Diehard fans of President Donald J. Trump have been patting themselves on the back ever since the president’s “big” win in the presidential sweepstakes of 2016. “Elections have consequences, I won, you lost, get over it,” former president Barack Obama once told his Republican congressional adversaries — and, indeed, they do, as we all saw with the remarkable presidential election and its aftermath which put businessman and reality TV impresario Donald Trump in the White House. But consequences have consequences, too.
Giddy Republicans, at last in the driver’s seat after eight years in the wilderness, need to wake up and smell the brew currently percolating on the nation’s political stove. As another old saying has it, “What goes around, comes around” and the circle is already in motion. Former Representative Tom Price’s once reliably Republican district in Georgia just gave Democrat, Jon Ossoff, a significant plurality of 48% of the vote in a crowded field in the special election called to replace Price (now moved to the Trump administration as Secretary of Health and Human Services). So many Republicans were in the race (shades of the 2016 presidential primaries!), of course, that an attractive, well financed Democrat had a real chance of getting enough of the vote to win outright. He didn’t but his tally came close.
That would have been a disaster for the GOP, not because it would have shifted power in the House but because an Ossoff win would be a harbinger of midterm elections to come, the sort that could seriously erode Republican Congressional control. The near win is enough to excite Democrats who have been desperately seeking to undo the Trump victory since he made it past the finish line last November. Even if Ossoff doesn’t take the final vote in the runoff (no guarantee by any means as all the Republican also-rans now seem to be coalescing around a single GOP candidate), he has demonstrated the existence of a strong, residual disaffection for this president and the new face he has put on the Republican Party in this traditionally Republican precinct. Although conservative for years, it’s affluent and highly educated voters did not give Mr. Trump the resounding win other Republicans have claimed there. Mitt Romney did way better in the district when he ran for the presidency in 2012 and Tom Price was a reliable Republican vote getter winning his seat repeatedly with strong margins.
Trump won the presidency in 2016 by making inroads into traditionally Democratic blue collar bastions although he still lost the nationwide popular vote — and his electoral win proved to be an artifact of only a few thousand votes in a few key states which could easily have gone the other way. In Price’s old Georgian district, the president’s margin of victory in November was under 2%, significantly worse than Romney’s. Last year’s Republican sweep of presidential, congressional and state elections could easily prove a pyrrhic victory if it turns out that gaining some blue collar voters at the margins, who have voted Democrat more often than Republican, now costs the GOP core traditional support. A tradeoff of strong Republicans for a small number of some time Democrats may have worked for the Trump candidacy but can it serve Republicans long term, once the siren call of government largess via the inevitable Democratic promises again lures many of those voters back to their old haunts?
It’s true that triumphalist aficionados of President Trump view his win as remaking the GOP in their own image. But this new administration has stumbled badly out of the gate, largely due to the president’s willful insistence on tweeting his unfiltered thoughts at odd hours of the day and night, and his continuing to court an angry base for the applause he loves. This has caused his public approval ratings to plunge to the lowest levels for a new president since polling began while hardening opposition to his presidency into near insurgency by the left.
Republicans, no less than our new president, need to remember that the GOP is no more immune to political route than Democrats were and that the next opportunity for this, the 2018 midterm congressional races, is less than two years away.
Democrats get this. Do we?