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Trump can't spin his Pennsylvania humiliation

The White House and Republican leaders are struggling to paper over the failure of their candidate for the special el...

Posted: Mar 16, 2018 12:00 AM
Updated: Mar 16, 2018 12:00 AM

The White House and Republican leaders are struggling to paper over the failure of their candidate for the special election in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, painting the strong showing of his Democratic challenger as a kind of victory for President Donald Trump's agenda.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called Democrat Conor Lamb a "pro-gun, anti-Nancy Pelosi conservative." And White House spokesman Raj Shah told reporters Lamb had "really embraced the President's policies and position, where he didn't embrace Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leader."

What this leaves out is that the outcome in Pennsylvania was a verdict on Trump.

Saccone is trailing Lamb with 100% of Election Day and absentee votes counted. Lamb has claimed victory -- but Saccone has refused to concede.

Lamb's campaign strategy clearly worked, whether Ryan is correct of not about its details. And Trump's approach evidently did not.

Donald Trump had hoped to pull a "heads I win, tails you lose" trick with this election. But voters made certain that he couldn't pull it off. The President's old magic no longer works.

Trump had left no doubt about the game he was playing when he made candidate Rick Saccone's Saturday rally in Pennsylvania all about himself. "This is a very big race" he declared as he praised himself and urged his supporters to show the world they still backed the Trump agenda.

Clearly he was hoping he could prove the pundits wrong and propel his man to victory. But the very next day he distanced himself from Saccone -- a four-term state Representative -- and the impending result, privately complaining that his man was a weak candidate.

Trump's trick was also a gamble that depended on the public ignoring the obvious fact that anything short of a big Saccone win would be a humiliating loss for the President. Everyone remembers that Trump is the man who crows about how he's a super intelligent competitor and knows more about winning than anyone. Anything less than complete and total annihilation could only be, horror of horrors, loss.

Now, if he says or tweets anything at all in the aftermath of Tuesday's humiliating outcome for him and his party, it will almost certainly be to blame it on Saccone's miserable performance -- and that chorus has already begun, with White House sources telling CNN, for example, that Saccone was a "weak candidate" who "decided to run scared" instead of run hard.

In a resolutely red district, the Republican should have breezed to victory. In coming days, expect Trump to offer some version of "I tried to lift him higher, but he was too heavy."

Trump's Pennsylvania gambit revealed much about a man who is most comfortable playing the role of a salesman and marketer whose only product is himself. This "it's-always-about-me" point of view explains, for example, the insulting way he ditched Rex Tillerson on Tuesday -- the Secretary of State apparently learned he was fired via a tweet from his boss -- and it explains how Trump framed the special election to make himself look good no matter what.

After all, as a private businessman who knew little about many of the industries he joined, including air travel, gambling, and consumer goods, Trump's approach has long been based on the idea of wooing customers and investors to what his gilded persona represented. Although many of these businesses failed, Trump enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle and ever-increasing public attention. And those who were burned the worst by his bankruptcies, most notably bond buyers and other investors, might refuse to buy a second time, but Trump never seemed much interested in their repeat business.

Winning the White House thrust Trump into the center of a new sort of game, where his customers (the American people, this time) could see what he was doing, and true success would require that he do some repeat business to get re-elected in 2020.

Trump measures his 2020 viability by what he sees in the polls and on the TV news. Both have given him a scare. For this reason, he was as desperate to see Saccone win as he was to see Roy Moore win the Senate race in Alabama last December. Despite his failure there, Trump couldn't resist the opportunity to try to grab some credit in Pennsylvania.

What this calculation ignored is that in the last election, in 2016, Saccone won his seat in the Pennsylvania House by a margin of 70 to 30 over the Democrat. This meant that he outperformed the great performer himself (Trump won the district by 19 points).

Saccone's poor showing Tuesday could be credited to the superior effort of his opponent. However, the 33-year-old Lamb had never run for office before, started at a distinct disadvantage in the heavily Republican district, and was unknown to most voters when he started his run.

Instead of blaming Saccone or crediting Lamb, it makes far more sense to consider that the President's performance in office was the key factor in Pennsylvania. Having purchased what Trump was selling once, Americans have been carefully assessing what their votes bought.

Trump's main product has been a tax cut primarily benefiting the rich, and one which only one-quarter of voters have noticed in their paychecks. Besides this vague achievement, Trump has offered alarming rhetoric and bold proposals that get quietly walked back.

The two most recent examples include a pledge to defy the National Rifle Association on gun regulation, which was followed by a policy that could have been crafted by the NRA, and a commitment to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which was followed by the announcement of conditions that threw the whole prospect of a summit into doubt.

Now that the election results are in, the outcome is clearly about Trump, and there's no reasonable way to spin it so that the President looks good. (The same is true, by the way, of Tillerson's exit.)

Thousands of voters who bought what Trump sold in 2016 didn't this time around. For a President who must do a great deal of repeat business in 2020 with the people who supported him once, this is nothing but bad news.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 265146

Reported Deaths: 5777
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17741191
Hinds16891332
Harrison14279204
Rankin11239220
Jackson10917190
Lee9071145
Madison8599169
Jones6731118
Forrest6208124
Lauderdale6121192
Lowndes5544120
Lafayette520598
Lamar505865
Washington4933125
Bolivar4126109
Oktibbeha408382
Panola386981
Pontotoc377460
Monroe3686110
Warren3685103
Marshall357170
Union356864
Pearl River3495106
Neshoba3490154
Leflore3118109
Lincoln306788
Hancock294262
Sunflower291975
Tate280662
Alcorn273154
Pike270181
Itawamba269363
Scott260048
Yazoo256756
Prentiss253754
Coahoma249755
Copiah249749
Tippah249750
Simpson242872
Leake238167
Marion224273
Grenada223972
Covington221073
Adams215171
Wayne213734
Winston207671
George204739
Newton199946
Attala197064
Tishomingo194961
Chickasaw189344
Jasper181138
Holmes172068
Clay166837
Tallahatchie157235
Stone152525
Clarke148162
Calhoun141322
Smith130026
Yalobusha123335
Walthall114537
Greene113729
Noxubee113026
Montgomery112036
Carroll106822
Lawrence106817
Perry105131
Amite102126
Webster96824
Tunica89021
Claiborne88825
Jefferson Davis88430
Benton85823
Humphreys84724
Kemper80920
Quitman7139
Franklin70617
Choctaw63713
Wilkinson59825
Jefferson56821
Sharkey45217
Issaquena1606
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 441170

Reported Deaths: 6660
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson646811007
Mobile31620572
Madison28310217
Tuscaloosa21525275
Montgomery19954332
Shelby19335132
Baldwin17256189
Lee13205107
Morgan12639142
Etowah12107181
Calhoun11521206
Marshall10471123
Houston9009164
Limestone834981
Cullman8274124
Elmore8214110
DeKalb7894107
Lauderdale7871107
St. Clair7854130
Talladega6481112
Walker6036183
Jackson601545
Colbert549994
Blount547386
Autauga537662
Coffee462464
Dale410785
Franklin374950
Russell357515
Chilton345473
Covington339680
Escambia335444
Tallapoosa3149109
Dallas313296
Chambers304270
Clarke300236
Pike262531
Lawrence254155
Marion253761
Winston233642
Bibb222348
Geneva211547
Marengo209331
Pickens199631
Hale185244
Barbour182738
Fayette178629
Butler174460
Cherokee165731
Henry159925
Monroe152421
Randolph146436
Washington142327
Clay130546
Crenshaw124045
Macon122337
Cleburne121825
Lamar120222
Lowndes115536
Wilcox107922
Bullock103528
Perry100018
Conecuh97922
Sumter90527
Greene77923
Coosa63618
Choctaw51924
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