No, Conor Lamb Didn’t Run As A Conservative

Republicans are claiming that Conor Lamb won Tuesday's Special Election in Pennsylvania because he campaigned as a conservative. These people are either deluded or lying.

The razor-thin win by Democratic nominee Conor Lamb in Tuesday’s Special Election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District must really have Republicans worried, because they are doing their best to claim that his victory in a district that has overwhelmingly sent a Republican to Congress in every election since 2002, and which went for President Trump by 20 points in 2016, is anything other than a stunning rebuke of the Republican Party in general and President Trump specifically.

Consider, for example, these comments from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders yesterday:

House Speaker Paul Ryan stressed to reporters that it’s “too soon to say what’s going to happen” with the razor-thin House race in Pennsylvania and that the Democratic party “picked a candidate who could run as a conservative” in order to secure a win.

By 1 a.m. Wednesday, Democrats had all but declared victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, with hundreds of absentee votes outstanding. Republican candidate and Trump-backed Rick Saccone would have to win a significant margin of the remaining votes to declare victory.

Ryan told reporters at the House GOP’s weekly press conference that Tuesday’s election was not a “big surprise” but that no matter who eventually wins, the candidate is going to be a conservative.

“Both these people, both candidates ran as conservative — ran as pro-gun, pro-life, anti-Nancy Pelosi conservatives,” said Ryan.

He added,”So this is something that you’re not going to see repeated because they didn’t have a primary.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Ohio, warned reporters at the press conference, “Remember, we have to be careful about making sweeping predictions” when it came to the narrow race.

Earlier at the Republicans’ Wednesday meeting, Ryan’s message to caucus members was that the race was much closer than it needed to be. He also stressed to Republicans that the Pennsylvania race should be seen as a sort of wake-up call for the 2018 midterms.

Ryan later told reporters of his charge to the caucus: “We need to execute, we need to get our message, and we need to make sure our candidates aren’t massively outspent as was the case.”

President Trump made the same claim during a speech at a St. Louis fundraiser last night:

President Trump weighed in on the Pennsylvania special election on Wednesday, telling donors at a private fundraiser in Missouri that Democrat Conor Lamb defeated Republican Rick Saccone in the House race because he ran “like Trump.”  According to audio of the remarks obtained by The Atlantic, Mr. Trump said Lamb had run a “pretty smart race” and “sounds like a Republican.”

“The young man last night that ran, he said, ‘Oh, I’m like Trump. Second Amendment, everything. I love the tax cuts, everything.’ He ran on that basis,” Mr. Trump said. “He ran on a campaign that said very nice things about me. I said, ‘Is he a Republican? He sounds like a Republican to me.’

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican leadership used that same talking pointwhen addressing the election with reporters at their weekly press conference on Wednesday. Ryan told reporters that no matter who eventually wins, the candidate is going to be a conservative.

“Both these people, both candidates ran as conservative — ran as pro-gun, pro-life, anti-Nancy Pelosi conservatives,” said Ryan.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, applauded Lamb’s tactic of appealing to conservative voters in the state’s 18th congressional district — an area the president won by nearly 20 points in the 2016 election. It was his first time commenting on the race, seen as yet another blow to the Republican’s control of the House.

The president questioned, however, if Lamb would stick to his conservative values when voting on House floor.

“The bottom line is when he votes, he’s going to vote with Nancy Pelosi. And he’s gonna vote with Schumer,” Mr. Trump said. “And that’s what’s gonna happen, and there’s nothing he can do about it. So it doesn’t matter what he feels, it doesn’t matter.”

Much of what we’re seeing here is, of course, a standard operating procedure for a party that has suffered a loss in a district that it should have won under ordinary circumstances. As I noted above, Tim Murphy, who held this seat dating back to when he was first elected in 2002, had won by double digits in every election he ran there. Just sixteen months ago, President Trump won the district by twenty points, and it has gone for the Republican candidate in nearly every Presidential election for the past two decades or more even as Pennsylvania as a whole went Democratic in every Presidential election from 1988 until Trump finally won the state for the GOP in 2016. Under ordinary circumstances, this is a district that a Republican should have won easily even in a hard to predict Special Election. Instead, we got an election where the Democratic nominee appears to have defied the odds and pulled off a narrow victory.

It is true that Lamb ran as a more moderate Democrat than you would see in a place such as Massachusetts. Specifically, he stayed away from making direct attacks on the President and early on in the race said that he would not support Nancy Pelosi in a bid for leader of the House Democratic Caucus or if Democrats take back the House in November, Speaker of the House and would prefer new leadership for House Democrats. As Amber Phillips at The Washington Post notes, though, this is hardly a unique position in the Democratic Party given that 63 Democrats voted against Pelosi in the last leadership election. Additionally, as Politico notes there are already many Democratic incumbents and hopefuls who are running in 2018 who say they’d prefer someone other than Pelosi, Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn in leadership positions after the 2018 elections. Given that, Lamb is hardly out of step with his party when it comes to the question of who should lead the party in the House after November.

When it comes to the issues, though, Lamb is hardly the conservative that Paul Ryan, President Trump, and other Republicans are claiming him to Instead, Lamb ran on a record that was clearly Democratic and not either conservative or Trumpian in any respect, as Jon Favreau, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama noted in a tweet yesterday. For example, during his campaign, Lamb came up publicly in support of universal health care and against the tax cut package that was signed into law late last year. Additionally, while Lamb said he opposed a national ban on so-called “assault weapons,” he supported expanded background checks that would include sales at gun shows and other private transfers of weapons that currently are not covered by the Federal background check law. He came out in favor of stronger unions, against, cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and in favor of medical marijuana. Finally, while it’s true that Lamb stated repeatedly that he was personally opposed to abortion, he also said that he opposes most restrictions on abortion that Republicans and conservatives support, specifically included a ban on abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy except in limited circumstances, something that has become a high priority for the so-called “pro-life” movement in recent years. Indeed, this has led one writer at National Review to call Lamb “extreme” in his “pro-abortion” views.

While it’s true that Lamb is more moderate in some of his positions than many in the Democratic Party, it’s quite simply a lie to say that he campaigned as a “conservative.” Republicans who continue to parrot this line are either lying or they are the Baghdad Bob of American politics.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2018, Congress, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    It’s come to the point where some wingnuts on the right portray an electoral win by the Democratic candidate as a massive defeat for the Democrats.

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  2. gVOR08 says:

    Interesting that Paul Ryan is so sure Lamb ran as a conservative. From what I see, Lamb ran against Paul Ryan the way GOPs run against Nancy Pelosi. (Aside from passing Obamacare, what horror is Pelosi supposed to have committed?) Although he said he wouldn’t vote for Pelosi for Leader or Speaker, and no matter how conservative Ryan pretends Lamb is, I’m pretty sure Lamb won’t vote for Ryan.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Kathy:

    One might say that Lamb’s victory is great news for John McCain.

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  4. MBunge says:

    moderate

    You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    “The former assistant U.S. attorney has vocally expressed his personal views on abortion and gun control and supported President Trump’s recent steel and aluminum tariff legislation.” http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/meet-conor-lamb-democrat-nab-seat-trump-country/story?id=53685989

    Yes, he has no conservative or Trumpian positions if you decide to ignore all his conservative and Trumpian positions.

    It’s tempting to snap back when Ryan and Trump try to claim this guy for themselves but a guy who says he won’t vote for Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker, a position embraced by less than 30% of Democrats in the House, is by definition NOT a moderate…at least not by today’s standards.

    You’re trying too hard.

    Mike

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  5. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    I would definitely vote against Pelosi.
    Also, I am against banning guns, but for expanding regulations on gun owners.
    How many of you think I am a Conservative???
    I have to say though, that calling President Dennison or Speaker Ryan a liar is an understatement of their overall level of mendacity. Indeed, it does not seem possible to be a Republican today without being a pathological liar; the parties extremist ideology demands an outright scorn for facts, evidence, and science.

  6. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @MBunge:
    Um…he supports constitutional access to abortion…that’s not even close to being a Republicanist view.
    And tariffs are far more liberal than conservative…indeed Republicanists for years have been screaming about free-trade.
    So yeah, Bunge…once again you are turning circles to try to justify your sycophancy.

  7. Monala says:

    @MBunge: So now liberal and conservative are defined by one’s approval or lack thereof of Nancy Pelosi? A lot of people on the left who dislike Pelosi for various reasons might find that very interesting.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @Monala:
    That is literally how the Bung thinks.

  9. wr says:

    @MBunge: So, Bungles, would you care to cast your gaze back, say, five days and see what the Republicans were saying about Lamb BEFORE he won? As I recall he was a vicious leftist who hates America and — literally — hates God. Which one is true?

    (Oh, forgot you’re a Trumpie — “true” means “in accordance with fact or reality.”)

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  10. Timothy Watson says:

    @gVOR08: “Aside from passing Obamacare, what horror is Pelosi supposed to have committed?”

    She’s a woman, from San Francisco, that’s enough to get on the “Enemies of America” list according to wingnuts.

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  11. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    It is telling that Bungles never stands up for what he has written.
    He just types the $hit and runs.

  12. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @gVOR08:

    Aside from passing Obamacare, what horror is Pelosi supposed to have committed?

    For Republicans it’s just another case of irrational hatred.
    For me, I just don’t think she is effective, or can be effective, in countering Trumpism. The Democrats need strong leaders. Schumer and Pelosi ain’t that.

  13. Kylopod says:

    What’s especially amusing is that this argument is absolutely brand new. Before the election they were all attempting to paint Lamb as a Pelosi-loving liberal. For example, here is an excerpt from an ad from Paul Ryan’s super-PAC:

    His name is Conor Lamb. But in Washington, he’d be one of Nancy Pelosi’s sheep…. Lamb would join the liberal flock and follow Pelosi’s lead. Voting the straight liberal party line for Pelosi’s extreme agenda.

    What’s weird about this is that up to now I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Republicans claim a Democrat as their own (well, at least since Joe Lieberman). They don’t go around saying this kind of stuff about red-state Dems like Joe Manchin, Jon Tester, or Claire McCaskill–all of whom have at least as strong a claim to being moderates as Conor Lamb does.

    In any case, there’s nothing new or surprising about a candidate running more toward the center in a state or district dominated by the other party. But the parties are way more polarized than they were several decades ago. The Democrats used to have real ultraconservatives in their ranks (Phil Gramm and Rick Perry were Democrats as late as the 1980s, Roy Moore as late as the 1990s). The Blue Dogs of today have got nothing on the Dixiecrats of yesteryear.

  14. James Pearce says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    For me, I just don’t think she is effective, or can be effective, in countering Trumpism. The Democrats need strong leaders. Schumer and Pelosi ain’t that.

    True.

    Also…this.

  15. RGardner says:

    CBS News above

    Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Ohio, warned reporters

    I didn’t know Spokane was in Ohio.

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Darryl, James, from the WaPo:

    Pelosi makes history, and enemies, as an effective House speaker

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is so unpopular in some places that she often avoids public appearances. During a recent House recess, she hopscotched across the country, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars at closed-door fundraisers, turning up in public only at the White House and in her hometown of San Francisco.

    But under the Capitol dome, Pelosi is a towering figure, perhaps even a historic one. Capped by her central role in passing the landmark health-care bill in March, the California Democrat, 70, has transformed herself from the caricature of a millionaire liberal with impeccable fashion taste into a speaker on par with the revered Sam Rayburn, according to historians, pollsters and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

    According to many who should know, Pelosi was very effective as speaker, far more effective than her predecessor or the 2 who have followed her in the role. I’m not sure what has changed that make you think she would be ineffective now.

  17. Tyrell says:

    He could very well be a member of the Southern Democrat party.
    It seems like we are seeing a lot of Democrats trying to move as far and as fast as they can away from Hillary, Pelosi, and Obama. Moving into the province of Johnson, Ervin, Fulbright, Mills, Carter, Connally, Nunn, Long, Hollings.

  18. charon says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    For me, I just don’t think she is effective, or can be effective, in countering Trumpism. The Democrats need strong leaders. Schumer and Pelosi ain’t that.

    70% of Democrats voted for her to be speaker, maybe they think she is effective.

    Who is in the better position to judge, you or them?

  19. gVOR08 says:

    @Timothy Watson:

    @gVOR08: “Aside from passing Obamacare, what horror is Pelosi supposed to have committed?”
    She’s a woman, from San Francisco, that’s enough to get on the “Enemies of America” list according to wingnuts.

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    For Republicans it’s just another case of irrational hatred.

    Very true. Rhetorical question. Pelosi as the bogeyperson is just another testament to the right’s ability to create a crisis or an enemy out of nothing. like IRS, Benghazi, etc.

    Although it’s unfair, she has become a political liability. Lamb looks like he’s good at this. I wouldn’t be surprised if he cleared this with Pelosi months ago. Pelosi seems to me to have been quite strong and effective. There are limits to what she can do, elections have consequences. That said, maybe it’s a good time to make way for younger leadership.

  20. James Pearce says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    According to many who should know, Pelosi was very effective as speaker

    It’s been over 7 years since she was speaker, though, and while her tenure should be celebrated, she’s been in the House since 1987. Babies born on the day she took office are approaching their 31st birthdays. Their kids are about to be teenagers.

    I guess the question is whether that seat is just reward for over 3 decades of service (the first female whip! The first female speaker!*) or whether it’s something, well, bigger than that.

    * Which, by the way, will always be true. I mean, the ink is dry on that one. If she resigns tonight, that’s already in the history books.

  21. Kylopod says:

    @Tyrell:

    It seems like we are seeing a lot of Democrats trying to move as far and as fast as they can away from Hillary, Pelosi, and Obama. Moving into the province of Johnson, Ervin, Fulbright, Mills, Carter, Connally, Nunn, Long, Hollings.

    Your list includes people of vastly different outlooks. Several of those people were open segregationists, while Johnson is the president who signed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, and Carter rejected racism for almost his entire career. Mills played a significant role in the creation of Medicare, which Ervin and Fulbright opposed. Nunn is a modern Democrat who came of age in the post-Civil Rights era. I’m not sure who “Long” is a reference to. Huey Long? Sort of a Bernie Sanders of his day, but also a racist.

    Your admiration for “Southern Democrats” as a class is perverse given that virtually all Southern Democrats before the 1960s supported segregation, but your list is so ideologically diverse–including liberals, moderates, and conservatives, racists and anti-racists–that it’s hard to see what principle is at work here. The only thing they all have in common is that they’re Democrats, and they’re from the South–a category into which Conor Lamb obviously doesn’t fall.

    In a way, I suppose it doesn’t matter. If all that matters to you (and to the Republicans in power) is simply that Lamb says “I oppose Nancy Pelosi,” then who am I to complain? If you’re willing to completely overlook that he supports policies that are normally used as evidence of adherence to socialism and opposition to the 2nd Amendment, be my guest.

    Of course, let’s get real here. The flexibility here is just a face-saving device after an embarrassing defeat. I doubt you’ll be so magnanimous about other Democrats with a similar profile–unless they, too, happen to win in red districts.

  22. de stijl says:

    Pelosi kicks butt.

    Some people (idjits, mostly) think she is ineffective because of recency bias.

    She is the opposition House leader, but is the minority leader. The minority party in the House has virtually zero power beyond the power of rhetoric.

    But back in the day when she was the majority leader she was straight-up Nancy SMASH! Don’t rely on your vague recollections of how PPACA came to be, but review the record. Read the Wiki PPACA / Obamacare entry. Pelosi is as responsible for Obamacare as is Obama. That was a hard win and well played.

    Nancy Pelosi is a big, bad-assed bitch. Is she the Platonic ideal of the D minority Leader, no. Does she kick ass? Yes and yes and yes.

  23. An Interested Party says:

    It’s hilarious how Il Douche rants and raves about “fake news” while spewing so many lies himself…he must be the greatest projector in history…

  24. Hal_10000 says:

    I would say that Lamb is a lot closer to what I think of as conservative than the current thing calling itself the GOP.

  25. Kylopod says:

    @An Interested Party:

    It’s hilarious how Il Douche rants and raves about “fake news” while spewing so many lies himself…he must be the greatest projector in history…

    The most unfortunate thing about that is that he’s managed to drown out a legitimate issue. The phrase “fake news” originated in reference to a phenomenon of actually fake, made-up stories being circulated on social media. There are examples of these hoaxes from all across the political spectrum, but since 2016 they have been primarily right-wing. Indeed, that’s part of what Russia was doing in the 2016 election, sending these tall tales around cyberspace in a conscious and deliberate disinformation campaign.

    But then Trump picked up the phrase and began using it as his favorite Orwellian expression to dismiss any and all legitimate news stories which he didn’t like. Of course whenever he bellows “FAKE NEWS!!!” nobody but the hardcore cultists actually believe him. Everyone else shakes their head in cynical resignation. But it did succeed in the sense that it’s completely wiped away any national discussion of the actual fake news phenomenon.

    That’s what Trump knows how to do especially well: not getting the nation on his side, but creating enough distraction that most people are no longer paying attention to the real problem.

  26. An Interested Party says:

    I would say that Lamb is a lot closer to what I think of as conservative than the current thing calling itself the GOP.

    Indeed…real conservatives surely must be appalled with the political party that claims to be “conservative”…

    That’s what Trump knows how to do especially well: not getting the nation on his side, but creating enough distraction that most people are no longer paying attention to the real problem.

    Apparently, Russian hackers have a similar talent…if so many Americans can be so easily manipulated, that doesn’t inspire a lot of hope for the future of our country…

  27. wjs says:

    The only thing missing here is for a Republican to say that they just need “six more months” to turn this around and then everything will go back to normal and they’ll stop losing elections all over the country.

  28. James Pearce says:

    @de stijl:

    Some people (idjits, mostly) think she is ineffective because of recency bias.

    Pelosi should be thanked for her decades of service, and she should step aside to allow a new generation of Dems to take her place.

    Do these old people in the Democratic party think they’ll live forever? Who do they think they’ll bequeath the party to when they’re gone? A bunch of inexperienced 50 year-olds finally getting their first shot?

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  29. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @James Pearce: Boomers and Silents are going to give up the reins of power when someone pries those reins from cold dead fingers. We were born believing that we’re special and have not done anything to disabuse ourselves of that notion.

  30. James Pearce says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    Boomers and Silents are going to give up the reins of power when someone pries those reins from cold dead fingers.

    If that’s true, then Republicans will own this century.

    Even if I get a hundred downvotes.

    Paul Ryan is 48. Ben Sasse is 46. Mia Love is 42. Tom Cotton is 40. The youngest person in Congress is Elise Stefanik, who is a 33 year old Republican. The youngest Democratic Rep is Tulsi Gabbard, who sometimes seems to wonder whether she wants to be a Democrat at all.

    Of 13 House Representatives born in the 1980s, only 4 of them are Democrats. Of 11 House Representatives born in the 1930s, only 3 of them are Republicans.

    What if we have already ceded the future to the right?

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  31. de stijl says:

    @James Pearce:

    Your age based analysis is remarkably based on the ages of people.

    What if we have already ceded the future to the right?

    Yeah, go with that. You literally invent situations to not vote D because “reasons.”

  32. Monala says:

    @James Pearce: your overall point – that Democrats need to cultivate younger talent- is a good one. The irony of your comment is that it is posted on a thread about a 33-year-old Democrat winning an election.

  33. An Interested Party says:

    What if we have already ceded the future to the right?

    You overlook the views shared by the majority of millennials…