How Georgia vote shows Trump not so invincible

Handel: We can't let Pelosi ally steal seat
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Story highlights

  • Tim Naftali: Outcome of Georgia special election pricks the bubble of Trump's magical invincibility
  • He says it will likely spur resistance to White House from Republicans who are not Trump fans, embolden Dems to push to flip the House

The former director of the Richard Nixon library, Timothy Naftali is a CNN presidential historian who teaches intelligence history and national security policy at NYU. The views expressed in this commentary are solely his.

(CNN)Jon Ossoff thrashed all of his opponents in the special election in Georgia's 6th congressional district Tuesday night, and though he fell short of the 50% plus one needed to avoid a June runoff, will go into that runoff as the favorite.

This is big. But let's keep it in perspective: It's true that special elections can be nasty presidential bellwethers.
Republican George H. W. Bush seemed to be on a glide path to re-election after the Gulf War in 1991, but then his former attorney general Dick Thornburgh lost to Democratic first-time political candidate (but civil rights hero) Harris Wofford in a special election that was called following the death of Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania. A year later George Bush became a one-term President.
    Ossoff: Defied the odds, shattered expectations
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    And yet sometimes, though troublesome, special elections don't quite mean disaster for the incumbent in the White House. In 2010, Republican Scott Brown took from the Democrats not just a traditional seat in the Senate but Ted Kennedy's seat, complicating the passage of Obamacare. But Barack Obama was nevertheless reelected.
    Spinners will try to pinpoint a cause for Ossoff's strong showing. Was this a protest vote against President Trump? A vote against the paralysis of the "unified" GOP government that -- besides replacing Antonin Scalia with a conservative jurist -- has not managed to pass any of its agenda in its first 100 Days?
    Or was it just about the appeal of the winsome candidate himself?
    Actually, given the importance of momentum in politics, the reason voters in this safe Republican seat voted for a Democrat is less important than that they did.
    This vote, in the solid red south, pricks the bubble of Trump's magical invincibility. It cannot be overstated how attractive the prospect of being with a "winner" was to President Trump's base and how this begins to cloud that image. Although it is too far from 2018 to make predictions about what might be happening to that base, members of Congress who are Republican but not Trumpist may now start to feel less in awe of the President.
    The House Freedom Caucus' goal-line stand in the Obamacare "repeal and replace" fiasco no doubt gave some confidence to Trump skeptics but there is nothing more likely to spur real Republican resistance to the White House than the fear of losing one's seat in 2018.
    And Democrats are now likely to put a lot more money behind the dream of challenging the 47 seats that, according to the political analysis website 538, are even more flippable than the Georgia 6th. But the bigger Ossoff effect, whether he wins the runoff or not, may well be seen among Republicans in Washington.
    Tuesday's outcome may ultimately make Trump madder than any episode of Saturday Night Live.