Thursday, April 19 , 2018, 2:13 pm | A Few Clouds and Breezy 65º


Dick Polman: Republican Panic Builds After Losing Safe House Seat in Pennsylvania

Fear is contagious. And Republicans should be terrified about the March 13 congressional race in southwestern Pennsylvania.

If they couldn’t win a House seat on solid Trump turf, in a gerrymandered Republican district, with multiple visits from President Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Vice President Mike Pence, and with outside conservative groups outspending Democrats by 5-to-1, it’s clear they’re facing a potential disaster in November.

For that, they can thank Trump — and their own subservience to Trump.

According to the best stat-crunchers, roughly 115 House districts are rated more competitive than the ruby-red, heavily white enclave outside of Pittsburgh. Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to capture the House and restore a semblance of checks and balances to this imperiled democracy.

Based on what happened last Tuesday night, any House Republican incumbent in a competitive district could reasonably decide that retirement is far better than drowning in a blue wave.

Granted, Democrat Conor Lamb didn’t win in a landslide, but his apparently minuscule margin of victory — in a district where Democrats didn’t even bother to field a House candidate in 2014 or 2016, in a district where Trump won the presidential vote by 19 points — is the equivalent of a Lambslide.

Republicans threw everything at the race — tax cuts, tariffs, tying Lamb to evil House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stoking fear of immigrants, Trump ranting on the stump — but none of it dragged candidate Rick Saccone beyond the edge of the finish line.

Saccone touted himself as Trump’s “wingman,” but it didn’t work. Trump made the race a referendum about himself, by showing up twice, but it didn’t work. Trump Jr. made the race about his father — “everything he stands for” was on the ballot — but it didn’t work.

Ivanka Trump tried in vain. Alternative factress Kellyanne Conway tried in vain.

Naturally, Republicans in thrall to the Trump cult are trying to favorably spin the results (Trump’s presence made the race close!), but everyone else in the party, every conservative who’s remotely tethered to reality, knows how to interpret an electoral slap in the face.

So I yield the floor to Fox News politics editor Chris Stirewalt: “It’s more than a ripple. It might be wave.”

And I yield the floor to conservative commentator Erick Erickson: “The reality is that a Democratic wave is building in the House. Seats that are suburban and bordering suburban are suddenly in play ... Democrats are hungry for wins and the GOP is not. That’s a problem. Also, yes, the president’s popularity matters, and while you may like President Trump, the most energized voters in America hate him.”

And Republican pollster Frank Luntz: “(This election) is an extremely bad omen for the GOP.”

And Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, who heads the House GOP’s campaign arm, briefing his fellow Republican incumbents: “This is a wake-up call ... Prepare to bear down.”

And ex-Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye: “This is not a good result for the GOP. Look for more retirements to come.”

And conservative pundit John Podhoretz: “What matters is that the Democratic surge/GOP depression is very, very real ... Goodbye, suburbia.”

And former Sen. Gordon Humphrey, R-N.H.: “The upset in Trumpland sends a message to Trump toadies in Congress.”

This is what happens when Republicans made the decision to aid and abet a serial-lying demagogue who’s unfit for office. Not even Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bots and hackers may be enough to save those incumbents in November.

The psychological impact of the Pennsylvania election could be huge. Republicans with vulnerable seats may have to decide whether to break with Trump (and risk alienating Trump cultists), or stick with Trump (and risk alienating swing voters who detest their fealty). Republican donors could decide that it’s nuts to spend good money in a bad year.

Democratic donors and voters, having never imagined that a pro-Trump Pennsylvania district could go blue, could be further energized. Heck, the demographics show that House Speaker Paul Ryan’s district in Wisconsin is more competitive than the Pennsylvania one.

As the Pennsylvania race demonstrated anew, every vote counts. And those who are still oblivious need only consider this single factoid: If Democrats take the House in November, the lead Trump-Russia toady, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., would no longer chair the House Intelligence Committee. The new chairman would be Rep. Adam Schiff, R-Calif., who thinks it’s wrong to further abet Russia’s penetration of this democracy.

I rest my case.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia, a “writer in residence” at the University of Pennsylvania and is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @DickPolman1. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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