DANIEL VAUGHAN: Republicans Must Act Now To Avoid A Wave Election

December 18, 2017

Two hundred thousand Republican voters are estimated to have sat out the special election in Alabama.

These 200,000 voters — and the 23,000 who cast write-in ballots — are the reason Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore lost the election.

To put that number of votes in context, approximately 80,000 voters spread across Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania decided the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. In Alabama, a thoroughly red state, those 200,000 voters were the difference between winning comfortably and losing in the photo-finish we witnessed.

Make no mistake: Roy Moore is the reason he lost — nothing else explains it.

Mass voter fraud is highly unlikely to have occurred in Alabama because they have voter ID laws to prevent fraud. Moore and his election integrity fund can’t explain away all his problems.

Moore’s problem wasn’t too many people voting — it was people refusing to show up, or writing in someone else. That’s a campaign and candidate issue.

Republican voters protested loudly in the Alabama race, and the message was clear: they wanted better candidates. Since they didn’t get better candidates, they sat out the match.

No one can blame GOP voters for doing so, especially after Moore was credibly accused of sexual assault of a minor and then vanished from the campaign trail. If Moore wasn’t going to stand before the public and media, why should his voters?

I’ve written in the past that Democrats were headed towards electoral irrelevance because they’ve learned nothing from the 2016 election and refused to change. That’s still true.

But if Republicans continue to run a campaign playbook that keeps people at home, as we’ve seen in Virginia and Alabama, all Democrats will have to do is turn out their base, and they’ll be competitive everywhere — including red states.

The million dollar question is: can the Republican Party reverse these turnout problems for the 2018 midterm elections?

They already face stiff headwinds. First, Republicans face a simple fact that their party holds the White House, which typically dooms a party in midterms.

Complicating that is the issue of Donald Trump’s presidency holding historically low first-year approval ratings, with nearly 60 percent of voters disapproving of his job performance. Trump’s approval numbers incentivize Democrats to nationalize the election and make it a referendum on Trump, targeting districts likely to see a drop off in voters, like Alabama and Virginia.

It’s worth noting that Trump’s approval numbers mean he’s losing his base too, not just centrists and independents.

Lastly, unlike the 2016 election, Trump and Republicans won’t have Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton to use as foils. While Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are worthy foes, those two don’t drive Republican voters to the polls as Clinton did in 2016. Everything falls back on Donald Trump and the Republican party.

In short, this means Republicans are working with a small margin of error and can’t afford to deal with the baggage of all the Roy Moores in the world. Republicans have lost Senate seats in years when conditions favored them. The shifting electoral fundamentals demand a change in strategy.

To that end, there are steps the Republican party can take right now to push back against a potential wave election in 2018.

First, the GOP needs strong candidates running conservative messages tailored to specific communities.

Democrats want nothing more than to run either anti-Trump campaigns or quiet campaigns bereft of substance, the latter of which is possible against bad candidates like Roy Moore. Because Moore was too busy hiding and dodging questions about dating young girls, his opponent Doug Jones went mostly unscathed in the general election.

Second, Republicans need to focus on regaining their foothold in suburban and city areas where they’re losing voters. Voters in these districts provide steady votes and campaign funds; losing them to bad candidates harms the entire party.

Finally, Republicans need Trump to govern through word and action, not his Twitter account. The random fights with D-list celebrities in the news cycle can depress voter turnout. Voters want to vote for a leader, not a Twitter handle.

In short, candidates matter.

Roy Moore was the worst possible candidate at the worst possible time for Republicans. He was the Hilary Clinton of the race: he used slow, unchanging tactics, and had no convincing answers to the credible allegations against him or his campaign. Republican leadership should have helped ensure he never had a chance in the first place.

Republicans already face an uphill battle in 2018, and they need to stop making their jobs harder. A shift in tactics needs to happen — and soon. We’re only a few months away from the first nomination contests.


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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.