The myth of the all-powerful Trump

The votes were not even fully counted in the South Carolina First Congressional District primary before the verdict w...

Posted: Jun 17, 2018 6:36 PM
Updated: Jun 17, 2018 6:36 PM

The votes were not even fully counted in the South Carolina First Congressional District primary before the verdict was decided. Congressman Mark Sanford, a frequent critic of President Donald Trump, had lost to uber Trump supporter Katie Arrington. His loss was about far more than his election -- it was a warning that any Republican critical of Trump will face a firing squad from Republican primary voters.

"Mark Sanford of South Carolina found out the hard way, in his surprise primary defeat," the New York Times reported, that "having a conservative voting record is less important than demonstrating total loyalty to Mr. Trump."

Certainly, the Republican National Committee feels that way, too, as evidenced by RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel's Wednesday tweet: "Anyone that does not embrace the @realDonaldTrump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake."

The tweet garnered a lot of attention and fit perfectly with the instant analysis the media decreed. But, hang on a second.

What has been largely lost in the rush to judgment is a hard look at a basic fact: Sanford ran a terrible campaign and, once he realized he was in trouble, still failed to go all-in to save the seat, having more than $1.6 million cash on hand at the end of May.

In other words, he ran a bad campaign -- and a strategic, policy-focused campaign is still critical to winning elections.

But we've seen this sort of media declaring a forest before looking at individual trees phenomenon in previous election cycles.

In the 2010 "Tea Party Wave" elections, the Republican Senate primary victories of Sharron Angle, Joe Miller and Christine O'Donnell led to story after story about "extremist Republicans" and how they would define the party -- in part because so many stories served as effective and negative branding. Yet, rarely mentioned was that Sharron Angle emerged from an extremely weak field, Joe Miller defeated a Lisa Murkowski campaign that did not take his campaign seriously, while in Delaware, Republican Mike Castle acted as if he should be appointed to the seat, seeming to look down on campaigning, and it showed.

Had those three races turned out differently, which they could and should have, a big part of the 2010 narrative, and that going forward, would not exist.

This exact scenario played out again in 2012, when in the Indiana Republican Senate primary, the epically bad Richard Mourdock defeated longtime incumbent Dick Lugar only because Lugar was so epically bad himself that he was initially unable to vote in his home district.

And, as a former aide to Eric Cantor, I can speak with some painful authority that the campaign team did not take challenger Dave Brat seriously and, by running so many negative ads against him, may have boosted Brat by raising his public profile.

Then there is the Hillary Clinton campaign, a lackluster operation that never found its footing and depended on Trump's unpopularity, while dismissing its own. And this at the same time that most of Washington -- and, to be clear, this included Trump campaign and RNC staff -- simply assumed Clinton would win because of the nationwide organization she had built. Which is akin to judging the Yankees' chances of winning on the World Series solely on the size of their payroll.

Of course, Trump loyalists want those Republicans critical of Trump to feel heat. But that's nothing new. Less than one month into the Trump administration, White House adviser Stephen Miller declared that the President's national security policies "will not be questioned."

But it's on policy where we see plenty of Republicans stand up to Trump -- think Marco Rubio (R-FL) on ZTE or Ben Sasse (R-NE) on trade -- to name just two. Their disagreements have been loud, but unlike Sanford, focused on policy. They've separated the policies from the personality -- granted, a difficult thing to do with Trump. And they certainly have avoided insulting Trump voters as outgoing Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has by suggesting his GOP colleagues are in a cult, a comment that codifies the belief of many Trump voters that Washington openly disdains them.

Following Tuesday's elections, it's clear many have convinced themselves that Trump is somehow simultaneously the bumbling man behind the curtain in Washington and the great and powerful Oz in congressional districts.

The truth may ultimately be somewhere in the middle. But in the meantime, it's clear that those who remain focused on the policies affecting their districts and campaign smartly should ultimately avoid a political guillotine.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 319115

Reported Deaths: 7353
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22246264
Hinds20612421
Harrison18342316
Rankin13855282
Jackson13666248
Madison10213224
Lee10050176
Jones8452167
Forrest7810153
Lauderdale7253242
Lowndes6488149
Lamar632288
Lafayette6295120
Washington5412136
Bolivar4833133
Panola4659110
Oktibbeha465898
Pearl River4591146
Marshall4571105
Warren4436121
Pontotoc424573
Union415576
Monroe4154135
Neshoba4059179
Lincoln4007111
Hancock385187
Leflore3514125
Tate342386
Sunflower339391
Pike3366110
Alcorn323272
Scott319274
Yazoo313971
Adams304785
Itawamba304777
Copiah299666
Coahoma298283
Simpson297889
Tippah291168
Prentiss283361
Leake271674
Marion271280
Covington266683
Wayne264442
Grenada264087
George251851
Newton248563
Tishomingo230867
Winston229881
Jasper222048
Attala214973
Chickasaw210459
Holmes190374
Clay187454
Stone187233
Tallahatchie179941
Clarke178980
Calhoun173732
Yalobusha167740
Smith164034
Walthall135147
Greene131633
Lawrence131024
Montgomery128643
Noxubee127934
Perry126638
Amite125942
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Tunica107927
Jefferson Davis107633
Claiborne102930
Benton102225
Humphreys97533
Kemper96628
Franklin84923
Quitman81816
Choctaw79018
Wilkinson69332
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50817
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 547323

Reported Deaths: 11266
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson808021563
Mobile41925826
Madison35600522
Tuscaloosa26136458
Shelby25554254
Montgomery25067610
Baldwin21774313
Lee16234175
Calhoun14692325
Morgan14614285
Etowah14132361
Marshall12443230
Houston10748287
Elmore10295212
Limestone10180157
St. Clair10146250
Cullman9921200
Lauderdale9582248
DeKalb8955189
Talladega8441184
Walker7318279
Autauga7215113
Blount6925139
Jackson6900113
Colbert6394139
Coffee5616126
Dale4928114
Russell454441
Chilton4461116
Franklin430683
Covington4263122
Tallapoosa4117154
Escambia400280
Chambers3715123
Dallas3604156
Clarke352861
Marion3231106
Pike313978
Lawrence3121100
Winston283372
Bibb267364
Geneva256981
Marengo250565
Pickens236562
Barbour234559
Hale226578
Butler223371
Fayette217162
Henry193843
Cherokee187245
Randolph186844
Monroe179141
Washington170339
Macon163051
Clay159559
Crenshaw155057
Cleburne152543
Lamar145837
Lowndes141953
Wilcox127030
Bullock124242
Conecuh112930
Coosa111129
Perry108726
Sumter105732
Greene93434
Choctaw61725
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Columbus
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Oxford
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