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Fecteau: Democrats Lose Again

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Jon Ossoff

This was supposed to be a huge Democratic victory, a vindication of past disappointing defeats; Democrats had to win this race, but fell short again. 

The Georgia U.S. House seat was up for grabs after it was vacated by President Donald Trump’s newly appointed Health and Human Services Secretary Mr. Tom Price. This was the very seat formerly held by Republican US Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. To Democrats, this was when President Trump would finally reap what he sowed, a referendum on his backward agenda. 

After a contentious presidential race, the narrow losses, but alleged moral victories in Montana and Kansas, this was the Democrats time to shine. Montana was particularly interesting because the winning Republican candidate assaulted a reporter before Election Day, and was still elected to Congress. These races were cited as evidence of weakening support for the conservative platform, and the U.S. House race in Georgia would be the cherry on top. 

We’ve heard this before though. Then Republican presidential candidate Mr. Donald Trump was supposed to trigger massive voter backlash against the Republican Party. Democratic presidential candidate, Mrs. Clinton was supposed to win by a landslide; even conservative Texas and Georgia were in play – obviously Trump won both those places and captured the presidency. 

During the presidential campaign, Congress was also supposed to go to the Democrats. Mr. Trump’s outlandish statements, his bigotry, and his many flaws would mobilize voters to repudiate such a terrible candidate who at one point bragged about assaulting women. This certainly didn’t happen. 

The Democrats were wrong once again; that inevitable backlash against the Trump presidency never transpired. Despite his financial advantage, the Democratic candidate Mr. Jon Ossoff lost to Republican candidate Karen Handel in a race that was largely seen by Democrats as a litmus test for the Trump presidency, and a precursor for midterm elections in 2018. 

This is not just humiliating to Democrats but opens up fresh wounds about the direction of the party. Some Bernie Sanders progressive Democrats argued that Mr. Ossoff’s main flaw was he was not progressive enough on certain issues. Former presidential candidate and current U.S. Senator Sanders even said during the race that he wasn’t sure if Mr. Ossoff was a progressive. These progressive critics argue that a much more progressive narrative would have won the day. 

There is no empirical data that supports this claim; in fact, the information available supports the opposite, a more progressive agenda was a death knell. In 2016, Democratic presidential candidate Mrs. Hillary Clinton walloped Sanders about 70% to 30% respectively in the Georgia Democratic primary; Sanders did have a compelling progressive narrative, but the voters of Georgia simply didn’t agree with it or didn’t care for it. The results speak for themselves. 

Other Democrats have argued that embracing a far left progressive platform in such a conservative stronghold would be detrimental to any Democratic candidate’s chances – I fall into this camp. A progressive, left-wing platform would have been difficult for small government conservative voters to support, no matter Trump’s unpopularity; perchance, Mr. Ossoff would have lost by far more. 

Republicans seem to have found their way ahead, but Democrats haven’t just yet. The Republican victor – Ms. Handel — in Georgia’s U.S. House Seat race wouldn’t even say Mr. Trump’s name during the campaign or in her victory speech. Ms. Handel endorsed an aggressive anti-establishment platform of cutting taxes, reducing waste, and promised she would hold Republican Party leadership accountable. 

Furthermore, Ms. Handel also linked Mr. Ossoff to the deeply unpopular Democratic minority leader, Nancy Pelosi. With all of this, she won against an upstart, young challenger who was the fledging hope of the Democratic Party. 

The Democrats have to do some serious introspection. But there are no cookie-cutter political strategies that will work everywhere, and idealism can only take our party so far. The Democratic Party needs to decide on a formula to win elections and balance the interests of competing factions within its party – that will be a difficult calculus. 

More importantly, it now knows it cannot simply rely on Trump's unpopularity to win elections. After all the losses thus far, that is a given.  

Matt Fecteau ([email protected]) is a former White House national security intern and Iraq War veteran. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewFecteau


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