Republicans have rightly been making the rounds celebrating the close of the special election season, which culminated in a Republican victory in the highly publicized race in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. Watching Handel emerge victorious likely evoked in many a feeling of nostalgia, reminiscent of November 8th. Neither the record amount of money that poured into Ossoff’s campaign nor the insistence that the race was a “high-stakes referendum” on President Trump were enough to “flip the sixth” from red to blue.
In the wake of these losses, Republicans are now looking on with glee as Democrats embroil themselves in a civil war between the progressive wing of the party and its establishment counterpart over the future of the party’s message and leadership. The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro predicts a progressive takeover of the Democratic Party, which, he says, will lead to “catastrophic losses,” because “the party will move further toward the politics of Nancy Pelosi. And that means abandoning the center they lost in 2016.” Lifezette’s Eddie Zipperer argues that it is already game over, because, as he sees it, the Democrats have “dug themselves a hole so deep that they can’t be worried about taking back the House and Senate — they need to worry about Republicans becoming powerful enough to unilaterally amend the Constitution.” Salvatore La Mastra, the former National Youth Vote spokesperson for the Trump campaign, wrote in the Investor’s Business Daily that, “[g]oing into the 2018 midterms, Democrats will have no leader, no message and a disappearing base.”
This is nonsense.
After Obama won the Presidency in 2008, Republicans were in a situation similar to the one in which Democrats now find themselves. Republicans had no leader and, as FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver noted, were perceived to be in a “death spiral,” because their message took a hard right turn:
The more conservative, partisan, and strident their message becomes, the more they alienate non-base Republicans. But the more they alienate non-base Republicans, the fewer of them are left to worry about appeasing. Thus, their message becomes continually more appealing to the base — but more conservative, partisan, and strident to the rest of us. And the process loops back upon itself.
Republican opposition to President Obama was pretty extreme and the rhetoric, at times, was way over the top. The Tea Party was viewed among the left then, as the Resistance is viewed among the right today, as a fringe group of “kooks” and “conspiracy theorists.” Like the Resistance, the Tea Party also made headlines with large protests, which, depending on one’s political preference, were either embraced as evidence of voter backlash or dismissed outright, as a contemporaneous POLITICO article noted:
The right sees the protests as evidence of a popular revolt against President Barack Obama—proof of a changing tide they believe will bring massive victories in 2010 and 2012. The left sees them as evidence of incipient fascism and an opposition to Obama rooted in racism—proof of the beyond-the-pale illegitimacy of large swaths of the conservative moment.
For Democrats, the thought of Republicans retaking the House in 2010 was dismissed outright. A Republican wave election was totally out of the question. But in 2010, in the biggest midterm swing since 1938, Republicans gained a net 63 seats in the House to secure a 24-seat majority. Put in today’s terms, in just two years’ time, Republicans went from leaderless, messageless, and on the brink of collapse to riding a ruby red tidal wave back into relevance.
Republicans would be foolish to think Democrats cannot pull off a similar feat. If 2010 and 2016 taught us anything it is that underestimating the opposition is a bad idea. Forget the Democratic infighting, the benefits of the 2010 redistricting, the special election wins, and the fact that President Trump has spent his short political career doing nothing other than defying conventional wisdom. Finding comfort in any of these is a one-way ticket to complacency. The fact is that midterm elections do not treat Presidents well. So there is nothing to gain strategically from taking comfort in the Democratic Party’s current misfortunes.
Therefore, the time for celebration is over. It is time to produce, lest Republicans get tired of winning.