Conor McGregor, the brash mixed martial arts star from Dublin, is a considerable underdog in his much-anticipated matchup with boxer Floyd Mayweather this August. Many experts are predicting McGregor will be defeated quickly, some even calling the whole thing a farce; McGregor is a formidable fighter, but Mayweather is the best at what he does, and he’ll be fighting on his turf, by his rules. This hasn't stopped McGregor from mouthing off about knockouts and letting his coach commission a mural in his gym depicting McGregor clocking Mayweather in the jaw. McGregor may regret this later. Unfulfilled hype can be more painful than a sound beating.
McGregor would be wise to take a minute and learn from what Jon Ossoff and the Democrats just went through. Ossoff lost Tuesday’s runoff election for Georgia’s vacant 6th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which has been open since President Trump appointed Tom Price as his secretary of Health and Human Services. Democrats went all in to elect Ossoff, despite the fact that the district is gerrymandered to insulate GOP candidates; disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich represented the 6th, which is just north of Atlanta, for 20 years. So it isn’t surprising that it stayed red on Tuesday — even though Ossoff’s opponent, Karen Handel, is a proud vote suppressor and opponent of LGBTQ rights who said the words “I do not support a livable wage” aloud during a debate. It didn’t matter. Handel was always going to win, and Democrats paid a price for promoting Ossoff as a favorite — or at least, for allowing the narrative to paint him as such.
Yes, it was close, and that should be keeping the Democrats’ chins up. Ossoff suffered only a four-point loss — a narrow defeat in a district where Republicans typically rout their opponents by upward of 20 points. He and his party forced a Republican to spend millions to protect a district that’s quite literally built to elect people like Handel. While not enough, a lot of people there are clearly turned off by Trumpism. Plus, the Republican-controlled House is perhaps just slightly more popular than Katy Perry’s new album or The Mummy right now, and Handel is joining that team. Like the rest of that bunch, Handel will be up for reelection in 2018, and in a district that is only growing more ethnically and politically diverse. Plus, barring a sudden shift in reality, Trump is only going to get worse as time passes.
Despite all this, media freaked out a bit after the returns came in Tuesday night, emphasizing that Handel’s win would encourage Republicans on Capitol Hill to crush Obamacare (as if they aren’t set upon doing that anyway). After Ossoff’s loss, freshman House Democrat Ro Khanna of California used the occasion to call for opinion writers to replace party leadership, which would be like watching fans coach the team. (Flattering columnists won’t make your idea sound any less foolish, Congressman.)
But why should anything that happened on Tuesday be discouraging to anyone on the left? Bed-wetting Democrats should remember that special-election defeats aren’t the best predictors for the following year’s general races. As much experience as they have had in losing lately — the last four special elections against Republicans, including one in South Carolina on Tuesday — you’d think that Democrats would be better at it.
By exacerbating the hype surrounding the Georgia special election, Democrats did themselves a great disservice. The best thing to do in the short term may have been to encourage Ossoff’s run while not completely abandoning him, and to share some of the attention heaped upon him with Archie Parnell, the Democrat who came even closer to winning Tuesday night in the special election for White House budget director Mick Mulvaney’s former seat in South Carolina’s 5th District. It also seems odd, as University of North Carolina sociologist Zeynep Tufekci noted on Twitter after Ossoff’s loss, that Democrats and their allies would repeat their 2016 mistakes, going full bore after an unlikely win in enemy territory at the expense of attention (and funding) paid to grassroots efforts to mobilize party support in winnable districts. Democrats continue to think Trump is their primary enemy, when in truth it’s voter apathy. Why starve young, hungry leaders at the local level to promote one star prospect?
The other party just sent a septuagenarian grandfather who yells at televisions to the Oval Office, yet an odd notion persists that it’s the Democrats who don’t have a good “bench” of young stars. So, it’s understandable why everyone started tripping when the 30-year-old novice showed up looking like the next One. The hype became the central problem in the 6th District race, the most expensive in House history. By buying into it, Democrats helped embolden the Republican argument for the importance of this one House race that was already rigged against them. That isn’t an argument against competing in red states and districts, but Democrats should probably focus a lot more on winning back the enthusiasm and support of those already inclined to vote for them. As McGregor may learn soon, believing the hype only makes it hurt worse in the end.