Democrat Conor Lamb leads his Republican opponent, Rick Saccone, by 641 votes in a special election conducted yesterday in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, a district Donald Trump won in 2016 by 20 points. As voters went to the polls, Politico noted that the GOP had largely abandoned what we've been told will be the party's main talking point in this year's elections:
Republicans backed away from their signature tax-cut law in the final days of a closely watched special House election in the Pittsburgh suburbs — even though it's the very accomplishment on which they had banked their midterm election hopes....
For the weeks of Feb. 4 and Feb. 11, roughly two-thirds of the broadcast television ads from Saccone’s campaign, the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC and the National Republican Congressional Committee mentioned taxes, according to a POLITICO analysis of data from Advertising Analytics. For the week of Feb. 18, that dropped to 36 percent, and to 14 percent the week after. Since the beginning of March, tax ads have been essentially nonexistent.
Greg Sargent adds:
In the race’s final days, much of the GOP’s messaging appears focused not so much on the Trump/GOP tax cuts, or even on Trump’s tariffs, but rather on immigration, crime and Nancy Pelosi. An outside group allied with the House GOP recently launched spots slamming Democrat Conor Lamb as a “Pelosi liberal” and for allegedly supporting “sanctuary cities and amnesty for illegals.” The National Republican Congressional Committee has recently released ads that slam Lamb, a former prosecutor, as soft on gun traffickers. A super PAC allied with Trump has an ad that mentions the tax cuts but talks more about “Pelosi liberals.”
... Indeed, last week, Dave Weigel and Josh Kraushaar both reported that Republicans had previously aired ads touting the tax cuts but cycled them out of the messaging, because, as Kraushaar put it, they were “barely moving the needle in the district’s working-class confines.”
As the voting began, Fox News analyst Chris Stirewalt criticized the Republican approach, even as he predicted a Saccone victory:
... it is ... remarkable to see a party that has held both houses of Congress for more than three years still talking like it’s 2010.
... Campaigning with the president’s eldest son Monday night, Saccone said Democrats hate America and God. Not a good look under any circumstances, but hardly the kind of closing argument that we were told to expect from Republican candidates this year.
The conventional wisdom in Washington was that the key to midterm survival for Republicans is to focus on the booming national economy and the role of the GOP in making it that way....
Instead, in Western Pennsylvania we have heard from Saccone, Donald Trump, Junior and Senior and others that this election is about good old American carnage®.
... herein we have the challenge for Republicans: How do you tell people in the same breath that your policies are working, but that America is teetering on the brink of failure? If peace and prosperity aren’t good enough to run on, what would be?
The tax cut has just taken effect, and its impact for most Americans is small. That may be why ads touting it aren't motivating GOP voters. But I think there's more going on.
I think Republican voters are so conditioned by the fearmongering of Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media that they can no longer respond to positive messaging. What matters to them is "owning the libs" and finding new enemies to smite.
(Or even finding old enemies -- as voting began yesterday, the right-wing press had spent several days treating Louis Farrakhan, of all people, as a significant ongoing threat to the Republic, rather than as a doddering old racist -- he's 84 -- who didn't have much national influence in his prime and has even less now.)
The right-wing media message is echoed by the president, who boasts about his accomplishments but really rouses the crowds when he attacks kneeling football players or Chuck Todd or Hillary Clinton, or when he promises a wall to keep out rampaging hordes of gangsters and a flood of drugs.
Never mind how the rest of us feel about the state of America today -- Republican voters are said to be pleased with the president's performance in office. And yet it's unimaginable that they'd ever respond to a modern "Morning in America" ad....
... or even to a new version of this "George W. Bush wants to keep us safe" ad from 2004:
Only anger and fear seem to move Republican voters. Even motivated Trump-bashers are more optimistic. Democratic voters ultimately want positive change. I think GOP voters only want revenge.
Crossposted from No More Mister Nice Blog