It would have been a key race even if Rob Quist had defeated Greg Gianforte in Montana last week. Now, it’s a crucial one. The June 20 special election to determine the next representative from Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District is, at this point, every bit as important in terms of its ramifications as the 2016 presidential election.

Were Ossoff to lose, it would effectively quell the anti-Trump political revolution known as the Indivisible movement. A movement that cannot seal the deal in elections is a movement that fades quickly. Republicans were jubilant when Gianforte beat Quist to keep the at-large Montana Congressional seat vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, but their joy had to have been tempered by the reality that the Gianforte-Quist race was a relatively low-profile contest–and by the knowledge that Gianforte could be defeated by a stronger Democratic candidate in 2018. Beating Ossoff would provide more satisfaction to the right, because Ossoff, unlike Quist, has become something of a progressive folk hero.

An Ossoff loss would be profoundly demoralizing to the left; a Handel win would suggest that it is virtually impossible for Democrats to gain ground despite the continued embarrassments of the Trump administration. It would suggest that the 2018 midterm elections are dangerous for Democrats, because the pro-Republican vote is so locked in.

Ossoff’s campaign certainly recognizes the importance of this race. He clearly understands the significance of a win–or a loss. He surely knows how hungry the other side is to defeat him.

After Quist’s defeat, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi observed:

According to legend, Democrats lose because of media bias, because of racism, because of gerrymandering, because of James Comey and because of Russia (an amazing 59 percent of Democrats still believe Russians hacked vote totals).

Third-party candidates are said to be another implacable obstacle to Democratic success, as is unhelpful dissension within the Democrats’ own ranks. There have even been whispers that last year’s presidential loss was Obama’s fault, because he didn’t campaign hard enough for Clinton.

The early spin on the Gianforte election is that the Democrats never had a chance in Montana because of corporate cash, as outside groups are said to have “drowned” opponent Rob Quist in PAC money. There are corresponding complaints that national Democrats didn’t do enough to back Quist.

A lot of these things are true. America is obviously a deeply racist and paranoid country. Gerrymandering is a serious problem. Unscrupulous, truth-averse right-wing media has indeed spent decades bending the brains of huge pluralities of voters, particularly the elderly. And Republicans have often, but not always, had fundraising advantages in key races.

But the explanations themselves speak to a larger problem. The unspoken subtext of a lot of the Democrats’ excuse-making is their growing belief that the situation is hopeless – and not just because of fixable institutional factors like gerrymandering, but because we simply have a bad/irredeemable electorate that can never be reached.

This is why the “basket of deplorables” comment last summer was so devastating. That the line would become a sarcastic rallying cry for Trumpites was inevitable. (Of course it birthed a political merchandising supernova.) To many Democrats, the reaction proved the truth of Clinton’s statement. As in: we’re not going to get the overwhelming majority of these yeehaw-ing “deplorable” votes anyway, so why not call them by their names?

But the “deplorables” comment didn’t just further alienate already lost Republican votes. It spoke to an internal sickness within the Democratic Party, which had surrendered to a negativistic vision of a hopelessly divided country.

Were Ossoff to lose, one wonders if Taibbi will take back his words. A Handel win would in fact indicate that America is a “hopelessly divided country,” with Republicans and their loyal voters retaining most of the power in that country. A victory on the part of that right-wing extremist would suggest that there is no position, no scandal, no outrage that can shatter the bond between Republican elites and the party’s base.

Imagine, for one moment, just how much more arrogant and insufferable Donald Trump and the GOP would become if Handel wins. The right’s egomania would spread faster than Ebola did a few years back. Trump and his party would press forward in a spirit of absolute political immunity, and why wouldn’t they? An Ossoff loss would confirm that the right-wing political/media operation is an impregnable force in this country.

The stakes couldn’t get any higher–and if the outcome is an unfortunate one from a progressive standpoint, the morale of those committed to resisting Trump and the Republican agenda couldn’t get any lower. We will see who has the lower–and higher–vote totals on June 20.

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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.