwilling to hand the keys to the national Democrats. Their brand is too damaged, despite the GOP dumpster fire. Ultimately, in a race between an unpopular Trump and an unpopular national Democrat Party led by Pelosi, the Georgia district resorted to its traditional partisan lean.
What does this mean for the future?
Clearly, voters are not voting for Republicans; they are voting against San Francisco values. That means it’s time for Republicans to actually stand for an agenda that eschews those values in practice, not just on the campaign trail. This is not a mandate for the GOP to continue with its nonsense; it’s a mandate despite its nonsense, and it’s a mandate to move in the opposite direction of the Democrats.
If Republicans continue standing for nothing and racking up high negatives, Democrats can still put enough districts in play to win back the House next year. If Republicans pass a garbage health care bill that stokes the Democrat fires but doesn’t excite their own base, they will be fighting an uphill battle.
Finally, there is the issue of national security. The polls seemed to have turned in Handel’s favor in the final week. While there are clearly numerous and anomalous factors involved in a special election, national security is on the minds of voters.
Between the terror attacks and the Scalise shooting, voters are more concerned about security than policy-makers would think, as confirmed by some recent polls. Voters don’t want us to become like Europe. Trump and Republicans would be wise to focus more on homeland security, immigration, and national security, and they will have the upper hand in 2018.
Imagine if Republicans actually electrified their own base around a positive agenda — on true free-market health care, tax cuts, protection of our sovereignty, judicial reform, government reform, and national right to carry?
Unfortunately, that is not the lesson the party hacks will derive from this race as juxtaposed to the other close calls around the country. They will come away with the impression that as long as they run “anti-Pelosi” and scare voters about a Pelosi-controlled House next year, it will carry them to victory.
And you know what? It might just work. After all, aside from the growing Democrat base, the voters within the 50-yard-line of American politics are still scared by the radicalism of the Left. Voters have handed the GOP control of the House — the body of government closest to the people — for 20 of the last 24 years.
But if the anti-Dem talking point is all Republicans stand for, what exactly are we winning?
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.