First, let's talk about why there was a congressional election in the middle of June. When Donald Trump unexpectedly won the presidency in November, he began to fill his administration with Republicans with experience in Washington. A number of his cabinet members were members of the House of Representatives. Like any president, Trump nominated individuals to his cabinet that were from safe Republican districts. His administration knew that the vacancies that were created would, in all likelihood, be filled by Republicans in special elections. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney was easily replaced by a Republican in South Carolina. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was a Congressman from Montana before his appointment. Montana was so solidly red that the Republican candidate to fill Zinke's vacant seat was charged with assaulting a reporter the day before the election and still won! Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama was chosen as the Attorney General. Being a senator, his seat was filled temporarily by an appointee of the Governor of Alabama. Of course, the Governor of Alabama is, you guessed it, a Republican. Finally, there is Tom Price, Trump's Secretary of Health and Human Services. Prior to his new role he represented Georgia's 6th Congressional District. Like all of the others, Price was chosen in part, because his seat in the House was considered very safe for Republicans. How safe? The seat has been held by Republicans since the 1970s. No Democratic presidential candidate has carried the district in decades, And Tom Price won reelection in 2016 by more than 30 points.
So why the uproar about the 6th? Probably because, though solidly Republican, Donald Trump only carried the district by 1% point over Clinton. By virtue of being a suburb of Atlanta, with highly educated voters, the Democrats knew that these Republicans would be less friendly to Trump, than the rest of the #MAGA crowd. Finally, their candidate, Jon Ossoff, was young (only 30) and a political outsider. The Democrats felt that if they went into a Republican stronghold and stole a seat from the GOP, it would be a referendum on Trump. They failed. Ossoff ran on anti-trump platform against a traditional Republican. Traditional Republican voters might not like Trump, but they do like traditional Republicans. It was a terrible uphill battle from the start. It should be no surprise that Ossoff lost. Progressives around the country felt devastated when Ossoff lost and Trump felt the need to brag about the GOP victory in a rally. Both sides are overstating this race. In the long term, it means very little.
First of all, if Ossoff had won, he would have served roughly 18 months until the November 2018 election in which he, most likely, would have been defeated by a Republican. Things would have returned to normal. The district is red remember. Furthermore, Trump shouldn't feel over confident. The GOP had to spend millions and millions of dollars to defeat a political upstart who didn't even live in the district, in order to win a special election that shouldn't have been close. Both sides can learn something from the race, but by 2018 it will be all but forgotten.
The Democrats have reason to be optimistic about the 2018 midterm elections. For starters, historically the party out of power always picks up seats in the midterm election. The Democrats may not take the House, but they will certainly narrow the gap. The same will probably be true for the Senate. Why? Right now, there are plenty of moderate Congressional districts, with GOP Congressmen, that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. These Republicans, particularly those in places like California and New York, are going to no doubt suffer from the Trump factor. Considering the fact that the President's approval rating is nearing historically low levels, there is reason to believe that the GOP will have to do the same thing they did in the Georgia 6th, spend millions of dollars to protect safe seats. This means they are unlikely to divert resources to vulnerable seats throughout the country. It is 2018 that matters, not 2017. There are 20 or more seats, with far more moderate voters than the Georgia 6th, that should be the focus of the progressive movement. The seats that were open in 2017 were open for a reason, they were considered safe, and the GOP had to fight to protect them. They were successful, but the Democrats should feel good as well.
Of course, good feelings don't win elections. Yes, the base is energized and yes, Donald Trump is very unpopular. However, Democrats can not run on a platform that is nothing more than anti-Trump. Democratic candidates must put forward and actually agenda. Arguably, the reason Trump won the White House is because the Clinton campaign spent too much time focusing on what a horrible person Trump is rather than focusing on a clear economic message that would impact voters' lives. Whoever Democrats nominate for the nearly 5 congressional seats 450+ congressional seats that are up for election in 2018, they'd better have something better than "vote for me because the other side is worse."
Finally, one of the great mistakes of political observers is an over emphasis on the federal government at the expense of the state governments. American's lives are far more impact by the laws passed in state capitols than they are what happens in Washington D.C. However, most of us can't even name our state representative or senator. A shocking number of Americans don't even know the name of their state's governor. What's worse, hundreds of state and local (and many Congressional) races are unopposed in any given election year. This means, incumbent candidates win by default. In 2016, three of my local representatives, all Republicans, ran unopposed. What the Republican party has done a fantastic job of over the past 8 years is focusing on local and state politics. In doing so, they have won control of 32 state legislatures and have elected 33 governors. As a result, they have been able to pass conservative agendas. They have passed voter ID laws, gerrymandered districts, dismantled medicaid expansion, rolled back regulations, and appointed state judges. Whether or not you agree with their politics, their emphasis on state government should be applauded. In America, all politics is local. If progressives really want to limit the power of the Trump administration, the first line of defense is the state capitol. If you're living in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio, Iowa, California, or anywhere in between, you'd be far better served to donate money, knock on doors, and support candidates for local and state offices than you are chipping in $5 in hopes of winning a symbolic victory in Georgia.
As a progressive, I'm disappointed that Ossoff didn't win. Just as I'm disappointed Democrats didn't win any of the other special elections. However, it is important to step back and take a look at the whole picture. Political change is not brought about by winning single, random elections, but rather by years of harnessing momentum and winning when and where it matters. It will matter in 2018, it will matter 2020, and it will certainly matter when it comes time to vote for your state's legislative and executive offices. In the next year, I for one, need to follow my own advice and get active.
Derek Trent Ashcraft
A place to discuss, among other things, politics, culture, food, faith, and nonsense.