Special Elections Signal 2018 Struggles For The GOP

  • Calvin Wolf
  • Apr 19, 2017 4:14PM

There’s a hefty chunk of time between now and November 2018, when the next congressional election gives Democrats the opportunity to retake either the House of Representatives, Senate, or both. Still wounded from last fall, Democrats are itching for a chance to settle the score.  Republicans, having fizzled in their initial goal of implementing conservative healthcare reform, are preparing for a grinding campaign. Most pundits predict that the midterms will be a referendum on the performance of controversial Republican President Donald Trump.

If the public thinks Trump is doing well, conventional wisdom holds, the GOP will maintain its hold on Congress. If voters are disappointed with the commander-in-chief, however, Democrats will pick up seats in swing states and perhaps retake control of one or both houses of Congress.  Although public opinion polls put President Trump in a ditch, such polls were not particularly reliable ahead of the 2016 presidential election. 

Despite Donald Trump languishing as the least popular president in history, or at least in modern times, his upset victories in both the 2016 Republican primaries and the general election means his support should not be underestimated. 

To ascertain whether Trump’s voters will remain loyal, or whether an anti-Trump tide is rising in the wake of strong Republican victories, pundits’ eyes were glued to Georgia. In that state’s sixth congressional district, young Democrat Jon Ossoff showed surprising strength in a special election to fill the seat of former Republican Representative Tom Price, who was tapped by Trump to become the new Secretary of Health and Human Services. Though Ossoff fell just shy of the 50% of the vote to win outright (coming in at 48.1%), he may still have his day in June.

For the Republicans to lose Price’s former seat in Georgia would be an ominous foreshadowing of the 2018 midterms. Because a president will only appoint members of Congress to his cabinet if they are from safe districts, guaranteed to be won again by the president’s political party, a GOP defeat in Georgia’s sixth district means little is safe from upset in Trumpland. A strong Democratic challenge in deep red territory has not been isolated to Georgia: The GOP only narrowly held onto a House seat in Kansas in what was originally thought to be a slam-dunk special election.

The former holder of the seat, Mike Pompeo, was named as Trump’s new CIA director and has since become embroiled in his own scandal after insisting that WikiLeaks was anti-American and was hiding behind “free speech.”  Ironically, Pompeo’s condemnation of WikiLeaks as CIA director runs counter to his recent behavior as a U.S. Representative, when he praised the website as a noble whistleblower for revealing the Democratic National Committee’s unethical favoritism during that party’s presidential primaries.