Conor Lamb's Victory Matters, and Paul Ryan Should Be Scared

Conor Lamb, the Democratic candidate who won the March 13 special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District. (Photo: AP/Gene J. Puskar)

Conor Lamb's Victory Matters, and Paul Ryan Should Be Scared

Republicans had the money. They had the gerrymandering. They still couldn't do it.

The fundamentally absurd subtext to Tuesday night's extended exercises in the 18th Congressional District of Pennsylvania was that, by the time of the midterm elections this November, the district will not even exist in its present form. So, for a couple of months, Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone had been laying clubs on each other for the right to represent a district with, maybe, three months of life left in it.

Nevertheless, Lamb's razorish victory on Tuesday night is another signifying moment in what has become a year of them now. It doesn't matter if Lamb was running for Congress in a congressional district that is in some senses now largely imaginary. It doesn't matter if he was running in Brigadoon. Lamb is another Democrat who beat another Republican in an electoral district that the Democrat had no business carrying. Or conversely, this was the last chance the Republicans had to win on an electoral map so ludicrously gerrymandered that the state supreme court blew it up and took on itself the job of redrawing the map.

This was the last gasp of 10 years of successful electoral chicanery in Pennsylvania, and the Republicans couldn't boot their candidate home even with $10 million pumped into the district from the national party and from its vast reservoir of PACs and dark money. They couldn't organize it. They couldn't buy it. And they couldn't steal it. That pretty much eliminates all possible ways Republicans generally win elections these days, and bringing in the president* for a last-ditch manic episode didn't work, either. Not even the crazy was enough.

There will be some attempt now to minimize what the voters in that district did on Tuesday night. Rick Saccone was a dullard of a candidate. (True.) Conor Lamb is personally going to run Nancy Pelosi out of national politics, so he's not really a Democratic candidate. (Please to be giving me a break.) It's a long way until November and Things Can Still Happen. (This theory depends vitally on the president* suddenly becoming Up To The Job. Yeah, right.) This is whistling very loudly past a very large graveyard. This was a Republican district. It was built to be a Republican district in perpetuity, which is why its days are numbered right now.

In the latter days of the campaign, the Republicans abandoned their economic pitch that was based on the president*'s ability to convince congressional Republicans to pass a massive plutocrat's wet dream of a tax cut. This was supposed to be the magic bullet in this election. Instead, Saccone decided to let the traditional culture-war boogeypersons out of the closet.

On Monday, for example, Conor Lamb was a wild-eyed "libtard" who was going to let undocumented immigrant doctors perform abortions on your 10-year-old daughter in the middle of a mass gay wedding in Greene County. On Wednesday, according to those same Republicans, Conor Lamb was basically Mark Meadows in Democratic drag. Are the Republicans pretty well and truly fcked up as a party right now? Signs point to "Yes."

In his victory speech, which came before anyone had called the race, which MSNBC's Brian Williams couldn't resist telling his audience, Lamb interestingly leaned very hard on thanking the support he'd received from organized labor. In fact, he talked more--and more sincerely--about unions in that speech than any candidate I've heard since the beginning of Bernie Sanders' campaign back in 2015.

"Side by side with us at each step of the way were the men and women in organized labor...Organized labor built Western Pennsylvania...Tonight, they have reasserted their right to have a major part in our future."

This is beyond encouraging. I am sure that Lamb is going to take some positions that are going to make me crazy. (If he takes a dive on guns in this historical moment, or if he really becomes part of an effort to make, say, Tim Ryan the speaker of a newly elected Democratic House, the shebeen will not be pleased.) But telling labor that he owes his victory largely to its effort, and actually meaning it, is a very welcome--and an extremely shrewd--move for a rookie, and it evinces the kind of awareness that he's going to need to win re-election in whatever district he has to run in when this one disappears.

In any event, they were not the words of the candidate described in a statement by Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin. Ryan contended that Lamb really, sort of, almost ran as, you know, a Republican.

Keep whistling, Mr. Speaker. Lamb ran specifically on preserving and protecting the social safety-net programs you're so hell-bent on destroying. And, not for nothing, but do you know what congressional district is, theoretically, anyway, more Democratic than the one Conor Lamb won on Tuesday night?


Sleep well.

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