Lanhee Chen: It's premature to see special election results in Georgia district as a dark harbinger for GOP in 2018
Chen: Still, GOP needs to show it can make progress in advancing conservative agenda
Editor’s Note: Lanhee J. Chen is the David and Diane Steffy Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He served as the policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and was a senior aide at the US Department of Health and Human Services during the George W. Bush administration. The views expressed in this commentary are his.
It can be tempting to try and draw far-reaching conclusions about the 2018 midterm elections from the special election results in Georgia’s 6th congressional district, where Democrat Jon Ossoff came close to winning the 50% of the vote he needed to capture the longtime conservative seat.
But those midterms are more than 19 months away and a whole lot can change between now and then. President Trump is likely to encounter additional national security challenges; congressional Republicans may by then have tackled big issues like tax reform and infrastructure spending; and the state of the country’s economy may be very different than it is today.
For all of these reasons, all pundits and prognosticators should take a deep breath and realize that whatever electoral predictions they make today have a decent shot at being proven wrong when voters test them in November 2018.
In many ways, Republicans are still learning what it means to have unified control of the federal government. As Speaker Paul Ryan noted when he withdrew the Republican alternative to Obamacare in late March, there are growing pains that come with the new responsibilities that GOP officeholders have been tasked with.
To be successful in 2018, Republicans in Congress – working with the Trump administration – will need to work out the kinks and make progress in advancing a conservative governing agenda. And that begins with demonstrating an ability to pass a sensible replacement to the Affordable Care Act.
Voters in Georgia’s 6th congressional district didn’t appear to be punishing Republicans for their inability to repeal and replace Obamacare in late March – Democrat Jon Ossoff only slightly outperformed Hillary Clinton’s in last night’s election and Republican Karen Handel will likely beat him in the upcoming runoff. But GOP voters’ patience is not infinite.
For more than seven years, Republican officeholders and candidates have promised that they would take decisive action on President Obama’s signature health care law. A single failure to do so can be attributable to “growing pains.” But a continual inability to pass into law a conservative, market-based alternative to the Affordable Care Act will have electoral consequences for Republican congressional candidates across the country.
President Trump did the right thing by featuring the American Health Care Act as his first major foray into working with Congress. While the results were not positive, he recognized that failure to act on health care would have political consequences. It’s now up to him and congressional leaders like Speaker Ryan to finally deliver. Failing to do so will impact election results not just in Georgia’s sixth congressional district, but across America.