Pennsylvania Had a Little Lamb

I didn’t stay up to see Conor Lamb bring the eighteenth Pennsylvania congressional district back to the Democrats. I think this result will stand, although I think we have to presume that if the final margin is under 1,000 votes, the lawyers will go to work on it, creating a slim possibility that the seat will flip back to the GOP. But the conservative commentators I am reading (so you don’t have to!) don’t think that will happen, and even if it does, the damage is done. As Theodore Kupfer of the National Review pointed out this morning, “the identity of the eventual victor is not as important as the fact that this election is a very bad sign for the Republican Party.” PA-18 “has gone for the Republican presidential nominee by a large margin ever since George W. Bush was president” and Trump won the district by 20 points less than a year and a half ago.

A pattern is starting to emerge in these special elections—not all of them, to be sure, but some of them—which implicitly demonstrates, not just the limits of Trumpism, but perhaps even a way out of the uncompromising politics that have splintered the Democratic Party since the late sixties. For example:

Third party candidates may increasingly determine the outcome of elections, and libertarians may play a crucial role in allowing voters to veto their own party’s candidate. As of this morning, the only aspect of yesterday’s vote tally that seems rock solid is that 1,378 people, or 0.6% of the voters in PA-18 voted for Drew Miller, the libertarian candidate. There’s your seat, folks. One argument might be that had these folks not pulled the lever for Miller, they might not have voted at all, yet that still delivers the seat to Lamb, right? But special elections are characterized by motivated voting, which is not the same thing as being voted by your allegiance to a party—and it seems like those Pennsylvanians who chose Miller made an effort to send a signal to the GOP that they aren’t happy. Several months ago, Happy the Clown could have played a similar spoiler role in Alabama, had he been on the ballot: instead, Alabamians had to go to the effort of writing in candidates who weren’t running at all.

The new Democratic strategy is to chip away at Trump counties just enough to let the suburbs bring it home. This means, of course, that you have to compete robustly in places where you probably can’t win, a technique that requires, among other things, a tolerance for losing the many to gain the significant few. Compare this to the Clinton strategy executed by Robby Mook, which was to build a wall around the districts and counties that you are sure to win, pour your dollars into a few swing states with lots of electoral college votes, and leave the vast majority of the country to Republican rule. The strategy of fighting for every seat and every voter is good for Democrats, but more importantly, it’s good for democracy. As Lamb told his supporters last night, “We followed what I learned in the Marines: Leave no one behind. We went everywhere, we talked to everyone, we invited everyone in.”

To read the rest of this post, published on March 14 2018 at Public Seminar, click here. 

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