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Another Night of Mixed Results

The final rounds of the special election season came on Tuesday, with the same usual mixed results as before. Once again the Democrats fell short of victory in two more reliably Republican districts, but once again by margins that should worry many of the more vulnerable congressional Republicans up for re-election in ’18.
Those anxious Republicans can take some solace in the fact that the Republican prevailed in Georgia’s sixth congressional district despite the record-setting millions of dollars that Democrats from around the country threw into the race. The district is mostly the well-educated and well-heeled and mostly-white suburbs of Atlanta, and has been held by the Republicans for 40 years, including the entire famous tenure of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, but when a youthful Democratic candidate fell just short of a majority in the open primary his party sensed an upset. The national press paid outsized attention, the money from Hollywood and other Democratic denizens poured in, and there was much anticipation of an outcome that could be easily spun as backlash against President Donald Trump.
We’re far out of range of the broadcast commercials that were no doubt incessantly aired in Georgia’s unfortunate sixth district, and not very familiar with the local politics of the district, but so far as we can tell from all that outsized national press attention neither candidate tried to make the race about Trump. The Democrat presumably and reasonably believed that his opposition to Trump went without saying and instead focused on some local issues, which the Democrats in the rest of the country will no doubt regard as a fatal mistake, while the Republican reportedly ran as an old-fashioned establishment type who rarely mentioned Trump, which will surely annoy some Republicans and provide a lesson to others. Trump won the district in the presidential election by 2 percent, which was much lower than his margins in the less-educated and less-well-heeled and even whiter districts in the rest of the state, and the old-fashioned Republican who rarely mentioned Trump won by a slightly larger yet closer-than-usual margin, so the pro-Trump and anti-Trump people can make whatever they want of all that.
Less attention was paid and fewer donations were made to another race in the fifth district of South Carolina, which is less well-educated and well-heeled and more white than that Georgia district, and where Trump prevailed by more landslide margins, but that was also an embarrassingly close call. The Republican took just over 51 percent of the vote, far underperforming the the Republican in the election just eight months or so ago, and although local politics no doubt played a part there’s no spinning how that’s good for Trump.
All of the special elections have been in Republican districts where the incumbent was promoted to a cabinet-level position by Trump, which means that their would-be Republicans successors were necessarily well less qualified candidates, and of course the opposition is going to more energized than those less well-educated and well-heeled Trump supporters who are cocksure their man can take of himself. Still, the results are decidedly mixed.
The Democrats won’t be able to raise the kind of money for each mid-term race at the rate they did in that Georgia election, but neither will the Republicans. The Republicans did wind up winning all four of the races, albeit while losing percentage points that would flip a whole of districts. Trump retains a steadfast and significant percentage of voters, Trump’s detractors seem to have even bigger numbers, and it’s how they’re spread around the electoral map that seems matter. All politics really is local, too, so it’s hard to tell how that will play in out the hundreds of House seats and third-or-so of Senate seats up in a year and a few months from now. Of course there’s also no telling what might happen in a year and a few months from now.
Until then the Republicans retain the White House and the same majorities they held in the House and Senate before all this fuss, but for now they don’t seem to doing much with it, and the Democrats are still falling tantalizingly short of a victory to call their own.

— Bud Norman

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The Democrats in the Post-Clinton Era

At this point we haven’t had the chance to pick up a copy of “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” a recently released book by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, but it’s being so widely quoted in all the papers that we soon won’t need to read it. We should issue a spoiler alert, but apparently the Clinton campaign was very badly run.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, of course, but the early reviewers have been surprised that it was run even more badly than they thought. The authors were granted complete access to the innermost circles of the Clinton campaign in exchange for an assurance they wouldn’t make anything public until after the election, probably because Clinton wanted someone to chronicle her long-presumed victory, and it looked even worse from the inside than it did to the public. Although Clinton had years to plan and plenty of money to spend, as well an ex-president husband and a decades-old political machine, the book describes a series of amateur mistakes, missed opportunities, and a complete lack of a coherent campaign strategy.
The book describes volunteers being sent out to knock on Wisconsin doors with any campaign literature or training, a campaign manager who declined to spend any money on polling in the crucial state of Florida, a once politically astute husband who agreed that Clinton had the state “in the bag,” and a frustrated aide whose warnings that the director Federal Bureau of Investigation’s statements about her e-mail practices should have prompted a change in tactics went unheeded. There’s also a conclusion that the campaign also failed at the fundamental task of providing a persuasive argument why Clinton should be president.
To be fair, making that argument would be a tough job for even the shrewdest and best-run campaign. Clinton was touted as a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and and presumptive First Woman President of the United States, but her time as First Lady was spending defending her sexual predator husband’s appalling behavior, her brief Senate tenure was entirely unforgettable, and her four years as Secretary of State brought nothing but a lot of baggage about re-set buttons and Benghazi and those e-mail practices the FBI found to be “extremely careless” but not quite illegal. She was indisputably a woman, which some voters found a compelling argument for a candidacy, but that was never going win a majority.
She did wind up winning the popular vote by about three million or so, but that only makes it all the embarrassing she couldn’t figure out how get just a few hundred thousand more in Florida and the Rust Belt states that wound up long the electoral vote. That she lost to Donald Trump, who had plenty of baggage and campaign chaos and no relevant experience and the lowest approval ratings of any president on Inauguration Day, does require a book-length explanation.
We expect that most Democrats will gratefully accept Clinton’s awfulness as a candidate and the awfulness of her campaign as the reason their party couldn’t hold on the White House for another four years, because it doesn’t require them to admit that their party’s control for the previous eight years also had a lot to do with it, and that the party itself is in disrepute some key parts of the country. The 40 percent or so of the party’s primary and caucus voters who much preferred the self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders have already convinced themselves that their guy would have won, and that all the party has to do overcome the Republican’s majorities in both chambers of Congress and most of the nation’s legislatures and governors’ mansions is to become even more insistent on racial identity politics and high taxes and hyper-regulation of the economy and an ever-expanding welfare state.
In other words, do more of exactly what drove just enough voters in Florida and those Rust Belt states as well as all the more reliable red states into the arms of a thrice-married casino-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam university mogul and reality television star whose only compelling argument for his candidacy was that he was the antithesis of all that.
Had the Democrats chosen former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb or the former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, the relative centrists who were knocked out early in the race while polling in the low single digits, we suspect they might have made easy work out of such a flawed candidate as Trump. Some day we’d love to read the inside account of why the party poobahs preferred such a scandal-ridden and charisma-free nominee as Clinton, who was far enough to the left to scare everyone on the right and a whole lot of people in the center without firing up all those Sandersnistas on the left. Trump was scary enough to the left that they would have preferred anyone with a “D” after his or her name, and he was scary enough to a whole lot of people in the center who would have preferred any number of possible Democrats who weren’t Clinton or Sanders, so the Democrats should ponder that.
Trump is now as unpopular as any president has ever been after such a short time in office, and it’s going to take a lot more winning than he’s done so far to change that, so the Democrats are presented with yet another opportunity to blow. They came uncomfortably close to winning a special election here in Kansas’ Fourth Congressional District a week ago with a candidate who liked to be photographed firing semi-automatic rifles and talking a fairly centrist line, and they still have a chance in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District with a young whippersnapper who’s cultivating a very pragmatic public image, but in such a reliably Republican district he’s also likely to come up short, so all the Democrats we drink beer with will probably conclude they should have gone full socialist with a transgendered bisexual of some indeterminate race.
Clinton was an awful candidate who ran an awful campaign, awful enough to lose to the likes of Trump, but the Democrats would be well advised to admit they have bigger problems than that. The Republicans are bound to have their own problems with Trump, but they once again might not be enough.

— Bud Norman