GOP victories give Trump agenda a little breathing room

Key Points
  • The special election results demoralized Trump's opposition.
  • Republicans have held all four House seats in play since Trump's election.
  • Still, the margins of victory in each election between Democrats and Republicans continue to narrow.
Preisdent Donald Trump attends a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House June 12, 2017 in Washington, DC.
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ATLANTA — The Republican victory in the special House election here has two big implications — one more favorable for President Donald Trump than the other.

The good news for Trump from Tuesday's election is immediate. His party's campaign operatives skillfully rose to the challenge of containing the brush fire of Democratic resistance and demoralized the president's opposition.

More importantly, it calms the jitters of his own party about the consequences of aligning themselves with him. That means, notwithstanding his sub-40 percent approval rating, Trump has a slightly better chance of persuading Republican lawmakers to swallow their reservations and embrace his legislative priorities on health care, tax reform and infrastructure.

"They'll decide the stove is not that hot," said GOP strategist Liam Donovan.

The longer-term implication is less reassuring for Republicans. They have held all four House seats that opened up after the president selected their representatives for his Cabinet. Yet in each case — including both Georgia's 6th District and South Carolina's 5th on Tuesday night — Democrats ran much closer than they had in 2014.

That points toward a 2018 mid-term election climate even more favorable than opposition parties typically enjoy in the early phase of a new president's tenure. They will have plenty of targets, and are highly likely to gain seats next November, in addition to being favored in governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia this fall.

"The House is in play, period," Donovan said. That was clear merely from the fact that Georgia's 6th, a longtime GOP stronghold, was competitive in the first place.

What Democrats have not yet shown, however, is the capacity to break through in enough places to flip control of the House. To achieve their required net gain of at least 24 seats, Democratic need to win some contests like last night's race.

Though Republican Tom Price cruised to victory there last year, Trump barely won it over Hillary Clinton. The district is packed with the sort of affluent, college-educated Republicans least congenial to the president.

A Democratic breakthrough, shifting control of the House for the third time in a dozen years, could yet happen. For all the controversy Trump has generated, this year's special elections occurred with the backdrop of a solid economy at home and relative calm abroad. Trump has not faced any major external crisis.

For now, however, the president and GOP leaders can breathe a bit easier. As Congress tries to push health-care legislation across the finish line and take up tax reform soon thereafter, that's progress.