There are two key take aways from the special election in Kansas last night. First, the media will go to great lengths to spin a Republican victory as a defeat for Donald Trump. Second, the Republican establishment will go to great lengths to blame conservatives for all the GOP’s perceived problems.
The media really built up the special election in Kansas to be a blow out. Democrats were going to swamp this R+25 seat, proving just what a destructive force Donald Trump is to the GOP. Before the polls even closed, Republicans in Washington were blaming conservatives for the loss, then the narrowness of the victory, because conservatives rejected a Republican health care plan that would have preserved Obamacare.
Republican pundits circulated social media blaming the House Freedom Caucus for rejecting their Swampcare plan that protected Obamacare. If only the conservatives had voted for it, the GOP would have won the seat in Kansas.
Then the GOP won the seat. Well, if only the conservatives hadn’t opposed the plan, it would not have been close muttered Republican pundits.
Meanwhile, the press wants everyone to know that a Republican winning this Republican seat is a shock and a rebuke to Donald Trump. But special elections rarely have anything to do with forecasting the off year election. Remember, right after Barack Obama won in 2008, there were a number of special elections that Democrats won and Democrats took that to mean they would have an easy time in 2010.
Of course, that does mean the GOP should not read more into these special elections than Democrats should read into them. If anything, the Georgia 6 special election next week will be a more important indicator of Republican strength because of the dynamics.
The Kansas race is largely meaningless for several reasons. First, the Republican was chosen by a small committee. Second, because he was chosen by a committee he had limited name identification. Third, he never ran what amounts to a primary. It went straight to an abridged general election without a primary. The whole set up was anomalous, but it is notable that in several areas the Republican outperformed Kansas Governor Sam Brownback.
That is what makes the GA-06 race more important. In that race, the Republicans are waging a primary style race for a change to get into a runoff. That could matter.
The reality in Kansas is two fold.
First, there is really very little that can be read into it. It is neither a rebuke of Donald Trump nor a measure of something more.
Second, Republicans should take note that in 2009, special elections went for the Democrats only to see them wiped out in 2010. Democrats right now are highly mobilized and engaged. Republicans are not. A lackluster Republican performance in Washington, including scapegoating conservatives for the leadership’s failure to repeal Obamacare, is only going to depress the GOP turnout further.
Storm clouds are on the horizon and I have a sneaking suspicion that, like Obama voters with him, Trump voters will only really turn out for Trump, not the GOP. But we should all resist the temptation to fall into conventional wisdom and forecast more from this race than there is.
A Republican won a Republican seat. This is only major news because the media needs to build Trump hatred into it and Republicans need to scapegoat conservatives for leadership failures.