There’s a lot riding on today’s special election for Congress in the Georgia 6th district, not the least of which are cable TV ratings. If the Democrats win with Jon Ossoff in this upscale Atlanta suburb, it could be a predictor for how the 2018 midterms are headed, but if they lose to Republican Karen Handel, it could be that she had the advantage of carrying a district that has been Republican for almost forty years and used to be the home of Newt Gingrich. Spin it as you will.
Or, as Nate Silver puts it, expect some dumbness from the punditry.
Here’s the thing, though: Sometimes dumb things matter if everyone agrees that they matter. Congressional Republicans could use a signal of any kind right now to coordinate their strategy around two vexing issues: first, their health care bill, and second, their behavior toward President Trump and the investigations surrounding him. Whatever direction Republicans take on these questions, they will find some degree of strength in numbers. Republicans would probably be less afraid of publicly rebuking Trump, for instance — and becoming the subject of a @realDonaldTrump tweetstorm or Trump-backed primary challenge — if other GOPers were doing the same.
The Georgia 6 outcome might trigger some herd behavior among Republicans, therefore, changing the political environment in the weeks and months ahead. A loss for Handel would probably be interpreted by the GOP as a sign that the status quo wasn’t working. If even a few members of Congress began taking the exit ramp on Trump and the American Health Care Act, a number of others might follow. A win, conversely, would have a morale-boosting effect; Republicans would probably tell themselves that they could preserve their congressional majorities by turning out their base, even if some swing voters had abandoned them.
Right now Ossoff has a very narrow lead in the polls, but if last November is any guide, polls don’t mean a whole lot. What does matter is seeing how the parties are shifting their bases; people who voted for Obama shifting to Trump; people who voted for Romney shifting to Clinton; blocs who were once considered reliable for both parties no longer hold that allegiance; and overall, a frustration or anger that they’re not getting either what they want or what was promised to them, thereby adding an age-old corollary on Tip O’Neill’s adage about all politics being local: “What’s in it for me?” That means that the echos of November and the current situation for Trump don’t mean a whole lot. Even the debate over Obamacare takes second place to who’s going to bring home more bacon.
Ever the pessimist about things like this, I am bracing for a narrow loss for the Democrats and hours of dumb pundit analysis. (The same will hold true if he wins.) Twenty-four hours from now we’ll know and see who’s really dumb.