A couple special elections for open seats in the House of Representatives happened yesterday. Normally, given that there are 435 seats in the House, no one seat matters all that much, barring something extraordinary like a party leader being unseated. One race yesterday, however, was assigned a special status due to extravagant efforts by the Democratic Party.

Georgia’s 6th congressional district seat became vacant when Republican Tom Price took a position in the Trump administration. The first election to fill the seat was a single-ballot event with five Democrats, eleven Republicans, and two independents. By rule, if no candidate drew more than 50%, there would be a runoff election between the top two vote getters. As it turned out, only one of the five Democrats, John Ossoff, a businessman and political aide, was a serious candidate (i.e. drew more than a few hundred votes). The Republican vote split primarily among four candidates, with a couple others nearing the 1% mark. Among the Republicans, Karen Handel, former Georgia Secretary of State, came in first with just under 20% of the vote.

Yesterday’s election was between Ossoff and Handel. Handel won, 51.9% to 48.1%. The district, in Republican hands since the 1979 election of Newt Gingrich, wouldn’t seem like a likely place for the Democrats to make a big move. The Democratic Party, perhaps buoyed by Ossoff’s near-win in the first election, perhaps reading into the fact that Trump only beat Clinton there by 1%, opted to pour money into this election. The Republicans followed suit, and spending for this race reached $55 million. To put that in prospective, it is not only the most spent on a Congressional seat in history, it is also nearly double the former record holder, a Florida race in 2012.

The election was framed by the Left as a referendum on Trump and his first five months in office, but I doubt we’ll hear post-mortems from those quarters that the voters affirmed their support for the President via this special election. I anticipate, instead, that it will be cast as a near-win in a deep-Red district, as a herculean task against ingrained tribalism that almost was, or as just another status-quo election.

The back story to all this is that the Democrats continue to operate under the presumption that Trump was an anomaly, and that they can leverage that anomaly to regain power.

Fact is, Trump was only one of a thousand electoral losses the Dems suffered over the past 6 years. His election was just a symptom, a data point, and if they want to fix their problem, they need to recognize that reality, acknowledge the sum total of their losses, and do something different.

Exactly what cost the Dems those losses is a contested question. Some claim that many of the losses were the results of gerrymandering and other factors not under their control, rather than a disconnect on policy between them and the voters. Some have blamed secret racism against Obama, despite his having been elected twice. Some offer up other “illegitimate” reasons, purporting that the GOP’s victories aren’t actually representative of the voters’ wishes. That’s just willful blindness and deliberate dismissal of the facts in evidence. Clearly, some things in their playbook are not working, and didn’t work even when they had a charismatic and popular President in the WH.

So far, I haven’t seen anything from the Dems to suggest they’re changing their playbook, other than perhaps to do more of what they have been doing while losing so many elections. Until they realize they need to present something different to voters, they’re going to continue to be disappointed in their election results.

The Dems are, instead, looking for something, anything, to validate the premise that Trump is an anomaly, not one of a thousand results of their bad policy ideas and philosophical disconnect with the American public. They really, REALLY want to win elections without having to change anything they’ve been doing.

They’re so desperate for this that they are willing to lie to themselves and the voters. Thus, they sought to buy this Georgia election with massive spending, and planned to tell themselves that their victory was a popular and organic rebuke to Trump and the GOP had they won. Oops, sorry, the voters didn’t play along.

If the Dems want to mount a comeback, they’re going to have to change something. Their current map is one with a few isolated pockets of deep-blue, pockets that consist of aggressive progressives and of certain in-favor identity groups. Their message is zero-sum, with the “oppressed” and their allies fighting “oppressors” in a battle for a fixed pie where one can only advance if the enemy suffers losses. That is – when they put forth a message at all. Much of the time, their message is simply “resist,” i.e. oppose all that Trump and the Republicans seek to do, just because TRRRRUMPPPPPPPP!!!! It’s a message of negativity, one of reproach and recrimination, and one, if you are not among the “favored,” is about guilt and shame instead of positivity and pride. It’s cool to mock MAGA, but Americans are a justifiably proud people who think highly of bedrock American principles, and a relentless message of negativity is not the way to capture hearts and minds.

Unfortunately, the Dems seem to keep wanting to go in the same wrong direction. I see little evidence of humility or lessons learned from all their losses. I see little evidence that they want to do anything other than double down on the same failed ideas that have put them in the electoral wilderness. Given that the GOP has started down a path that many, including this libertarian, find troubling, a path that involves nativism and protectionism rather than small government and free markets, one might think that there’s an opportunity to be seized by recalibrating the Democrats’ message and platform.

There are a lot of disaffected voters out there. Many of them used to vote for Democrats. Some of them used to vote for Republicans. If the Dems want to actually start winning contested elections again, they need to give these voters something to vote for, rather than against.

The Democratic Party sought to fabricate a referendum. Instead, they got a reality check. Despite their relentless full-court press against the new President, they aren’t making their way back into power. To do so, they need to offer a new message to the voters they lost. Empty slogans and “Not-Trump” aren’t going to cut it.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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