Sorry for being the skunk at the GOP picnic, but let's not get too comfortable yet about the results of the June 20 special election.
Much to the dismay of Democrats and their boosters in the mainstream media (the deafening silence from the media was priceless!), Georgia Republican Karen Handel won the runoff for the special election replacing Tom Price in Georgia's 6th Congressional district. She beat back 30-year old, carpet-bagging, documentary filmmaking Jon Ossoff and a record-breaking amount of liberal Democrat money to do it. That's the good news.
The bad news is Republicans have always had a bad habit of taking away the wrong message from elections. On the same night Handel won a traditionally safe, GOP congressional district by five points (the 6th has been in GOP hands since 1978; Tom Price won reelection by 25 points in 2016), Republican Ralph Norman won the special election in South Carolina's 5th Congressional District by only three points (Mick Mulvaney won reelection by over 20 points in 2016). While Republicans are now unbeaten in the four contested special elections (when you add in wins in Kansas and Montana), the margins of victory have been uncomfortably thin, especially on traditionally solid GOP turf.
Now, don't get me wrong - winning is always better than losing. A loss would have led to a Republican meltdown - at least in D.C. All of Washington would have bought into the mainstream media's false storyline blaming Trump. Congressional action on the Trump agenda would have gone from infrequent to nonexistent, as distractions like the Mueller investigation would have gained steam. Whispers of impeachment would have grown louder in GOP circles, with Republican leadership wringing their hands and waiting for the right time to stage a political coup. After all, Republicans do have a bad habit of taking away the wrong message from elections.
Instead, it's the Democrats, having now suffered four consecutive losses, who are trying to explain to angry donors how they wasted at least 30 million dollars on a single district in Georgia. The Democrat strategy to make the race a referendum on President Trump backfired; the more nationalized the race grew, the more it spurred Republicans to come out and vote for Handel. Just like last year, Democrats bet big against Trump - and crapped out.
The message to Democrats was simple: get a message, other than "we hate Trump" - a tough call for the party of perpetual outrage. But the voters also sent a message to Republicans and it wasn't a pat on the back.
As Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning summarized it:
"The Georgia Congressional race should serve as a wake-up call for the GOP in Washington, D.C. to get to work on President Trump's agenda. The Ryan-McConnell rope a dope strategy where they spend more time on vacation than doing the people's business will lead to catastrophic results in November of 2018. Speaker Ryan should immediately cancel the August recess and move aggressively forward on the President's agenda with an emphasis on economic growth measures, including laying the groundwork for tax cuts, turning the President's infrastructure plan into legislation and sending it to the Senate, and cutting the budget in accordance with the Trump budget."
Reinforcing that notion, Washington Post reporter Robert Costa spoke to a number of Georgia voters leading up to the election and learned that most cared not a lick about the Russia investigation sideshow, but about (surprise, surprise, Beltway Republicans) the issues. Georgia Republican voter Malone Dodson summed it up best: "Faith, health, living condition and the economy, those are my issues... My take on Trump is: Better to leave him alone. He'll straighten out and be fine... [On Russia,] [q]uit paying attention to that and see the big picture. We need a good economy, good defense and good jobs, and Trump's doing it."
But are Republicans listening? Based on their actions (or inaction) since being handed majorities in both houses of Congress and control of the White House, the answer prior to this week's elections seemed to be "No." Pro-growth tax reform is still in the talking points stages, infrastructure is even further behind, and - in spite of terrorist acts here and abroad and gang warfare inspired by illegal immigration in America's suburbs - there's not even a peep from Capitol Hill about funding for a border wall. Speaker Ryan has yet to heed the call to cancel Congress' summer vacation in August, and the Senate is still the graveyard where good legislation is sent to die.
Hopefully, that's about to change. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised floor action on health care before the Fourth of July, and President Trump has been hitting the road urging Congress to act on his agenda for America.
But Republican voters will not remain patient for long. And if their duly elected representatives do not take away the right message from Tuesday's special election and start delivering, they won't be duly reelected in November 2016.
Peter Hong is a contributing reporter at Americans for Limited Government.