Everybody has done this in their lives, so it should be easy to follow. You do something for a long time, and get good at it. Then, for whatever reason, you take an extended break from it. Then you decide, whether for pleasure, or for practical purposes to go back to it again, only to find that it’s a helluva lot harder than you remembered, and you’re nowhere near as good at it as you used to be. Sucks to be vous, don’t it?
According to Politico, that is one of the greatest fears that high mucky muck strategists and others in the GOP are wrestling with as the accelerating primary schedule heralds the arrival of the Mortal Kombat of the 2018 midterms. And they’re right to be worried. Complacency kills, just ask the ancient Romans.
Back in 2010, the GOP rolled across the political landscape like a radioactive cloud, not only in the US congress, but more importantly at the state level. And the first toxic result of this noxious cloud was to rig the system in their own favor. How successful was this? You tell me. You can’t have a conversation about national politics these days without gerrymandering topping the bestseller list of what’s wrong with politics in this country these days.
But that sense of personal safety brings on complacency, and that’s what the GOP is worried sick about, especially in the House. If you stop curling 150 lbs 4 days a week, and lift nothing heavier than a 16 oz cold one for the next couple of years, you’re going to have trouble lifting a gallon of milk.
GOP incumbents, not only in the US House, but at the state level have gotten lazy. The popular phrase for these gerrymandered districts is, “You could run a ham sandwich and retain this seat.” But both the VA state House of Delegates races last year, and the PA-18 special election have exposed that lie. Politico lists a representative example;
On paper, Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) appears to be a shoo-in for reelection. He‘s served nine terms in what’s been a GOP stronghold for decades, hasn’t had a serious challenger in years and sits on one of the most powerful committees in Congress.
But Culberson‘s suburban-Houston district went for Hillary Clinton by 1 percentage point in 2016. And when GOP leaders found out last year that he was being outraised by Democrats and barely had a campaign staff, they were exasperated.
There is a hurricane coming, and the Republican incumbents are sitting in the living room watching Monster Truck Rally reruns instead of boarding up the windows. The party is sounding the alarm, but the incumbents are switching the channel when the news alerts come on.
The Virginia state elections last year were a shining spotlight. Many Democratic challengers out raised the GOP incumbents by 2 or 3 to one, and they did it without accepting any special interest money. Quite a few of the Virginia GOP seats that flipped in 2017 were held by GOP incumbents who had run opposed for multiple cycles. They had almost no campaign operation, nor did they care much what the important local issues were, why should they? It wasn’t like anybody could beat them.
The GOP complacency is dangerous to them on two levels. First, their belief in their own invincibility makes them dismissive of not only their opponents, but their own constituents as well. Throw up a few ads, and get back to taking PAC money. But these Democratic insurgents have discovered politics the old fashioned way, knocking on doors and introducing themselves. Beto O’Rourke in Texas is planning on hitting every district personally, while Ted Cruz sits around and calls donors. The GOP incumbents haven’t had to actually get out there and do the donkey work of campaigning for years now.
But more dangerous is their blind trust in the invincibility of their gerrymandered districts. These maps were drawn 7 years ago, and population migration has taken place, especially in traditional GOP states where surging tech and other education intensive businesses bring in younger, better educated, more affluent, and traditionally more liberal and progressive voters. And as Trump continues to drive away white suburban women, as was shown in both the Alabama Senate race as well as PA-18, even these traditional strongholds are vulnerable.
Taken in this context, think of the 2018 midterms on the GOP side as the first episode of “The Biggest Loser: Politics Edition.” The GOP incumbents are the contestants. The big question is whether or not the GOP’s version of Jillian Michaels screaming at them will be enough to get their fat, lazy asses off of the sofa and up on the treadmill. Well, maybe don’t think of it that way, the mental vision of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan in in skin tight leotards ranting and raving just put me off of my lunch. Forget I even brought it up.