Over the weekend, financial markets were sleeping. They awoke on Monday as if the weekend was a bad dream, filled with chatter about a trade war and how it was actually a good idea.
It’s not a dream, it’s reality. But is this all a stupid attempt to promote a candidate in a tariff-loving industrial district that should be winning a lot bigger? Nevermind the unreality of it, including the fact that the Pennsylvania 18th is certainly going to go away with court-ordered redistricting. There’s a special election on 13 March, and losing it would be very embarrassing.
This might all be a show to avoid losing a place where Trump should be winning bigly.
Conor Lamb is not your typical Democrat in a lot of ways. The US Marine (never former, please) and federal prosecutor has some of the appeal we expect from a Democrat. At 33, he certainly looks the part of a young insurgent, the kind of candidate that is going to win whether the very old guard of the DNC likes it or not.
In many ways, Lamb is an old-fashioned Democrat for an old fashioned kind of district.
The district, which sprawls out of the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania and around the southern part of Pittsburgh, was built on steel and aluminum. It is filled with people once called Reagan Democrats in a bygone era, before the label Democrat stopped being useful in any way whatsoever. Overwhelmingly white, the district has a 33% college graduation rate.
It went for Trump 58-39 in 2016, a 19 point spread.
Lamb has so far out-raised Saccone, the Republican, and polls show that he is within 3-5%, depending on turnout. That is consistent with the 12-15 point swing we’ve seen just about everywhere since the start of 2017. Closing a 19 point gap may be impossible, but even a close race will be embarrassing.
No matter what, Lamb is positioning himself to run in a much more favorable district once the new court-drawn map is rolled out in 2018. As it stands now, he is winning a marathon race.
But can he pull off a win now? If he does, the Republican establishment will probably flee Trump faster than … well, faster than the Democratic establishment has fled people like Lamb. It’s hard to see how someone as calm and in control as Conor Lamb can shake up the entire nation, but in crazy times the truly sane are the most “out there.”
That’s where we are today.
But is it possible that the trade war is all an attempt to impress the Pennsylvania 18 in time for the special election? We can’t say for sure, but the timing does seem very suspect. We’ll know for sure if it’s all dropped after 13 March. What we can say is that Trump does not like to be tagged with the name “Loser,” and that’s a word that has been coming up a lot since the Alabama special election. It’s also very much in Trump’s character to roll the dice very hard, meaning that he could indeed put just about everything on the line in this little district.
There’s no doubt that the money is flowing into it, too. But it may be too little, too late.
What matters most is turnout. If it is high, Lamb has a chance. At this point, raising the stakes of the election probably only benefits Democrats. But the gap is just a little bit higher than we’ve seen Democrats close anywhere else. It’s a longshot for the Democrats, at best. But it seems that Trump is the one playing it like a longshot.
Are we sacrificing the whole economy and the stock market just to impress a little corner of Pennsylvania? My hunch is that we are. And in the next eight days we’ll see if it was a good gamble or, more likely, a spectacular blunder all around.