One of the biggest rules of politics, one which Democrats were counting on this spring, is that the party holding the White House loses seats in Congress in the first congressional tests, typically in the first mid-term election though sometimes it happens even sooner.
Kay Bailey Hutchison proved to be an early omen of what loomed on the horizon in 1994 for newly elected Democratic President Bill Clinton as the Texas Republican handily won a 1993 special election for the very US Senate seat that George H. W. Bush had unsuccessfully sought in 1964 and 1970.
Massachusetts state senator Scott Brown won an even unlikelier contest, succeeding the late Ted Kennedy for the US Senate seat he and his brother John once held.
Newly elected Republican President Donald Trump was set for some potential “checks” in congressional special elections to fill vacancies left by his appointees.
Special elections were scheduled in Kansas, Montana, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Granted all four states voted for Trump by wide margins, except for a more modest spread of 5% in Georgia.
The political battlefields weren’t exactly “purple”, once again, with the exception of Georgia- where Trump prevailed in district voting by a mere 1.5%.
Trump won South Carolina’s 5th district with 57%, carried Kansas’s 4th district with a 27-point margin, and Montana’s at-large seat with a 20 point spread.
However the avalanche of negative press coverage, including baseless reports and conspiracy theories pushed by the media should have leveled things.
After all, when’s the last time you recall a president has been accused of colluding with Moscow by the press or speculated about being impeached within months of an inaugural?
Yes the Republican candidates faced close calls in all of the races, though in Georgia Republican Karen Handel ended up defying the media’s promulgated poll numbers to exceed Trump’s share of the district vote.
The Republicans retained all four seats. And if Democrats are going to retake Congress, these are the kind of races they are going to have to win, and not simply be content with “participation trophies,” flattering media profiles in defeat, and pricey certificates of participation.
Republicans currently hold a 47 seat majority in the US House of Representatives, thus requiring the Democrats to flip 24 seats, while at the same time not losing what they have. Democrats could have gotten an early start by chipping away two and boost morale.
Instead they played the role of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight, lighting on fire tens of millions of dollars for “honorable mentions.”
Some Democrats who are frustrated with the lack of progress towards retaking Congress have demanded change at the top, seeking the replacement of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (age 77) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (age 78) with younger, less polarizing figures.
The gentlelady from San Francisco has been featured as lead villain in many attack ads by Republicans and their aligned Super PACs, implying that a vote for Democrat X is really a vote to advance the political agenda of San Francisco and not that of rural Kansas, suburban Atlanta, or suburban Charlotte (where the South Carolina 5th district borders).
Apologists for Pelosi cite that she is a prolific fundraiser (true) and that the Republicans would merely swap her image out with that of her successor in attack television commercials.
I’m not buying that an ad blasting “big bad Tim Ryan” of Youngstown, Ohio would be as effective as a bogeyman as Pelosi. Most people would think the low-profile congressman was a utility infielder for the Cleveland Indians.
In fact had Ryan toppled Pelosi after the presidential election, it’s very likely the Democrats would have taken one or two of the four closely competitive seats.
Pelosi has been out of power since 2010 and hasn’t come close to snatching back the speaker’s gavel. The 2012 and 2016, presidential election years when the Democratic base is most motivated, were their best chances and both times they came up empty.
Ironically the only change in congressional leadership was within the majority GOP caucus.
While the Democrats may very well make gains in 2018, it’s not likely going to be enough. Especially with the RNC warning everyone that a vote for a seemingly pleasant career Hill staffer with little life experience is really a vote for Pelosi.
As referenced previously, Pelosi is a great fundraiser. California is a giant ATM for the Democratic Party and the big money donors there agree with Pelosi’s politics. Too many people are on the former speaker’s “sugar” to dump her, even if they privately recognize the futility of it all.
Furthermore, the optics of the Democratic Party yanking a “historical female leader” for a white guy won’t work.
Also they won’t be able to concentrate all of their resources in one district at a time as they have in 2017. And in 2018, the Democrats are going to have some difficult Senate seats to defend.
Oh, Todd Akin won’t be around to save them this time.
Remember this is the same party still inventing reasons to “libsplain” Hillary Clinton’s defeat.
If this were a baseball game, Pelosi would’ve been pulled off the mound long ago. Yet amazingly the Democrats are not tired of losing.
But this is politics, specifically Democratic Party identity politics.
It’s going to take a defeat in 2018 for the Democrats to take action and that could widen the current rift within the party, with one faction not over Hillary’s defeat and another not over Hillary’s nomination.