Will Republicans Blame Trump if Jon Ossoff Wins?

It appears that Republicans remain nervous about holding on to the seat in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District vacated by current Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price–a seat the GOP has owned since 1979:

Conservative ads are pummeling [Democratic contender Jon] Ossoff. Spots from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to House Speaker Paul Ryan, alternatively have warned that he’s a Nancy Pelosi stooge, will bring rioting hordes to Georgia’s gates, and is a mouthpiece for terrorists. An early $1.1 million CLF salvo using footage of Ossoff in a college “Star Wars” spoof backfired; left-leaning Better Georgia mounted a counterattack claiming Ossoff’s surge in the polls had the GOP running scared, and representing “A New Hope.” In some Georgia districts, a millennial-mocking attack like CLF’s might have sunk a young candidate, but in the Sixth, with an affluent, educated demographic, it seemed to warm hearts…

With a war chest of $8.3 million – closer to what it might take to run a statewide Senate campaign in Georgia, not to vie against 17 others for a suburban seat — Ossoff’s exposure is reaching almost absurd levels. In a regular election, a candidate might run spots on five or six radio stations; Ossoff’s blanketed 20 stations in metro Atlanta, including country, Korean language— even conservative talk. The campaign is handing out yard signs and stickers and flooding mailboxes with fliers. There’s even a Snapchat filter.

More than his own massive ad buy, Ossoff may be helped by in-fighting among the 11 — yes, 11! — contenders on the GOP side. Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state who also campaigned for the Senate and governor’s office, is being attacked as a big-spending career politician by the Club for Growth, which is backing pro-Trump former Johns Creek city councilman Bob Gray. State senator-turned businessman Dan Moody released a head-scratching ad showing him cleaning up muck left by slow-moving elephants, including one accessorized in Handel’s trademark string of pearls.

But all the ads won’t do anything about getting people to the polls. Democrats are heartened by high early voting turnout. Now they’re aiming high – for a miraculous 50 percent showing by Ossoff [in the April 18 special election] that would prevent a runoff in June.

Republicans are right to be nervous: Trump barely won the Sixth District last fall, and this is one of the rare recent Congressional races where Democrats and Republicans seem equally hungry for a victory. Note that Ossoff’s vigorous challenge has placed pressure on his main Republican rival to rhetorically de-wingnut herself:

Meanwhile, Ossoff’s rivals had their arms full defending the Republican record in the Trump era. Karen Handel, a near-miss candidate in two statewide races — currently polling highest to make the runoff’s second spot — repeatedly rejected the House GOP’s health-care proposal and the negotiations to strip “essential health benefits” from the current system.

“That’s not Tom Price’s plan,” said Handel. “Not every single time do we have a mandate that is horrible.” Moments later, longtime tea party activist and candidate Amy Kremer said that she, too, opposed the bill; Ossoff deflected one of her attacks by praising her “bipartisanship” for criticizing both parties.

If Ossoff wins this seat and motivates other progressive Democrats to launch their own insurgent campaigns for seats in red-leaning Congressional districts in 2018, one wonders if their Republican opponents will also find themselves compelled to embrace anti-Trump rhetoric in an attempt to fool gullible voters into believing that they won’t genuflect to the 45th President if elected over their Democratic rivals. It will be the duty of these Democratic candidates to hammer home the idea that Republicans simply cannot be trusted to consistently stand up to Trump, that party loyalty always runs thicker than water, that the GOP in 2018 stands for Greed Over People (an idea that Trump and his associates reaffirm on a daily basis).

There will be some Republicans who successfully blur the line between themselves and their Democratic opponents, but not all Republicans can pull off that particular trick. If Democrats win the House and/or Senate in 2018, Republicans may finally face the hard reality that Trump was the destroyer disguised as savior, a parasite draining their party of vital energy. Of course, non-Republicans will wonder why it took the GOP so long to realize the danger Trump posed to their party and the country. The answer to that one is obvious: Republicans only care about threats when those threats affect them personally.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.