What Ossoff Should Have Done

Here’s a rarity for you, readers: I’m going to agree with Donald Trump about something. In February 2016, then-candidate Trump said “It takes guts to run for president.”

He’s right. In fact, it takes guts to run for anything these days; since every political contest is seen not only as having huge national implications, but as being the front line in the battle between Good and Evil. It tends to make people… passionate.

The Georgia 6th district election is the latest example. The most expensive Congressional election in history, it drew national attention. Trump tweeted his support for Republican Karen Handel before the election, and tweeted congratulations when she won.

Everyone viewed it as a proxy battle in the national contest between Trumpism and anti-Trumpism. Everyone, that is, except Rep. Handel and her Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff. They both tried to keep their campaigns focused on local issues.

The district is historically Republican, so it stands to reason that Handel’s strategy would be–no pun intended–conservative. But Ossoff, rather than shying away from the national fight, should have fully embraced it and positioned himself as the bold lone warrior–the last line of defense against tyranny.

Hyperbolic? A bit, sure. But in political campaigns as in military ones, “Fortune favors the bold”.

One reason Trump’s campaign did so well is that he was willing to take political risks and say shocking things that most politicians would never dare utter, but that riled his core supporters into a frenzy.

This strategy is, of course, risky. Trump alienated a lot of people–probably the majority of people, in fact–with his statements, but the people who liked them really, REALLY liked them.

Trump’s campaign created the following cycle, which it used continuously from its first day to its last:

  1.  Trump says something outrageous
  2. Press and politicians react with horror
  3. Trump refuses to back down.
  4. This galvanizes Trump’s core supporters

This strategy made sense, because Trump was the underdog. When you are the underdog, you have to take big risks, because it’s the only way to change the calculus that has made you an underdog in the first place.

The central gamble of Trump’s campaign was that it was worth it to alienate moderates in order to get a really fired-up core of supporters. It worked. (Barely.)

Now: what did Ossoff do to try to whip his supporters into a frenzy? As near as I can tell, not much. I knew little about Ossoff except that he was the Democrat in Georgia who people thought might pull off an upset. That’s nice, and if I had lived there, I would have voted for him. But that’s it–there was nothing I heard about the man himself that made me think, “Ossoff is the only one who can save America!”

Ossoff portrayed himself as a generic, clean-cut Democrat. That would have worked if he’d been in a Democratic-leaning district. But as it was, he should have been more willing to embrace the theme that he was fighting to save the last bastion of freedom on Earth, rather than to make things more fair for the people in the 6th district.

People might say that I’m just Monday Morning Quarterbacking, and I guess that’s a valid criticism. But all we know for sure is that the Democrats lost an election they thought they could win. Again. Maybe my ideas on campaign strategy won’t work, but at this point its fair to say that what the Democrats have been doing isn’t working either.


  1. Insofar as Ossoff is concerned, I think you’re wrong. Embracing the “referendum” pseudo-platform would have just made things worse. That sort of tactic doesn’t work in The South; we don’t play, like, or even really tolerate that game.

    Of course, nothing Ossoff did could have helped him much. He was exactly the wrong candidate for that election, or any traditionally GOP district in The South really. He was a “carpetbagger.” He was too young, not a family man, and not a churchgoer.

    1. You may well be right that Ossoff was the wrong man for the district, and that he pretty much reached his vote ceiling. But if so, I’d have still advised him to embrace the drama of it all–if you are going to lose, at least lose in as spectacular and attention-getting a way as you can. Then he would have been a hero to his Party’s base, instead of being viewed as just another Establishment loser.

      1. I might agree with that – despite being on the opposing side – except that Ossoff got 48.1% of the votes in April, whereas all the Republicans combined only got 40.2% with Handel getting 19.8%. Then the left’s Sturm und Drang started. The result was that Ossof once again got 48.1% of the votes but Handel got 51.9%.

        So…All that nationwide attention and all those 10s of millions of out of state dollars seemed to have, not increased Ossoff’s votes at all, but they sure as Hell increased Handels. Hence, while embracing the rhetoric might be “glorious,” in this case it would seem fruitless and even contraindicated.

        1. Good points, but it seems to me that could just be indicative of the fact that people tend not to participate as much in primaries, and so a natural increase in the number of people voting was likely to increase the Republican’s percentage–just by virtue of there being more total Republicans than Democrats in that district.

          But all attempts at understanding election results involve some element of guesswork–all we can say for sure is that what Ossoff did definitely didn’t work.

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