Aftershocks From The Lambquake

[ Posted Wednesday, March 14th, 2018 – 17:04 UTC ]

In practical terms, the election of Democrat Conor Lamb to Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district isn't all that big a deal. Control of the House will not switch, so Paul Ryan will remain as speaker (with one less vote he can count on). Lamb will hold the seat only until November, when the district itself will disappear in the new redistricting map imposed by the state supreme court (to counteract the egregious Republican gerrymandering). So, practically, nothing much will change. In both political and psychological terms, however, the effect of Lamb's victory has to be measured on the Richter scale, because it certainly shook up Washington in a very big way. Congress felt the earth move last night, as the political tectonic plates realigned.

This district, after all, was created to be a safe Republican district -- so safe in fact that Democrats didn't even bother running anyone in the past two election cycles. Mitt Romney won the district by 17 points, and Donald Trump won it by 20 points. That's a pretty solid-red district. And yet Conor Lamb squeaked out a razor-thin victory (as of this writing, his lead stands at 627 votes out of roughly 230,000 cast).

This was the victory that Democrats have really been longing for since November of 2016. While they did pick up an unexpected Senate seat, there was so much scandal surrounding Roy Moore that it wasn't seen as any sort of bellwether. Democrats were much more interested in picking up a few House seats in special elections, but up until now they have "won moral victories" by doing much better than expected in red districts in Montana, Kansas, South Carolina, and (most notably) Georgia. In most of these previous races, Democrats outperformed expectations admirably. But in all of them, they failed to make it across the finish line. Which is why Pennsylvania's victory was so important. For once, it came down to the wire and the Democrat emerged the victor.

This race was different in another way, too. President Donald Trump was a lot more personally invested in this race than he was in any of the previous ones. He campaigned there in person twice, including an appearance this past weekend. He hadn't personally campaigned in any of the previous House races at all. He sent more surrogates to campaign there than have appeared in any of the other races as well -- Donald Jr., Ivanka, Mike Pence, as well as various cabinet members and other administration officials all made their plea to the voters for the Republican candidate, to no avail. Trump's coattails are growing shorter by the day, in other words.

Over 100 House seats that Republicans now hold were politically closer than this one. This means that over half of House Republicans are now more than a little worried about their own prospects in November. Democrats, on the other hand, are now expanding their map of districts to target which might just be winnable this time around. The anti-Trump resistance is holding strong at the ballot box, which brings all sorts of seats into play. Suburban women, in particular, are turning out in droves to vote for Democrats -- and there are a lot of very suburban House districts represented by Republicans. Blue-collar workers also returned to the Democratic fold, since the Republican in the race was so avowedly anti-Union.

This campaign was a memorable one politically, with over ten million dollars spent by outside Republican groups. Conor Lamb outraised his opponent in direct campaign donations (while refusing corporate PAC money), so conservative groups poured money into independent ads. These ads flopped, even though at one point Republicans were outspending Democrats by 17-to-1. They tried linking Lamb to Nancy Pelosi (demonizing both in the process). It didn't work. They bent over backwards trying to sell the recently-passed Republican tax cuts as the best thing since sliced bread. The voters weren't buying it. They tried some last-minute fearmongering against immigrants and criminals. But in the end, nothing worked.

This is perhaps the most worrisome point for other Republicans. They had all convinced themselves that the single piece of legislation they had managed to pass -- the tax cuts -- was going to solve all their electoral problems in November. That is now looking like a pipe dream. A few more bucks in a paycheck isn't going to be the number one issue for voters this time around, if Pennsylvania was any indicator. And the Republicans simply don't have anything else to brag about, because they have spent the past year doing absolutely nothing else in Congress.

Democrats, on the other hand, are enthusiastic and energized. Lamb's victory is only going to feed this optimism. Lamb campaigned on virtually the same issues that other Democrats have been winning on recently -- health care, Social Security, and standing up for the Main Street issues. Democratic candidates everywhere are taking note. These are winning issues for Democrats precisely because Republicans are actively trying to dismantle them. The voters are paying attention, one has to conclude.

Of course, all sorts of things could happen before November to change the political landscape. This could mean good news for one side of the aisle or the other, depending on what happens. But at this point it seems like the resistance to Trump isn't going to fade away much, if at all, no matter what happens. The "giving Trump the benefit of the doubt" train left the station a long while back, to put it more colorfully.

Democrats now have to almost be seen as the favorites to take back the House. Even though Republicans control the chamber, and even though incumbents usually win no matter what, this time around a wave election seems to be looming large. Conor Lamb's victory was a measure of how high that wave might eventually crest.

If Democrats retake the House, then Trump's agenda will be largely thwarted. Nancy Pelosi, should she return as speaker, will do what she does best -- pass a bunch of good bills and send them over to the Senate. Even if the Democrats manage to wrest control of the Senate away from Mitch McConnell, though, it's not likely that many of them will reach Trump's desk. But retaking the House would successfully stop Paul Ryan from passing all sorts of extreme bills, and that will be enough for now.

Legislation aside, control of the House also means committee chairmanships -- including oversight committees. This means that the Trump administration will finally get the scrutiny it so richly deserves, and Republicans won't be able to do a thing about it. Trump could spend the second half of his term fighting off more than just Robert Mueller, that much would be certain. While Pelosi is smart enough not to move towards impeachment without some very concrete and provable charges, Trump will still be constantly under her microscope, which should restrain his worst impulses.

Conor Lamb's victory has made all this speculation all the more real, for both Democrats and Republicans alike. The ground has shifted in a major way. If a Democrat can win in a district that Trump took by 20 points, then a Democrat might just win anywhere. Even blatant gerrymandering couldn't save this seat for the Republicans. Even Trump campaign rallies didn't work. Republicans are now shaking in their boots all over the country. The "Lambquake" is still sending out some pretty severe aftershocks.

Or perhaps a different metaphor is in order. While waiting for the election returns to come in, I came across two photos in a Washington Post election-day slideshow which seemed rather prescient. The first (number 16 in the series) was of Hong Saccone, the wife of the Republican candidate, who had literally wrapped herself in an American flag at the polling place. The second (number 6 in the slideshow) was of Lamb, standing tall in front of an ominous stormcloud rolling in behind him. That pretty much summed up the evening for me -- Republicans can wrap themselves in the flag all they want, but there are Democratic storm clouds on the horizon, and they're moving in fast.

[Update: When this article first ran, I mistakenly listed the Hong Saccone photo as number 15. It is actually now number 16 in the slideshow. My apologies for the error.]

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


19 Comments on “Aftershocks From The Lambquake”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    CW: Trump's coattails are growing shorter by the day, in other words.

    No worries, though. When Trump's coattails cease to exist, the GOP will at long last simply grab hold of that long tie conveniently located around his neck. ;)

    Of course, all sorts of things could happen before November to change the political landscape. This could mean good news for one side of the aisle or the other, depending on what happens.

    Consider if you will that Trump is ramping up to fire one Jefferson Beauregard Sessions the Third and name Scott Pruitt Acting Attorney General and order Pruitt to fire Bobby "Three Sticks" Mueller. What do you suppose would be the fallout from that? Word on K Street is that this is what Trump is planning. Tomorrow is the Ides, after all, the time for settling "debts." Et tu?

  2. [2] 
    Paula wrote:

    Exit polling indicates healthcare was a BIGGIE - these incessant attempts to kill the ACA by GOP ain't playing well. And the tax-heist and tariffs either didn't move the needle or backfired. Blotus' appearance probably motivated more Dems than Repubs to turn out. And against the backdrop of GOP failures and Blotus' unfit-madness the Dems have been implementing effective GOTV efforts.

    Nate Silver had a piece tonight:

    He notes: "Democrats are performing strongly in both high-turnout and low-turnout special elections" which he says "suggests a Democratic mega-tsunami."

    This may be a mostly symbolic victory but I'd rather have a symbolic win versus a symbolic loss. These wins help keep the resistance energy high and positive, relieving the more desperate energy we feel every day as Blotus does something horrible/stupid/traitorous.

    Jon Chait made the point that Dems are managing to field impressive candidates - interesting and qualified people are stepping up.

    It is obviously not always easy to find candidates who have this sort of background, a clean (or clean enough) record, and are willing to run for and serve in Congress, a miserable, soul-crushing job. But one of the ways in which Democrats benefitted from the massive countermobilization that formed immediately after the 2016 election is an unusually high number of people willing to rearrange their lives around the goal of saving their country from an unfit president. In many cases, the possibly corny and self-serving narrative of the “military veteran called to serve their country once again” actually applies. Democrats have more or less unanimously regarded a Trump presidency and a pliant Republican Congress as a national emergency.

    "The massive countermobilization that formed immediately after the 2016 election" - yep. It was spontaneous and amazing and has kept so many of us going. Looking forward to that blue wave...

  3. [3] 
    Kick wrote:

    Seriously, though... what could go wrong between now and November?

    Second lawyer tied to Trump was involved in court action to keep Stormy Daniels quiet, new document shows

    An attorney for the Trump Organization, Jill Martin, played a role in a California arbitration proceeding intended to keep porn actress Stormy Daniels from revealing more details about her alleged 2006 affair with President Trump, for which she received a $130,000 payment just before the 2016 campaign. The authenticity of the arbitration document, first reported by CNN and the Wall Street Journal, was confirmed to The Washington Post on Wednesday night.

    Oh, Stormy, bring back that sunny day. ;)

  4. [4] 
    Paula wrote:
  5. [5] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Perhaps a different different metaphor:

    The Doolittle Raid: convinced the Japanese their homeland was vulnerable to attack, convinced the Americans they still had the means to strike back at the Japanese.

  6. [6] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    trump will still be constantly under her microscope, which should restrain his worst impulses.

    Or, cause him to rule via executive order... Leaving the GOP to scream well Obama did it conveniently forgetting their own protestations when Obama did it.

    The three things that sum up the current state of the GOP are:

    We are in charge, damn it!

    'cuse democrats....

    They paid me to do it while enriching myself at your sod off.

  7. [7] 
    Bclancy wrote:

    “Lambquake”... is that kind of like a “sharknado”?

  8. [8] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    "So, practically, nothing much will change."

    "Congress felt the earth move last night, as the political tectonic plates realigned."

    Nonsense. there is only one political tectonic plate- the Big Money tectonic plate. Just because the two divisions of the Big Money Party painted a line dividing the plate in two doesn't make it into two plates.

    And since all we have been doing is switch control back and forth between the two divisions of the Big Money Party, even if this turns into a Big Blue Big Money wave in 2018, practically, nothing much will change.

    "Democrats, on the other hand, are enthusiastic and energized."

    "Democrats now have to be seen as almost the favorite to take back the House."

    This is not a good thing. The Big Money Democrats are down and instead of using this leverage to purge the Big Money Democrats from the party to give citizens an alternative to the Big Money two-step you are cheering on the Big Money Democrats.

    How is that going to change anything?

    If the Big Money Democrats regain control because the Republicans and Trump are so bad without purging the Big Money interests from the Democratic Party then they will have no incentive to remove Big Money from the Democratic Party.

    Did you learn nothing from 2016?
    The people that the Democrats need to inspire in the 2018 elections are not the suckers that buy the Big Money Democrat bullshit. They are people like me that are no longer fooled by the Big Money Democrat lies.

    Bailing out the Big Money Democrats when they are down will not make things better- don't let this opportunity pass us by again.

    Stop defending and promoting the Big Money Democrats and start defending and promoting democracy.

    Lambquake? More of a Cheesequake (Jersey joke) or a fakequake.

  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:


    although you tend to phrase it in partisan terms, one thing you're right about is that democrats have gotten away from what used to make them successful in congress, protecting the economic interests of their constituents. neo-libs like obama and hillary are all about seeming inclusive on social issues while only paying lip service to bread and butter issues like unions and progressive taxation. guns and gays, religion and racism, are all losing issues. that's why lamb won PA-18 and hillary got killed there.

    Thank you..

    And you are absolutely correct about me being absolutely correct.. :D

    Lamb was a much superior candidate than the Democrats have ever run... He is Right about Gun Control.. That right there endears him to a lot of Americans...

    But it's all a moot point... Lamb will be gone from Congress in Jan (which is a shame) and Hillary is still out there fighting and re-fighting the 2016 Election which will remind all Americans why the voted GOP...

  10. [10] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Re: "discussion" between myself and Kick in the comments from "Nailbiter in Pennsylvania" about whether or not Conor Lamb is a small contribution candidate and what constitutes the standard for a small contribution candidate.

    I went to Conor Lamb's website and it allows for contributions up to 2700 dollars. Doesn't that make him a Big Money candidate even if he took a step in the right direction by not taking corporate PAC money?

    Whether or not you include the perspective of One Demand, with so many candidates claiming and people claiming that candidates are small contribution candidates shouldn't the standard for what constitutes a small contribution candidate be part of the public discourse? It seems to me to be a much more worthy subject for an article than another article on the Trump distraction of the moment. It seems that one or two of those distractions could actually be skipped over for at least one article on this subject as there are plenty of other unimportant distractions from Trump to come.

  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    Political analysts billed the special House election as a definitive referendum on Donald Trump's presidency. Democrats insisted that a young, moderate nominee would spark the imagination and enthusiasm of the "Resistance" in a previously safe GOP seat. Media outlets breathlessly covered the campaign on a moment-by-moment basis. The nation waited with bated breath as the returns came in.

    I'm not talking about Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district. I'm talking about last year's special election in the Georgia district of former Rep. Tom Price, who had begun a short-lived stint as health secretary under President Trump a few months earlier.

    That's our Democrats.. All hysterically giddy about nothing..

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    Woe are the Democrats. For generations now, they’ve been telling the American people that only they, and their cohort of liberals and leftists, understand and truly value women. Because of their special understanding of women, only they can be trusted to do what’s right politically for them, they tell us.

    Then came Hillary Clinton pulling the curtain back on that dangerously false narrative. At a speech in Mumbai, India, the twice-failed presidential candidate blamed her loss on mindless women who do as their husbands tell them.

    Again contemplating why she lost the 2016 presidential race, Mrs. Clinton blamed certain women for not thinking for themselves.

    “We don’t do well with married, white women,” she said, because of “ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should,” Mrs. Clinton told the audience.

    It’s obvious from the last election that the Democrats also didn’t do well with married, white men. Yet, Mrs. Clinton doesn’t argue that it was Republican women bullying and pressuring their husbands into voting a certain way.

    In other words, the leading liberal feminist in the country is pushing the ironic narrative that if you’re a woman who does not conform to the liberal narrative, you have no mind of your own and are controlled by the men in your life.

    Hillary Clinton... The gift to the GOP that keeps on giving.. :D

  13. [13] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    I find the rebranding (in GOP minds) of Lamb amusing.

    GOP Ads before the election: Lamb is an ultra-liberal! A Pelosi sheep!

    Now: He's really a Republican, or a Republican-lite.

    Heh. It is to laugh, no? Hey, whatever helps them sleep at night...



  14. [14] 
    Michale wrote:

    Heh. It is to laugh, no? Hey, whatever helps them sleep at night...

    No argument from me.. :D

  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:

    I find the rebranding (in GOP minds) of Lamb amusing.

    GOP Ads before the election: Lamb is an ultra-liberal! A Pelosi sheep!

    Now: He's really a Republican, or a Republican-lite.

    Just as I found the rebranding of Comey and Tillerson quite amusing as well.. :D

    Before, Comey was Mark Pellegrino's spawn for costing Hillary the election..

    After Trump fired Comey, the Left couldn't embrace Comey fast or hard enough...

    Tillerson, PRE-FIRING

    "Tillerson is an oil executive friendly to Vladimir Putin and said his nomination sends a disturbing signal about President-elect Trump’s priorities."
    -Nancy Pelosi

    Tillerson, POST FIRING
    “Secretary Tillerson’s firing sets a profoundly disturbing precedent in which standing up for our allies against Russian aggression is grounds for a humiliating dismissal.”
    -Nancy Pelosi

    When it comes to "rebranding" there is plenty of places to point fingers...

  16. [16] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    CW (13)-
    Should Lamb be branded as a Big Money candidate or a small contribution candidate?

    If he is a Big Money candidate then it's Republican-Lite in reality and what he says he stands for, even if it would qualify as Ultra Liberal, cannot change what he is in reality.

  17. [17] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    "Of course, all sorts of things could happen before November that could change the political landscape."

    It's amazing the things that have been happening lately that until they actually happened seemed to be a pipedream or unachievable.

    Imagine a Democrat winning in such a solid Red District that the Democrats didn't even run a candidate in the last two elections.

    Why if that can happen- then anything can happen.

    There is no longer any excuse for not exploring EVERY option- including One Demand.

    At the very least there is no longer any excuse for not explaining why it is not possible for One Demand when all those other impossible things have actually happened.

  18. [18] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OK, this article has been corrected. When I first viewed it, the Hong Saccone photo was number 15 out of less than 20 in the slideshow. It has been expanded to 41 photos now, and for some reason the flag photo is now number 16. My apologies for the misdirect...


  19. [19] 
    Kick wrote:


    When I first viewed it, the Hong Saccone photo was number 15 out of less than 20 in the slideshow. It has been expanded to 41 photos now, and for some reason the flag photo is now number 16. My apologies for the misdirect...

    No apologies. Those are some very nice pictures, a few with nice multiple exposures.

    Oh, look. They are apparently having a "Reptile Expo" on March 25th at the Youngwood Volunteer Fire Department (17 in the slideshow), and while I would love to attend, I'll too busy getting my popcorn ready in order to watch the "Reptile Expo" on 60 Minutes on that Sunday. :)

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