Democrats got a double dose of welcome news in two Ohio special congressional elections yesterday, fending off a left-wing candidate in one district, while a Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE-backed coal lobbyist won the Republican nod in another.
It's usually a mistake to make too much of special elections. But Democratic leaders, like House Democratic whip James Clyburn (D-Ga.), were pleased with the outcome in the heavily-Black 11th district around Cleveland — and they believe Trump-backed Republicans may be weaker in the general election.
Shontel Brown, a Democratic Cuyahoga County councilwoman defeated left-wing opponent Nina Turner for the seat vacated by Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeSanders goes back to 2016 playbook to sell .5T budget Activists detail legal fight against HUD for Philadelphia housing Photos of the Week: Rep. Cori Bush, Beirut clash and duck derby MORE, whom President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE tapped as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
The 11th district race became a contest of the Democratic progressive mainstream versus the party's left with Clyburn and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAttorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Durham seeking indictment of lawyer with ties to Democrats: reports MORE campaigning for Brown, and Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats urge Biden to commute sentences of 4K people on home confinement Briahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Sanders 'disappointed' in House panel's vote on drug prices MORE (I-Vt.) and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Photos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan MORE (D-N.Y.) campaigning for Turner. A victory by the left would have further emboldened the activists creating schisms with House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Jan. 6 committee taps former Bush administration official as top lawyer Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan MORE (D-Calif.) and the White House.
Separately, Mike Carey, with Donald Trump's active support, won a special election for the seat of a Republican incumbent in Ohio’s 15th district who quit. Carey defeated a large field including two state legislators.
Democratic strategists privately welcome Trump's clout within the Republican party, believing a number of the non-incumbent candidates he's endorsing will be weaker against a Democrat. Ohio’s 15th, centered in the Columbus suburbs and small towns, is Republican — Trump won it by 14 points last November — but Democrats think they have an outside shot in the November general election against a first-time candidate who has been a lobbyist.
This was the second special House election where Trump has weighed in — and Carey’s victory is an impressive rebound from a Texas contest last month where Trump’s candidate lost.
Unlike most former presidents, who largely steered clear of intra-party contests, Trump is deeply engaged in primaries. The litmus test isn't ideology or any specific issue — it's solely about loyalty to him and his phony charge that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” with widespread Democratic voter fraud.
Trump is especially vitriolic against any Republican who opposed him on election fraud or impeachment. At the top of the list are Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiEmboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - DC prepares for Saturday of festivals & Jan. 6 demonstration Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee MORE (R-Alaska) and Reps. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyEmboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes Jan. 6 committee taps former Bush administration official as top lawyer Wyoming county GOP rejects effort to rescind Cheney's party status MORE (R-Wyo.) and Anthony Gonzales (R-Ohio). He also has endorsed an opponent to Brad Raffensperger, Georgia's Republican secretary of state who refused to overturn Biden's victory in the state.
Never underestimate Trump's petulance.
Texas land commissioner, George P. Bush, whose uncle and grandfather were Republican presidents, courted Trump's approval in his race for Texas attorney general. He's an outlier in a family that is anti-Trump. But Trump pulled the rug out and instead endorsed incumbent Texas AG Ken Paxton, who is under state indictment and — separately — under federal investigation. Paxton proved his Trumpian bona fides with the suit to throw out the electoral votes of several states that voted for Biden; it was quickly dismissed by the Supreme Court. Trump also undoubtedly relished sticking it to the Bush clan.
On the Democratic side, the band of left-wing House Democrats is small — a half dozen or so members in and around the so-called “squad” — but they have a disproportionately loud megaphone. Some other Democrats have been tarred with the squad's more radical sentiments.
The left-wingers’ call to “defund the police” was used against Democrats last year by Donald Trump and many Republican campaigns. It didn't work against Joe Biden, who had a long record on policing and supported reforming not defunding police, but Democrats believe it became a significant issue for some down-ballot Democrats.
(Inexplicably, Republicans generally seem able to avoid being hit with the more incendiary, even dangerous, views of their party’s fringe, like Q'Anon follower Marjorie Taylor GreeneMarjorie Taylor GreeneGOP efforts to downplay danger of Capitol riot increase The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene says she's meeting with Trump 'soon' in Florida MORE.)
The squad scored an impressive success this week in pressuring the Biden administration to partially extend a moratorium on rental evictions. But they've also caused controversies. This year Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibDemocratic bill would force Fed to defund fossil fuels Democrats brace for battle on Biden's .5 trillion spending plan 'Squad' members call on Biden to shut down Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota MORE (D-Mich.) called for the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), and Cori Bush (D-Mo) said the Fourth of July is a holiday for white people. Those aren't messages that resonate with most Americans.
Turner's loss in Ohio underscores anew the reality that the left's voice is more pronounced than their votes.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.