The March Lamb Roars
One of the rules of political prognostics is to never predict a close race. In venturing to where no pundit ever goes, I picked the wrong winner in the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District by a few hundred votes.
It was my intention to write a post mortem commentary regardless of the outcome – and it was going to be surprisingly similar regardless of the outcome. While the winner of the race has meaning and bragging points for the Democrats, the outcome was going to be bad news for the GOP in any case. Even if Republican candidate Rick Saccone had defeated Conor Lamb, it would have been by a similarly close margin. Win or lose, the GOP suffered a huge erosion in votes in that District.
In projecting positive outcomes for the GOP in the 2018 mid-term elections, one can look at the Republican successes in those earlier special congressional elections. One can argue that the loss in Republican Alabama was almost exclusively due to the poor quality and salacious history of the GOP candidate. The Republican losses in the Virginia and New Jersey statewide races were largely because of the overwhelming Democrat constituencies.
However, the first glimmer of serious trouble for the GOP at the national level came in the smallest races. It was in the many local elections where Democrats defeated Republicans in supposedly safe Republican areas. Like the mild tremors that precede an earthquake, they may have gone largely unappreciated by the general public, but the political scientists could see them as the forewarning of a much more dramatic event.
The most important is the fact is that the 18th was a solid Republican district that has elected a Republican to Congress for more than a decade – with no Democrat opponent in the two previous elections — and supported John McCain by 12 points and Mitt Romney by 17 points in those past presidential elections even as the nation was voting against them. In 2016, they opted for President Trump by 20 points – a landslide by any measure. The 18th was trending to be more and more Republican.
Even if Saccone had won, the Republican attrition in the District should be highly disturbing to the GOP congressional leaders and the White House. It suggests that the old theory that “it’s the economy, stupid” may no longer be viable. While many of Trump’s policies remain popular, the results suggest that the presidential personality is not so much. The personality impact on voting was seen in 2016 when Trump lost the popular vote by the widest margin ever for a winning candidate. Many argue convincingly that it was the personality that cost Trump the popular vote – and almost the election.
The Third Man’s Theme
The subtitle is not a reference to the theme song from that ancient Orson Wells movie. It refers to Drew Miller. Who?
Drew Miller was the Libertarian candidate for Congress in the 18th District. Drew drew just under 1400 votes. Libertarians tend to be part of the conservative Republican coalition – but not always on the same wavelength. They often run candidates under their own banner – just as the Green Party often runs candidates in opposition to Democrats. In both cases, these hopeless third parties do little more than damage the prospects of the major candidate with whom they most closely align.
If there is any face saving in my prediction in this race – and I will claim what I can – it is the fact that I was correct that most of the voters of the District would vote conservative. Those who voted for Drew would overwhelmingly have supported Saccone over Lamb – and Saccone would have won.
I have had a long history of offending my friends who see value in third parties – left or right – or think staying home is a noble option. Those folks do nothing more than to enable the election of those they dislike the most – and that has never made any sense to me. Even a perceived choice between the lesser of two evils still places the moral high ground on opting for the lesser evil.
It is fair to conclude that Drew cost Saccone the election just as Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the vote in Florida – and the presidency. But for all the reasons, a Saccone victory would not have changed the meaning of the vote totals. Outside of the bragging rights, a Saccone win would not have been an uncompromised victory for the GOP.
The 18th District’s Black Hole
Black holes are those mysterious dots in space in which all things just disappear – never to be seen again. That is an apt analogy for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. No sooner had the 18th become the most famous congressional district in America than it vanished. The election itself was the moment the District passed beyond the point of singularity — the scientific boundary between our known universe and the nothingness of the black hole.
Because of court ordered redistricting, the Pennsylvania congressional delegation will be running from all new districts. There will be a newly labeled 18th District, but not configured like the one that elected Lamb. Under the new configuration, Lamb will live in the new 17th District. Of course, he can legally run in the May 15 Pennsylvania Democrat primary from any district in the state since legal residency in the district is not required. Of course, the 17th will be a very Democrat district, so Lamb could face competition from the more powerful progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Lamb’s service in Congress may not go beyond January 2019 unless he finds a new district, survives any primary and defeats a hitherto unknown Republican opponent in the General Election. There is a bit of a dilemma for Lamb. Should he run from a solid Democrat district that would give him an assurance of a win in November, but could make things difficult for him in a Democrat primary? Or does he look for a marginal or Republican leaning district, where his Democrat platform apostacy makes him more vulnerable to a successful challenge in a primary?
A lot of Lamb’s future will depend on his voting record. Unless he gets re-elected in November from a new district, he will never have to fulfill his pledge to vote against Nancy Pelosi for Speaker or Minority leader. But, he will be casting several votes that will let the people of that region of Pennsylvania know if he is truly a conservative, independent, maverick Democrat. Or will he wind up as just another lock-step Democrat like those moderates recruited long ago by then-chairman of the House Congressional Campaign Committee Rahm Emmanuel. They got elected, morphed back into typical Democrats and got ousted in subsequent elections.
The future of Lamb and the Democratic Party in 2018 will still rest with the Party, itself. Lamb is an anomaly. While Democrat establishment leaders celebrate his victory, they hope that it does not become a trend that threatens the power of the liberals currently in charge – just as Republican conservatives have gained a foothold against the so-called GOP establishment.
There are a number of lessons to be learned from what happened in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, the most important of which is: Never predict close races.
Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in economics, public policy and politics. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, as well as the White House. He has testified as an expert witness before legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress, and lectured at major colleges and universities. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.