Let’s not try to spin this as something it isn’t.
Winning is winning, and losing is losing. And there aren’t moral victories in politics. The Democrats lost. Archie Parnell (who?) lost in South Carolina, and Jon Ossoff lost in Georgia in the most expensive and hard-fought congressional race in American history, which Democrats really had their eyes on.
So it’s a tough night. But here’s a silver lining, however tarnished—and a likely consequence of tonight’s outcomes that, though it will be bad for the country, might yet be good for Democrats in 2018.
The silver lining is the mere fact that these were close races. Let’s look first at the South Carolina 5th District, where the close margin of less than 4 percent (as I write) came out of nowhere. The district is mostly rural and is 67 percent white and 29 percent black. It had sent Democrats to Washington since Andrew Jackson’s time, except for two terms during Reconstruction. The last was John Spratt, who was first elected back in 1982, when there was still such a thing as a white moderate Southern Democrat.
Spratt served 18 years and was defeated in 2010, the Tea Party year, when Mick Mulvaney, now the OMB director, beat Spratt with 55 percent of the vote. After that, Mulvaney won reelection with 56, 59, and 59 percent, respectively. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by 14 points, and GOP Senator Tim Scott that year beat his Democratic opponent 61-30. The Cook Political Report rates it R +9—not scarlet red, but plenty solid.
So no one gave Parnell any kind of chance. The national party gave him nothing. That probably helped him! Assistance from the national party just would have made him another Nancy Pelosi Democrat.
This isn’t spin: There’s no way this should have been remotely close. That it was says something.
Now, Georgia. Here, in order, are the Republican candidate’s percentages in this district in every election going back to 2002, up to 2016: 80 percent; 100 percent; 72 percent; 68 percent; 100 percent; 65 percent; 66 percent; 62 percent. So Handel is going to get 52 percent, maybe 52.5. There’s no way to spin that as something that the Republican Party shouldn’t be concerned about. This is an R+10 district. There are about 60 Republican-held seats in Congress that are R +8 or less.
This isn’t to say that Democrats are yet in a strong position for 2018. They’re not. They need good candidates, they need money, and they need to figure out how to run. Ossoff is going to take a beating in the next few days on this last point. He was too centrist, he wasn’t aggressively anti-Trump enough. That may be. But a lot of that opining is going to be done by people who don’t really know the district (as I admit I don’t); who don’t know the impact of the Scalise shooting, and who don’t know what Trump’s numbers were in the district. They obviously weren’t that bad. Maybe that will change by 2018.
So the Democrats still have a lot to figure out, and still need Trump to sink lower to be able to win in districts like this.
But here’s the other thing that’s going to happen as a result of these outcomes. The Senate Republicans are going to barrel ahead with their health-care bill.
If Ossoff had won, after making Obamacare repeal into a key issue in the race, that might well have made Mitch McConnell at least tap on the brakes. His more “moderate” (one must always put that word in quotes when talking about Republicans) senators would have barged into his office Wednesday morning and said, “Hey, now wait a minute here.”
Now the Senate, in all likelihood, will pass this hidden bill. And then the Senate and House Republicans will get together in conference committee, again in as much secrecy as they can get away with, and pass a final bill, a bill that probably 20 or 25 percent of country will support, for President Trump to sign.
Great. Let them hang those cloves of garlic around their own necks. We have two years and change for the effects of their health-care bill to be felt. Republicans in Washington know very well what they’re doing: They’re keeping a campaign promise to their base with absolutely no idea of the effect the keeping of that promise is going to have on people, on sick people, on the country, on the economy (except that rich people will get still more tax cuts), and—most of all, as far as they’re concerned—on their reelection chances. Just so the name Obamacare can be wiped from history’s slate, as Pharaoh ordered Moses’ name struck from the obelisks.
Liberals are disappointed tonight. Bu to the extent that these results were crazy close for solid red districts, and to the extent that how the Republicans use these wins may yet come back to bite them, it isn’t irrational to think that we’ve not seen the final reckoning.