Thursday, March 15, 2018
Meet Conor Lamb
If life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, and that seems to be what the Republicans are doing in the wake of their electoral defeat in District 18 of Western Pennsylvania. No sooner did Kayleigh McEnany make the absurd claim that Conor Lamb "ran as a Republican" than did Paul Ryan and no less than Dotardly Don himself.
Of course, many Republicans would love to run on Lamb's moderate values, but they would never make it out of the primaries. Lamb won because he was able to siphon off just enough Republican voters to tip the final count in a deeply conservative district in his favor. This is something the base of the Republican Party would never allow from one of their own. Just ask Rick Saccone, who had to veer staunchly to the right on issues like abortion and "right to work" to placate this base.
This was the same reason Ed Gillespie lost Virginia and why the Republicans lost Alabama. Ed was as moderate as they come, but his campaign advisers convinced him to be like Trump. In the end he lost to Ralph Northam, who many Democrats felt was too conservative for their tastes, but had no problem remaining to the left of Gillespie. Even if Luther Strange had made it out of the Republican primaries in Alabama, there was no guarantee he would have won against Doug Jones, as GOP operatives would have told him to fully embrace Trump and run the same ugly attack ads against Jones, which Roy Moore did.
Trumpism, or more appropriately Bannonism, appears to be dead. The tactics that carried the GOP through 2016 no longer work in 2018. This notion of appealing to the worst instincts in America was successful when Republicans were able to make Hillary Clinton their principal target and remind everyone she would appoint a liberal judge to the Supreme Court, crushing conservatism to its core. Republicans tried desperately to replace Clinton with Nancy Pelosi in Pennsylvania. It didn't work. In part because Lamb said from the get go he didn't support Pelosi, but mostly because he ran his race on local issues.
The latter is why Lamb won in Pennsylvania and Ossoff lost in Georgia. Both were about the same age, giving the Democrats badly needed fresh faces. However, Lamb was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. He knew the people of Allegheny, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Ossoff was a ringer. Someone brought in from Atlanta to run a Congressional race outside his district of residence. He represented the party ideology and was unable to reach beyond Democrats in a conservative district.
The other key factor is that Lamb raised most of his money within the district. He avoided having his campaign nationalized, which was the case with Ossoff, who saw money pouring into his campaign from all over the country, and got a huge shot in the arm from the DNC. Lamb kept his campaign local, and the folks of District 18 appreciated it.
It was the Republicans who tried to nationalize the campaign by bringing in Trump twice, Donnie Jr. several times, Mike Pence, Kid Rock, the NRA. You name it. The RNC poured $10 million into Saccone's campaign because he had been so inept at raising funds of his own. The last week saw a bombardment of attack ads run against Lamb, but he didn't flinch. That's what you expect from a Marine.
Still, he was only able to eek out the election by 700 votes. This shows you how tough the battle is. There are die-hard Republicans who would sooner vote for an old goat before they would vote for a Democrat. You can only hope to work with Republicans on the fringe of the party. At the party's core is a deeply embedded conservatism reinforced by a sophisticated media apparatus that has bought up most of the local newspapers and television stations.
Lamb's win throws virtually every district into play across the country if the DNC can find more candidates like him. This is the Republicans' worst fear. They have drifted so far to the right that young Democrats can run like Reagan Republicans and garner support from the more moderate fringe of the GOP, while still not losing support within their own party.
Lamb offered a near perfect balance of conservative social values combined with moderate views on health care and labor that turned Western Pennsylvanians in his favor. Doug Jones offered essentially the same pragmatic view in Alabama. They are often referred to as Blue Dog Democrats, and there are many of them, but in the rush to elect Hillary Clinton as our first woman president, the DNC alienated the Blue Dogs, and as a result suffered badly in 2016.
It seems Tom Perez might not be such a bad DNC leader after all. He has a much better understanding of the balance of electoral power in this country than did his predecessor, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. You have to be able to tailor your message to a representative district. There is no one-size-fits-all message. It may make it tougher to control the House with all these different views within your ranks, but with effective leadership you can strike a balance.
This also may be a tipping point for Republicans, realizing they can no longer run solely on conservative social issues. They have to address labor and health care in a meaningful way, not just keep tossing out more tax cuts, which made little impact on the voters in Alabama and Pennsylvania.
Bannonism is dead. All that bluster that he was going to lead a revolution in 2018, calling out the Republicans on the hill, makes him look like the shoddy conservative hack, Brett O'Keefe, on Homeland, forced to spread his message from the basement of a rural Tennessee home in Season 7. Its hybrid, Trumpism is also dead. The petty name calling, false innuendos, and inflammatory rhetoric no longer plays well among the factory workers and miners Trump claims to represent. His rambling campaign rally speech last Saturday only garnered nervous laughs. Few people can take him seriously at this point, other than to wonder how deep the dementia has set in.
What Conor Lamb showed us is that you don't have to respond to Trump's rhetoric or allow your opponent to label you. Let your constituents know who you are, and that means going to door to door, which you can do in a manageable district like that in Western Pennsylvania. There is no reason the Democrats can't take back the House if they just put their feet on the ground.
So, fuck you Donald J. Trump! He didn't say very nice things about you. He ignored you. He didn't allow you or your surrogates to bully or in any way influence him. He kept his focus on the issues that were most important to his constituents in Western Pennsylvania. Let that be a lesson to anyone running for office.