Last night’s election in GA-06 has been widely portrayed as a referendum on President Trump. If you do a Google search for GA-06 and “referendum on Trump” you will get over 1.1 million hits. For instance, there is this from the New York Times: High-Stakes Referendum on Trump Takes Shape in a Georgia Special Election. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, it was dutifully and gleefully parroted by many self-described conservatives who have made #NeverTrump a lifestyle choice.
The votes have been cast and if the GA-06 was a referendum on Trump and not simply a congressional race in which the winner was outspent by about $5 million, then Democrats should be terrified about its implications:
Trump defeated Hillary by 1.5% in Georgia's 6th Congressional district
Handel defeated Ossoff by 3.8%
Have fun spinning that as a big win.
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) June 21, 2017
David Harsanyi, writing in The Federalist, has some great observations:
You can try and grasp at moral victories, of course, as I saw a number of liberal pundits on cable television trying to do yesterday. You can tell yourself that Ossoff had come closer than any Democrat ever in the sixth district. But there are numerous problems with this optimism. For one, there won’t be many red districts were the president is less popular. Democrats are going to have to flip some of these seats to win back a majority. Second, it’s difficult to imagine how the environment could be any worse for the GOP (though, of course, that too is possible.) Moreover, Ossoff spent a record $25 million on a House race, yet Handel still outran not only him but Trump, as well.
More importantly to those people who are chuckling about Trump’s low presidential approval ratings inevitably translating into electoral Armageddon for the GOP:
This last point is mentioned as often as the others, yet it’s probably the most important. Trump’s approval rating in the sixth district is at the national average of 35 percent, which is to say exceptionally low for a Republican area. Trump had won the district by less than two percentage points back in November. According to a recent Atlanta Journal Constitution poll, the majority of Republicans surveyed (55 percent) said “expressing their opinion on Trump wasn’t a factor in their decision-making.”
Now, I realize that neither Ossoff nor Handel mentioned the president much during the race — which, in itself, bolsters the theory that Trump might not be as consequential in these races as Dems hope. But the race was nationalized. Its implications were national. The coverage was national. The parties treated the race as one that would have national implications. Certainly, the money that poured into the race was national. One imagines that every Georgian Republican who went to the polls understood what this race meant for the future of the parties. When you nationalize races, Republicans will take more than the president into account.
Ossoff didn’t win a moral victory last night, he was boat-raced. Trump’s approval rating stands at <40% and he is in the throes of an investigation that is being pushed by every news outlet in the nation along with some daily stupid faux-outrage. If the Democrats can’t win a winnable seat in that climate with those advantages, maybe they need to think twice about how great 2018 will be.