Observing Jon Ossoff’s loss in the special election for Georgia’s 6th congressional district, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough told Democrats that “the time for moral victories is over.”
Scarborough and his co-host were observing that in the various special elections held since last November, Democrats have done far better than expected for such deeply-red districts. But they have yet to win, which is the only real measure of progress in American politics.
“Most of the smart money still is with the Democratic Party taking over,” Scarborough said. “But this should be a wake-up call for the Democratic Party, who has been doing nothing but losing since 2010 in these legislative races.”
“I heard last night Ossoff get out there saying ‘we’ve started something great.’ No, you lost. And at some point, the time for moral victories is over, and winning is just about winning. They’re gonna have to figure out how to win next year.”
Later in the segment, Scarborough made an analogy to a great sports rivalry.
In politics, close just doesn’t matter. You either win or you lose, and it’s like I said, you know, after Alabama lost to Auburn six years in row I didn’t want to hear about moral victories. It was all BS to me. You either win or you lose. And as I was saying, the Republicans after Barack Obama got elected and they were lurching too far to the right for most of the districts in New England, if you want to change the country, you have to win elections. Marching won’t do it, screaming at town hall meetings won’t do it, the only thing that does it is organizing — knocking on doors, calling people, driving them to the voting booths, and hooking them up together in a network on Facebook or online, and doing exactly what Barack Obama did.
“He was a guy that was smart enough to put a team together that knew how to organize and drag people to the voting booths,” Scarborough explained. Obama’s get out the vote effort began well before the 2008 election and claimed the lion’s share of his early resources.”That’s what Democrats have to do less noise more work. Put your head down and work. That’s the way you win elections. That’s the only way you win elections.”
Say what you want about Joe Scarborough — I sure will — but he’s right.
Over the last few weeks, outside Republican groups have dumped enormous sums of money into supporting Ossof’s opponent Karen Handel. They didn’t have to build their campaign from scratch, either, because conservative organizing infrastructure has existed in Georgia’s 6th District for a very long time. It is built right into the local mainline protestant churches. Think of them as Erick Erickson voters: suburban, professional, mostly evangelical, and very white.
Handel was not popular, but she did not have to be. Those outside groups framed a vote for Handel as a vote against “Nancy Pelosi’s liberal agenda” as well as vote for the conservative agenda in Congress. This is not much different from the way Donald Trump was sold to Erickson voters as a hold-your-nose power grab for a Supreme Court seat (because abortion and gay wedding cakes, natch). They waved Steve Scalise’s bloody shirt.
For all of that, however, Handel won by just five points in a district where the GOP enjoys a nine point registration advantage.
Republicans currently hold 71 seats that lean more Democratic than GA-06.
— Joshua Holland (@JoshuaHol) June 21, 2017
Conservative organizers were “vote banking” all that time. We know this because very soon after polls closed, Ossoff won early voters by a much narrower margin than what he needed to overcome later results from heavily-Republican areas. Conservative organizers could accomplish that because their voters are more willing to “hold their noses” and empower their party’s agenda than progressives are.
On a good day, organizing a center-left coalition is like herding butterflies. Passionate people are always arguing about whose agenda is the purest of heart. They seem to think that another Jon Ossoff would surely win if only he had a better message, or tried a better strategy, when the truth is that Republicans are organized while Democrats are not.
Occupy and its General Assemblies appealed to the sort of people who think Robert’s Rules of Order are too authoritarian. That movement made a lot of noise, but left zero imprint on American political culture because they turned up their nose at political organizing. It is a cautionary tale of how the factionalism and bitterness of last year’s Electoral College defeat can potentially undo all the “energy” and “momentum” of the Trump era and the Indivisible movement.
The central political problem of the cultural left is that it has not challenged the political organizing power of the cultural right in an effective manner. Joe Scarborough is just being honest with us here: there are some fights that Democrats cannot win without making more Democrats.
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