Sure, Maybe Republicans’ Loss in New York Is a One-Off. Or Maybe …

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Earlier this month, Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson spoke on the Fox Business channel about Mazi Pilip, the party’s nominee to replace George Santos in New York’s 3rd Congressional District.

“She’s gonna get that job done,” he said, predicting a victory that would reverberate across the country. “It’ll send a strong message to the Democrats that, coming into this election cycle, we have great candidates. We’re feeling really bullish about the future.”

Two weeks later, Pilip lost her race to Democrat Tom Suozzi by a nearly 8-point margin. Johnson, speaking at the Capitol on Wednesday, now expressed a different view about whether the race had national implications.

Pilip’s loss “is in no way a bellwether of what’s going to happen this fall,” he said, and “has nothing to do on the efforts going forward.” Johnson argued that the race’s dynamics wouldn’t pertain to other swing-district elections because Democrats spent so heavily on advertising and ran a candidate who agreed with Republicans that the influx of migrants at the southern border constitutes a national crisis.

“They spent about $15 million to win a seat that President Biden won by 8 points; they won it by less than 8 points,” he said. (Technically correct: It was 7.8 points.) “Their candidate ran like a Republican—he sounded like a Republican, talking about border and immigration, because that’s the top issue on the hearts and minds of everybody.”

There are two immediate problems with Johnson’s argument. First: While it’s true that Democrats spent more on advertising in the race than Republicans did, this was not a matter of random bad luck. Immediately after Johnson was elected as speaker, Republicans in districts that could easily swing back to the Dems—including those in New York and California—have been saying they are worried that Johnson isn’t as good at raising money as his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy was a genial country-club backslapper who’d been in leadership for years; Johnson is a right-wing evangelical conservative who was unknown nationally until he won the speakership in October because House Republicans couldn’t figure out anyone else to give it to. Per Ballotpedia, Democratic congressional campaign committees have raised $315 million during this campaign cycle, while Republicans have raised $257 million.

Secondly, Suozzi’s statements and advertisements about immigration don’t, like, not count because they co-opted Republican talking points. In fact, in the wake of his victory, the idea of doing such co-opting more broadly is the chief topic of discussion among Democrats and in the national political press. Any other Democrat running for Congress who wants to copy Suozzi’s rhetoric about the “top issue on the hearts and minds of everybody” can do it immediately!

Drill down a bit and there’s a bigger problem under both of these things. McCarthy got swapped for a weaker fundraiser in Johnson because Republicans have a tiny majority in the House and a small number of far-right representatives can depose the speaker anytime they want. They threaten to do this—and, last fall, did it—when the speaker says he wants to cooperate in even the most limited way with Democrats to maintain an operating government or pass legislation. This premise, that bipartisan cooperation is betrayal, is also why Republicans killed the Senate’s Ukraine-immigration bill, which in turn is what gave Democrats like Tom Suozzi the opportunity to legitimately say they would do more than their opponents to fund border security and prevent undocumented immigrants from entering the country.

Pilip, while a little less of a wild card than George Santos, was also not what operatives would call a quality recruit. When she began the race, she was a registered Democrat. Her husband had been sued for allegedly failing to pay tens of thousands of dollars in a “lease dispute.” She told everyone that she’d been a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces, only for reporting to reveal that she’d merely done weapons maintenance for paratroopers and had never been in combat.

In reality, Mike Johnson probably recognized a lot of what he saw in New York’s 3rd: A new-to-politics candidate with red flags in their past who gets caught lying a lot; big donors staying on the sidelines because they don’t trust the new generation of Republican leaders; the ceding of middle ground on basic issues to Democrats because of conspiratorial thinking and a collective insistence on valorizing partisan hostility and obstinacy. And both you and he likely know the reason why those are features, not bugs, for his party. (The reason is former President Donald Trump!) It’s appropriate that the Pilip-Suozzi vote was held in February, really, because for the modern GOP, every election might as well be Groundhog Day.