There are two ways to look at it, I guess.
From the point of view of the Republicans, they won Tuesday’s special election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, and that’s all that matters. Politics is binary: You’re either going to Washington or you’re not, and Jon Ossoff is not. Karen Handel is. Republicans can also accurately claim to have taken their opponent’s best shot and remained standing.
From the point of view of the losers — the Democrats — well, they lost, and losing stinks. The strong Republican tilt to the 6th District proved too large to overcome, and once again Georgia Democrats have to be wondering what it’s going to take to have an election night that they can feel good about.
Yet nobody in Georgia politics, Democratic or Republican, would have predicted a Democratic showing this strong back in January. Nobody had yet heard of Ossoff, who was making his first bid for public office. Likewise, nobody in South Carolina would have predicted that a Democrat would come within four points in that state’s 5th District last night, which President Trump carried by 18.5 points. Winning is winning and losing sucks, but these trends bode well for the Democratic Party in the mid-terms and beyond.
This also calms, temporarily, the sense of panic that might otherwise have begun to rise within the Republican Party. It lashes the party to Trump a bit longer and a bit more tightly, and it tells us that for now, the bonds of tribalism are still strong enough to overcome any distaste for Trump that might be growing within the party. Republican operatives pressed those loyalties hard with their insistent, apocalyptic “us vs. them” theme, under the theory that winning ugly is still winning. It clearly worked.
In fact, it’s interesting that with Hillary Clinton gone, the GOP turned Nancy Pelosi into the villainess of the race while Trump, a much more prominent figure, was non-existent in the Democratic campaign advertising. It’s hard to second-guess strategies like that without knowing the data on which it was based, but the Ossoff campaign clearly chose not to make the race a referendum on the president.
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We’ll see if that changes. We’re just six months into the Trump era, and we have 18 months still to go to the mid-terms. Already he’s polling in the upper 30s, remarkably bad for a new president, and he hasn’t come close to bottoming out yet.
The agenda in Washington also doesn’t bode well. Any health care plan that can pass in this Congress is going to be deeply unpopular with the electorate, and a failure to pass any plan might be even worse. Huge majorities of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, disagree strongly with the GOP’s high-priority goal of “tax reform” that hands huge tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. The administration’s amateurish approach to foreign policy will in time bear poisonous fruit, and special counsel Robert Mueller appears to mean serious business.
Oh, and the president still has his Twitter account.
I argued before the race that a Republican victory in the Sixth District would help it in the short term, but hurt it in the long run, because overall this simply is not sustainable. That conclusion, that trajectory, hasn’t changed. As a fellow Atlantan once noted, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Sometimes, the bend in that arc can seem too long, too slight. I get that. But still it bends.