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After another election setback, GOP scrambles to find its footing

After the party's latest defeat in a special election, many GOP officials "seemed to be in denial."
The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014.

Over the weekend, Donald Trump assured the public that Republican candidates are undefeated -- five wins and no losses -- in recent congressional special elections. That's plainly wrong, though House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) declared the same day, "There's already been five special elections and Republicans have won all five of those."

Using that same faulty arithmetic, some Republicans are content with recent results.

Walking into the meeting, New York. Rep. Chris Collins, a close ally of President Donald Trump, called the race a "one-off.""We've won five [special elections]; they've won one. I'm feeling pretty good," he added.

I'll confess to being mystified by this. There was a congressional special election in California's 34th district last summer, which a Democrat won easily. There was also a U.S. Senate special election in Alabama in December that the GOP may have noticed.

Pretending losses didn't happen doesn't make them go away.

But even if we put Chris Collins' curious blind spots aside, the larger issue is the Republican Party's reaction to Conor Lamb's (D) apparent victory over Rick Saccone (R) in Pennsylvania's special election. Politico's report added, many GOP officials "seemed to be in denial."

The most common argument seems to be that Lamb ran "as a conservative," and since the vast majority of Democratic candidates will run on progressive platforms, this race was a fluke. There are two key problems with the assertion. First, Lamb may be to the right of the Democratic Party at the national level, but on several core issues, he's very much within the Dems' mainstream.

And second, Republicans just spent the past several weeks telling local voters that Lamb is actually a liberal partisan. Isn't it a little late for the GOP to say the opposite now?

A White House official added this morning that inside Team Trump, folks are relieved Lamb didn't win in "a blowout." The official told a CNN reporter, "For now, we'll happily take it."

But we're talking about a district the president won by 20 points, where Trump just assured locals that Rick Saccone would win "easily." Moving the goalposts, and arguing that a narrow loss is somehow a good sign, is hard to take seriously.

Postscript: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), true to form, spent some time this morning praising Donald Trump for making the race more competitive. Of course, what the Speaker didn't mention is that the president's unpopularity helped make the race competitive in the first place, and Trump's willingness to campaign for Saccone apparently wasn't enough to rescue his candidacy.