Why Reports of a Coming Republican Bloodbath in November Are Premature
A curious thing happens when you look beyond the media elation over Democrat Conor Lamb's victory in House district PA-18, which was framed as a referendum on Donald Trump's presidency. Trump won the district by 20 points in the 2016 election, and Trump lent his support to Lamb's opponent, Rick Saccone. But Saccone was not a good candidate by many measures. Even before the election, it was public knowledge that he had been admonished by Republicans for a "sluggish campaign" and for failing to mobilize "any donor infrastructure." He was "panned as a deeply underwhelming candidate who leaned on the national party to execute a massive, multimillion-dollar rescue effort." Several Republicans echoed those sentiments more loudly after his loss.
Conor Lamb, beyond his Ivy League pedigree and military service, was inversely dynamic and engaged. He also had broad appeal to some conservatives. A campaign video featured him firing an AR-15, signifying to the public his sensible position to oppose any new restrictions on gun ownership, supporting only firmer background checks. Interestingly, this fact had the left wondering whether it should cheer his victory or fear what it portends for Democrats' future gun control efforts if he won.
Lamb also supports Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs, a big plus among Pennsylvania's working class. He even openly opposes abortion, though he also opposes any infringements upon the ability to procure an abortion. (This is a curious position that signifies he doesn't actually oppose abortion, but that's lost in the media spin.) He had such across-the-aisle appeal that Paul Ryan went so far as to say that both Lamb and Saccone "ran as conservatives."
A questionable assertion, maybe. Lamb generally held the party line on health care and immigration and called Trump's tax cuts a benefit for the wealthy.
But the point is, this wasn't monotone, unlikable Hillary playing for the hard left against the bombastic, likeable Donald Trump with broad appeal beyond the urban Democrat citadels. This was precisely the opposite, and Pennsylvania's 18th district chose differently this time around.
I'm not discounting the loss in a district that voted heavily against Obama in 2008 and 2012. That's a big deal. But it is to say that the candidate matters in local elections.
This brings us to the other big reason Democrats are optimistic about a Republican electoral bloodbath in November: Alabama.
The red-state staple voted blue for hard-left Doug Jones over Roy Moore in a special election last year for Jeff Sessions's vacated Senate seat. But Roy Moore was the subject of a mass-orchestrated character assassination, which included everything from the dating of younger women to allegations of sexual assault, all accusations being many decades old. There were nine accusations in total, all quite different, and all lumped into one media campaign suggesting that he is a sexual predator who is unfit for office.
You can say that's unfair. What you can't say is that this translates to public appeal, even if you consider a thirty-something-year-old man frequently dating girls in their teens as the worst of his infractions. Political candidates' life choices, and particularly the life choices of a polarizing candidate who lacks any broad appeal, matter when trying to mobilize the vote.
Then there are the elections in New Jersey and Virginia. Much is made of these by the left, too.
New Jersey is the easiest to appraise. After eight years of Chris Christie as governor, the once praised "moderate" Republican hopeful for 2016 was at a horrific 80% disapproval rate in his state. He left office as officially "the least popular governor in his state's history." Those were pretty tough odds for his lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, to overcome. This election was certainly more a referendum on Christie than Trump.
Virginia was the bigger flip Democrats will point to as evidence of a backlash against Trump.
Republicans did lose many seats in the state legislature, and Democrat Ralph Northam soundly defeated Ed Gillespie to become Virginia's governor. None of that is good for Republicans.
But Trump also lost Virginia by a pretty significant margin. And here's a curious fact. Gillespie won a greater share of Virginians' votes than Donald Trump, 45% vs. Trump's 44%. And the numbers certainly suggest that this was not a negative reaction to Trump, expressed as independents and conservatives turning away from the Republican Party.
The truth is that Virginia has long been a blue state. Four of Virginia's last five governors have been Democrats. The last Republican senator was elected in 2002. It was the only Southern state to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Barack Obama won the state twice. As nonpartisan political analyst and pollster Ron Feucheux wrote last November, "Republicans haven't been doing so well in Virginia, and the 2017 vote totals are, unremarkably, in line with that trend."
Democrats won the 2017 governor's race by turning out Democrats – not by winning over swing voters or expanding their base. Nonwhite voters – mostly blacks and Hispanics, both strong Democratic constituencies – made up 33 percent of Virginia's electorate this year. In the 2013 governor's election, also won by a Democrat (Terry McAuliffe), only 28 percent of the electorate was nonwhite. This year, 28 percent of the state's electorate was composed of self-described liberals. In 2013, it was 20 percent.
The Democrat base is motivated; that's obvious. But the media have been fond of suggesting that what's been tipping the scales in Democrats' favor is the "highly educated, high-income voters" like those in D.C.'s suburbs (who, incidentally, have a vested interest in voting for the party promising to protect and expand their livelihoods in federal government jobs and contracts).
However, logic and the numbers suggest that Virginia's results were simply a function of a state of Democrat voters, voting how Democrat voters vote.
Most of America where Republicans hold seats doesn't share Virginia's political proclivities. Rather, a lot of it is more like PA-18. And so Democrats have a choice. Do they reject intersectional politics and support some of President Trump's policies and some conservative principles to curry favor across the aisle, or do they rush ahead with the intersectional political messaging that alienated them from the American people and spurred their having lost the House, the Senate, and the presidency since 2010?
To have anything close to the sweep Republicans enjoyed in 2010 (a 65-seat congressional swing in Republicans' favor), they will have to do the former. But can Democrats do this with the media and its hard-left activist base in tow? I, for one, am nervously curious.
Whether it will it happen is yet to be seen. It certainly could. Polls do give evidence for broad Democratic victories. But then, on November 6, 2016, there were no polls I can recall suggesting a Trump victory on November 8.
What should be clear is that none of this other evidence so far signifies the broad scope required to appraise the upcoming national midterm elections as a Republican "bloodbath," as each example that has led to the frenzied optimism of the left has been a microcosm of singular circumstances.
Perhaps Ron Feucheux said it best. "Off-year elections are fun to analyze. And easy to overstate." It seems easy to conclude, at this point, that this is what the left is doing.