One of my posse posed that question by email this morning, and I replied, “Beats the shit out of me.”
Actually, with a little reflection, I see that I lied like a rug. Let me, then, give two actual answers to the question.
The first comes from the ever insightful Jonathan Chait, writing this morning in This Might Be the Worst Democratic Freak-out Ever. Chait’s point is that Democrats have lost several special elections simply because those elections have taken place in heavily Republican districts.
To me, Chait’s argument, which gets right to the nub of the matter, provides useful context but little comfort. This brings me to my second point.
First, some numbers. In 2016 the unspeakable Tom Price garnered 61.7 percent of the vote in the Sixth District, while Donald Trump received only 48.3 percent. That is to say, about 22 percent of Republican voters in the Sixth District could not hold their noses and vote for Trump, while the remaining 78 percent did vote for The Donald—in spite of his bullshit, or because they loved his bullshit, one or the other.
In yesterday’s special election Ossoff took 47.3 percent (a slight improvement over Hillary Clinton’s performance) while Handel garnered 52.7 percent. In other words, only 85 percent of Price’s voters picked Handel, while the remaining 15 percent either chose Ossoff or stayed home. My working hypothesis is that these 15 percent of Republican voters in the Sixth District saw the race as a referendum on Trump, and were still unwilling to cast what was effectively a vote for President Moron.
That said, Handel’s 52.7 percent of the vote significantly exceeded Trump’s 48.3 percent in 2016.
It is metaphysically possible that some of these incremental voters also saw the vote as a referendum on Trump, and, having seen The Donald in action as president, decided to send a strong message of support.
But my working hypothesis is that most of these no-to-Trump-yes-to-Handel voters still don’t like Trump, but came to see the Georgia election as a choice between a liberal Democrat and a country club Republican—and “came home” to vote for the country club Republican.
So why did Ossoff lose? My second answer is: because it’s really difficult to sell people a product they don’t want to buy. And the product the country club Republicans want to buy is significantly lower taxes.
If lowering taxes has the side benefit of taking Medicaid away from white trash and people of color—letting “those people” wallow in their richly deserved misery—then so much the better, say the country club Republicans.
This morning Morning Joe took a long ride on one of his very favorite hobbyhorses: the alleged Democratic failure to find candidates who “culturally match” their districts. (Apparently, Ossoff would have done much better had he armed himself with assault rifles and shot up an abortion clinic.)
Joe’s point may actually have some validity, as a general observation. But I think it has nothing to do with the Sixth District. I think the affluent, well educated white folks in the Sixth District just want to pay lower taxes and screw poor people. I think these goals are so important to them that they are willing to overlook treachery, corruption, and America’s downward spiral.