There were many reasons for Conor Lamb’s victory in PA-18 this week but most of the blame lies at the feet of the RNC.
The special election this week for the 18th District of Pennsylvania congressional seat was occasioned by the resignation of the incumbent, Tim Murphy. Congressman Murphy resigned because, while in an extra-marital affair, he reportedly solicited an abortion for his girlfriend while professing to be staunchly pro-life.
His resignation led to a quick special election over a scant four months to a conclusion this week for the apparent winner, the Democrat Conor Lamb over Republican nominee, Rick Saccone.
The legacy press heralds this as the beginning of a blue wave crushing Republicans in the fall and changing Congress. I disagree — at least based on this result alone. Further, it doesn’t help that the National Republican Committee is running around publicly scalping Saccone and anyone else who will stand still to be blamed. The Politico article about the RNC trashing Saccone running before the election was a disgrace.
There were several factors in the race that make a Republican win less than certain in a district where President Trump absolutely did win overwhelmingly in 2016. Let me take a look at four of the most important of these.
1) There was a scandal. This is not mentioned in breathless left-leaning coverage of the impending destruction of the GOP presented by the harbinger of the PA-18 loss, but it’s significant. Last October when Tim Murphy announced his resignation, the Cook Report downgraded a Republican’s chances of retaining the district, writing this: “. . . disturbing scandals like Murphy's can generate surprising backlash against the perpetrator's party in special elections — even if the replacement nominee is totally untarnished. Since 2010, only four of 35 House specials have produced a party change, and all four involved scandals.”
2) The district is not as “red” as CNN and other legacy media would have you believe while trying to reinforce their anti-Trump narrative. In that same assessment, Cook writes: “. . . despite its support for Trump, the southwestern corner of the state has a Democratic heritage: Democrats still hold a six point party registration advantage in the 18th CD, and plenty of local officeholders are still Democrats. In 2010, Democrats bucked the national pro-GOP mood and the area's pro-GOP trend and won a special election following the death of Rep. John Murtha in the 12th CD, which overlaps with much of the 18th CD's current territory.”
3) The Republican National Committee was not ready in PA-18. As my friend and long-time consigliere to the Republican Party structure proper, Ed Brookover observed: “Special elections are just that, special.” He was explaining that over the very short span of the life of a special election (only four months in this case) the candidate’s election apparatus really doesn’t matter as it largely doesn’t exist — the candidate hasn’t had enough time to properly build from scratch a team that can compete. These elections are almost always a function of the national parties and the PA-18 special election was a Democrat National Committee against the Republican National Committee event. The DNC kicked ass in PA-18 and the RNC knows it. This is why the RNC is working overtime to blame everyone they can find to avoid shouldering the responsibility for largely their own failure.
4) Conor Lamb was an excellent candidate while Rick Saccone was not. Conor Lamb is from a political family with deep roots in the district. Other members of the Lamb family are local and state-level office holders. He knows the terrain and was not at a disadvantage while running against the current state legislator, Saccone. Having personally had the unique experience of defeating an incumbent in a district favoring that incumbent, I know what Representative-Elect Lamb had to face and what he had to do to win. He did it in great fashion and Saccone just wasn’t up to the task. Lamb is possibly the most conservative newly-fielded Democrat in quite a while. Other, less conservative Democrats who are running between the coasts, will not have this advantage.
No one is ever elected to Congress by accident and Conor Lamb earned his stripes. Paired with an excellent ground effort and competent management both provided by the DNC, Lamb beat Saccone, fair and square. The RNC lazily approached this affair and eventually looked to the president to pull it out for them. It was too high a hill even for all of the Republican star power shown on the race and the RNC really dropped the ball trying to climb it. (Mixed metaphors are fun!)
It is Donald Trump’s party and the sooner that the Republican National Committee resigns itself to that fact, the better it will be. It needs to fire the #NeverTrumpers in residence and start managing campaigns like Trump’s was managed. As Ed Brookover sadly observed, “traditional Republican campaigns like PA-18 will be unsuccessful this cycle. The Republican Party needs to run Trump-like campaigns.”
He is right and until the #NeverTrunper egos at the RNC get the joke and reform, there will be need for panic. Once they adapt, the mid-term election will go much better.
I hope that the RNC heeds the warning of PA-18.
Michael Patrick Flanagan represented the 5th District of Illinois in the historic 104th Congress. Prior to his Congressional Service, Michael was commissioned in the United States Army Field Artillery. Michael and his firm, Flanagan Consulting LLC, have represented both large and small corporations, organizations, and associations. In 2009, Michael entered public service again with the United States Department of State in Iraq as the Senior Rule of Law Advisor on the Maysan Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Maysan, Iraq. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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