Megan McCardle, currently of The Washington Post and previously of The Atlantic and Reason, might have had the best summation of what the Democrats’ issues were in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election.
“With Amy McGrath, progressive professionals continue their venerable tradition of piling their money into a big pile and ceremonially lighting it on fire in the hopes that the Gods of Hopeless Causes will reward them by unseating entrenched incumbents in deep-red areas,” she tweeted after the Democratic Senate candidate lost in the deep-red state of Kentucky.
With Amy McGrath, progressive professionals continue their venerable tradition of piling their money into a big pile and ceremonially lighting it on fire in the hopes that the Gods of Hopeless Causes will reward them by unseating entrenched incumbents in deep-red areas.
— Megan McArdle (@asymmetricinfo) November 4, 2020
McGrath was seen as yet again a way to dethrone Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, an obsession that’s always seemed quixotic and curious since I first studied it six years ago.
This time, the sacrificial lamb was a Naval Academy graduate and Marine Corps vet who also became the first woman to fly a combat mission in the F/A-18 Hornet.
McGrath was also supposed to be riding some sort of blue wave that would remake the South and put fresh faces like her in traditionally red states, essentially upending the map for years to come and forcing the Republican Party to adopt a more moderate stance.
It was all supposed to work out so well. Never mind that McGrath had tried the same thing with a House seat just two years prior and, while she’d managed to gain national attention, didn’t actually manage to get the seat.
After spending a whole lot of money in the Bluegrass State, alas, she was no closer to dethroning McConnell, losing 58 to 38 percent with 93.75 percent reporting.
This was actually a much wider margin than polls had predicted; of the handful tracked by RealClearPolitics, the biggest lead that McConnell ever had was 12 points.
Ah, but what a lovely fire that cash made!
If were just Amy McGrath, we could let it slide. In 2014, polling convinced Democrats that Alison Lundergan Grimes had a chance against McConnell. If by “a chance,” you mean that she did better than McGrath, then yes — she did. McConnell won by a 56-40 margin.
The difference was that Grimes wasn’t shoveling bricks of $100s into the air intake of an F/A-18 Hornet.
McGrath wasn’t alone this election cycle, either. She was one of three Democratic candidates for the upper house who sucked up attention and resources from candidates who could have won and needed it, according to The Washington Free Beacon’s Collin Anderson.
“The campaigns of Kentucky’s Amy McGrath, South Carolina’s Jaime Harrison, and Texas’s M.J. Hegar burned through nearly $200 million, and outside groups backing them spent an additional $60 million boosting the three candidates,” he wrote.
“The figure dwarfs the total amount spent in the 1996 presidential race — Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, and Ross Perot combined to spend less than $240 million. The influx of cash, however, failed to woo voters, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), and Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) each won their races by double digits.
“The money could have been put to use in North Carolina. Democratic Senate nominee Cal Cunningham — who spent less than $47 million on his race as of October 14 — trailed Sen. Thom Tillis (R.) by less than 100,000 votes late Tuesday evening.”
It wasn’t just Cal Cunningham, either, but we’ll get to that in a second.
All three of the candidates represented quixotic causes of the Democrats. In two of them, it had to do with getting people out of the Senate — McConnell in one situation and Graham in the other, both of them terminally unpopular among Democrats. In terms of Hegar, there’s always this grand scheme in which the journey of a thousand miles in terms of turning Texas blue begins with dethroning a popular Lone Star GOP functionary.
In the race against McConnell, as previously noted, things didn’t work out. The same thing happened with Graham, who was close-ish in the polls with Harrison before he pulled away to victory in the general election. Only a few polls were indexed by RealClearPolitics and they rated the race a toss-up. Of six polls indexed since the end of July, three were ties and none showed Graham with a lead larger than 6 points.
So about that: Graham ended up winning by an impressive 11 points on Tuesday.
And then there was Cornyn. Remember, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke was the original poster child for wasting money on a Senate race two years ago when the cash donated to his run against Sen. Ted Cruz didn’t make him victorious. Cornyn never had as much of a target on his back as Cruz did, and Mary Jennings Hegar — a former Air Force pilot of her own — didn’t have star power that O’Rourke had.
That didn’t stop Democrats from lighting another pile of cash ablaze. The RealClearPolitics polls were never particularly close, but they didn’t show Cornyn with a 1o-point win, which is what he ended up getting.
If these were the seats needed to flip the Senate, that would be fine. That isn’t the case as of Tuesday morning.
Cornyn, McConnell and Graham were three of the most difficult incumbents to take down. Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins, meanwhile, was seen as an easy pickoff. As of Wednesday morning, she maintained a significant lead over Sarah Gideon by 9 points.
GOP challenger John James continued to hold a narrow lead over incumbent Democrat Sen. Gary Peters in Michigan. North Carolina’s Cunningham could have used that money. So, too, could have Georgia’s Jon Ossoff.
For yet another year, this is money thrown down the drain on a pipe dream of expanding the map.
Instead, as of Wednesday afternoon, the chances of flipping the Senate are almost nil for the Democrats.
The Democrats were supposed to stand against big money, last I checked. Maybe that’s just because they can’t make it work for them.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.