The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Reality Check about What Handel’s Win Means

Karen Handel, the Republican, won. Who among us can contain his excitement?

It’s also a win for Donald Trump for one simple and obvious reason: because the alternative would have been so much worse for him. If Handel had lost, it would have hardened the media narrative that Republicans are fleeing the president (note: I said narrative, not fiction. The man is at 72 percent among Republicans, but that’s down eleven points in two months). A Handel loss would probably have led to actual politicians fleeing the president. Meanwhile, if Ossoff had won, Democrats would have been even more emboldened. They could go to donors and say, “We bought a seat in a Republican district with a hipster doofus candidate, who got trolled into getting engaged. If we do it 23 more times, we get a Democratic House, a Speaker Pelosi, and maybe impeachment.”

In other words, in the realm of spin, appearances, and momentum, a Handel win is a huge victory for the White House. That realm is really important — more important than it should be, but really important nonetheless.

On the other hand, a Handel win is not anywhere near the victory/mandate/endorsement the Trump team will claim it to be. This is a Republican district. The only reason it was close: A lot of Republicans voted for a Democrat. So, the GOP victory on the merits is pretty limited. Spending enough money to scald a wet mule (to borrow a phrase from Haley Barbour) to hold on to a district that Tom Price (Trump’s HHS secretary) and Newt Gingrich held is not a sign of Republican health. I’m okay with calling that a moral victory for Ossoff, as the media certainly will. But a moral victory plus $1.89* will buy me a large coffee at my local Starbucks. Meanwhile, a literal defeat for the GOP would have been a disaster.

*Correction: Perhaps due to the Venti Irish whiskey the author consumed, he mis-characterized the cost of a large coffee from Starbucks. He should have written $2.89. He regrets the error, but not the whiskey. 

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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