Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. Republican Troy Balderson’s apparent narrow victory in the 12th district of Ohio on Tuesday night will be interpreted as a “too-close-to-call” warning shot by political observers and Republican strategists. After all, this ruby red district shouldn’t be close.
The fact that Democrat Danny O’Connor appears to have come within a hair of winning there should be serious cause for concern as we head into the midterm elections.
But this will only feed Donald Trump’s ego. While the AP has yet to call the race and O’Connor hasn’t conceded, Trump isn’t waiting:
“When I decided to go to Ohio for Troy Balderson, he was down in early voting 64 to 36. That was not good. After my speech on Saturday night, there was a big turn for the better. Now Troy wins a great victory during a very tough time of the year for voting. He will win BIG in Nov.”
It is, of course, Trump’s nature to gloat. But why is he taking credit for an apparent win in a race that should never have been close at all?
This is a district Mitt Romney won by 10 points in 2012 and Trump won by 11 in 2016.
If Balderson’s narrow win holds up, that’s a horrible sign for Republicans this November, not evidence that Trump has the Midas touch. Keep in mind, this district is almost 88 percent white. Keep in mind that Republicans spent millions to win this race. Keep in mind that this race is rated an R+7 by the Cook Political Report, which means the district performs seven points more Republican than the national average. If Republicans can’t win an R+7 race, how can they win, say, an R+5 race?
This all suggests a massive wave is coming. That’s because, as NPR’s Domenico Montanaro explains, “There are 69 R-held districts that Trump won by LESS or Clinton won.” And Democrats need to net just 23 seats in order to retake the House. For Republicans, a win here is like dodging a bullet and then realizing that a runaway train is barreling toward you.
To be sure, observers tend to make too much out of any given race. But this is the last special election of 2018. For Trump, the takeaway is not helpful. The lesson he seems to have learned is that he is the secret ingredient for Republicans. He will want to travel around the nation, campaigning for Republican candidates. We already know that he finds this cathartic and fun, but now he will see it as the cavalry, never mind that many of these races are toss-ups because his presidency is causing Republicans there all kinds of headaches. In some places, a Trump visit will make perfect strategic sense. But in suburban areas, it will do more harm than good.
But how do you tell the president—especially this president!—that you don’t want him to come to campaign for you? Doing so risks a nasty tweet that would depress the Republican base. As if Republicans didn’t have enough challenges this year.
Another problem with a president who doesn’t take this political problem seriously is that he might be inclined to do things like, say, shut down the government (or threaten to do so). After all, Trump might reason, he won the presidency doing things his way. Why stop now?
There was little chance to begin with that Trump would moderate his conduct to help save vulnerable Republican House members. Now that he believes he has the wind at his back, he will only be more empowered to double down on his swagger.
Why doesn’t Trump appreciate the dangers lurking? Trump doesn’t do nuance. For him, a win is a win and a loss is a loss. Period. He went to Delaware County on Balderson’s behalf, and he assumes this pushed his pick over the top.
On top of that, Trump’s endorsed candidate in the Michigan gubernatorial race won his primary (as I write this late Tuesday night, his endorsed candidate, Kris Kobach, is behind in the Kansas gubernatorial primary).
It takes a lot of moxie for a man to be utterly oblivious to the fact that things are falling apart all around him. The irony is that you usually cannot tell this sort of man the truth because he punishes the messenger. And so, he remains gloriously ignorant.
Republicans are in deep trouble. Areas that have been voting for Republicans since Ronald Reagan are now turning their backs on them. Everybody sees it. Everybody knows it. Except Donald Trump.