Bad news. On Tuesday, Democrat Conor Lamb won the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th district over Republican, Rick Saccone.
For those who don’t remember, this district was represented by Republican Tim Murphy, who resigned after news broke that the pro-life member of Congress urged his mistress to get an abortion. It’s possible Saccone could win but that doesn’t change the dynamics of the 2018 election season.
Donald Trump won this district by 20 points in 2016. Murphy ran unopposed in 2016 and 2014. It is a solidly Republican district, and now it will likely have Democratic representation. Yes, Lamb is not a Nancy Pelosi liberal. He supports fracking, and while not exactly a Second Amendment stalwart, he’s certainly not a gun grabber.
Trumpists will no doubt point to polls showing Lamb had a lead of 4-6 points a week ago, and Trump’s rally helped narrow the gap. They’re right. It probably did help. The problem for the GOP is, Trump shouldn’t have had to go there at all. Outside groups shouldn’t have had to spend over $10 million. The NRCC shouldn’t have had to spend so much there, and the RNC shouldn’t have had to spend any money there.
For midterm elections, the party in power losing seats is nothing new. It happened to Bill Clinton in 1994, and Barack Obama suffered the same fate in 2010. The Democrats only need to flip 24 seats in the House to make Nancy Pelosi the Speaker of the House. GOP control of the Senate is safe. Democrats have to defend twenty-three Senate seats (some in red states) while the GOP only has to protect eight.
If you’re interested in a deeper of analysis of what’s to come in November, you won’t do much better than Harry Enten’s piece over at CNN. Take particular note of this paragraph:
As I pointed out on Monday, the federal special election held before Pennsylvania 18 showed Republicans in a poor position. In the average of seven special elections before this one, Democrats were outperforming their partisan baseline (based off the previous two presidential results in the district) by 16 percentage points. In Pennsylvania 18, Lamb, the Democrat, outperformed it by 22 percentage points — a little better than average and essentially matching what they did in the Kansas 4 special election in April 2017.
The bigger question in all of this is, “What happens in 2019 if Democrats are in control of the House?”
There are two considerations:
A. Trump’s agenda — the one shaped by people like Stephen Miller — becomes that much more difficult to achieve. Should Democrats take back the House, they will control the appropriations process. Trump, should he not get funding (that Mexico should be paying for, right??) for his border wall this year, he can forget it if Pelosi controls the purse strings.
B. The GOP agenda will likely take a hit when Trump starts cutting deals with House Democrats. Trump is not a conservative. He’s barely a Republican. What Trump is more than anything else, is a brand. The guy who makes deals. He’s transactional. He values compliments and praises more than anything else. His little stunt in front of members of Congress where he pretended he was standing up to the NRA and made Dianne Feinstein giggle like a schoolgirl by suggesting he’d sign her so-called “assault weapons” ban, was all about getting positive headlines in the wake of the Parkland, Florida massacre. He wants the praise, and he’ll cut deals with Pelosi just to get the accolades.
The other consideration to keep in mind is just how toxic Trump’s brand of politics has become for Republicans. Think about it for just a moment. Unemployment is down. GDP is up. The stock market is up. Gas prices are still relatively low. People are paying less in taxes. All of it should amount to approval ratings in the 50’s for President Trump. Instead, he still sits in the low 40’s. Maybe, just maybe, that bombastic, off the cuff, shoot from the hip style is not working as well as people think.