Another voice: Big tent, big result

Published March 15, 2018

The result of a Tuesday special election in a usually solid Republican congressional district is just the latest sign that the GOP's toxic embrace of President Donald Trump is hurting not only the country but also their party. With all precincts reporting and absentee ballots counted, Democrat Conor Lamb held a slight lead over Republican Rick Saccone, pending a possible recount. This in a district that Democrats did not even contest in the two previous elections.

Many voters are looking for what Trump doesn't have: levelheadedness. "People are so tired of the shouting on TV and in our politics," Lamb said when claiming victory. "Our job in Congress is to attack the problems, not each other," he continued, promising to "work with anyone." These are similar themes to those that Democrat Doug Jones sounded when he won an improbable victory in an Alabama Senate race in December.

For Democrats to take full advantage of this moment, they must be a big-tent party. Lamb did not pass progressive purity tests. He opposes new gun control measures and practically ran against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Some of his views, such as favoring Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs, represent unfortunate breaks with old establishment Democratic positions.

Such differences should not be disqualifying. Democrats should show that they can be a governing party mature enough to look for common ground with those who share an interest in orderly, compassionate government. Republicans forgot that calm competence and public-spiritedness should be the essential requirements for public office. Democrats should not.

Some Republicans blamed the Pennsylvania results on their candidate, who ran an uninspiring campaign and failed to raise enough money. Yet money was not Saccone's problem after national GOP funding was channeled into the race. And Saccone was not substantially less inspiring than many other Republican officeholders. Rather, Saccone was caught in a Trump trap from which he could not buy or talk his way out: embrace the president and risk inflaming the many voters tired of the chaos, vanity and boorishness; or chart an independent course and risk alienating the pro-Trump GOP base. Saccone chose to associate closely with the president, and suburban voters punished him.

Many other Republican candidates will face a similar dilemma this year. They have no one to blame but themselves, having for the most part compliantly acceded to Trump's takeover of the GOP and accelerating debasement of the nation's politics. But their answer should not be embracing Trump, which carries not only electoral peril but also the moral cost of empowering a man many Republicans know to be arbitrary, unwise and incompetent.