don't be complacent

Democratic Donkey and Republican Elephant by DonkeyHotey

Spare me these embarrassing, condescending excuses for why a Democrat cannot win a closely contested special election. It’s been only a matter of hours since most major news outlets called the election for Karen Handel, but already I’ve grown tired of hearing “but it was close, which is a win in itself,” “Tom Price won by over 20 points in the last election, so the fact that it was even close surely says something,” or other meaningless variants of this infuriating phrase.

I understand what these people are saying, I was once in the same place that they currently are. They mean that the fact a 30-year-old, liberal, progressive, Democrat, almost beat out a seasoned politician and Republican former secretary of state, in an affluent Southern district should be a win for Democrats. But it isn’t.

Sure, it’s great that Trump’s favorability ratings (or more appropriately, unfavorability ratings) are so low that he dragged what should have been a sure-fire win down to a last second finish.

Sure, it’s great that at least some percentage of people who voted for Putin Trump are now recognizing what a colossal mistake that was, and are striking back by voting Democrat now.

Sure, we should be optimistic about what this means for the future. We should also be hopeful about retaking the House (and dare I say, Senate) in the midterms by winning back districts that are normally purple, or at least a light red, rather than having to win deep red seats like GA-6.

All of those things are true. But this still isn’t a win. Why not? BECAUSE WE LOST. AGAIN. Kansas-4, Montana-At Large, and the Georgia-6, all districts that Democrats thought they had a shot at winning, all districts that Democrats lost relatively narrowly, and all places that Democrats claimed a victory of sorts despite that loss. But true victory has proved elusive in all the aforementioned cases, and that matters. Because even though the races were close, the results are, for all intents and purposes, the same as if it was a blowout: a Republican is still in office. George W Bush narrowly won in 2000 (though I might make the case that he actually lost had the SCOTUS not issued such a bizarre ruling) and because of that narrow win, we have the Iraq War and the Great Recession. Donald Trump narrowly won (because apparently losing the vote count by nearly 3,000,000 still counts as winning) and because of that, we have, well, Donald Trump. A narrow win is still a narrow win. And because of these narrow wins, Republicans will continue to, at least until 2018, hold on to a comfortable Congressional majority.

Democrats need to realize that it doesn’t matter how close they come, or how many times they come within a razor’s edge: when they lose, they lose. I’m not issuing these condemnations because I am removed from this situation. I woke up early in the morning, to drive to GA-6, to canvass door-to-door for Ossoff. I had people threaten me with the police (and more than once, physically) because of what I was doing for his campaign. I was involved with his movement. I’m issuing these condemnations so Democrats don’t get complacent, so Democrats don’t get comfortable with a loss, so that when the next election comes, Democrats don’t give a damn about how close it is, because ultimately, the most important thing is winning. In a winner-take-all system the only thing that matters is winning. The sooner we as Democrats realize that, the sooner we can finally do it.

Image: Democratic Donkey & Republican Elephant - Caricatures by DonkeyHotey (flickr/CC).

Matt Blakely

Matt Blakely is a political consultant and strategist based in Atlanta, Georgia. He focuses on Democratic campaigns and progressive causes.