The Georgia 6th District results don't tell us what will happen in 2018. But they do tell us what is happening right now.
In a conversation two weeks before the GA06 election, a Republican strategist involved in the fight mused on the possibility that all the money spent, all the doors knocked, all the phones called, all the accusations hurled -- that it might mean nothing when it comes to the crucial question of who will win control of the House of Representatives in 2018.
"That's the silliness of all this," he said. "Assuming we win Georgia, we will have won all of the special elections, and it means nothing -- nothing -- for next year."
He was right. Special elections have been notoriously unreliable for predicting the results of elections more than a year away. That's probably especially true in the current speeded-up news cycle. That doesn't mean Republican and Democratic strategists won't try to take lessons from GA06 and try to apply them to the future. But who knows what might happen by next week, much less next year?
Still, the election results do tell us something about this moment. "They tell you that Trump's supporters support Trump," said the strategist. "So far, all the available data is that Trump's supporters not only support him but are motivated."
Indeed, talking to voters during a door-knocking session with conservative activists in GA06 earlier this month revealed a sentiment shared by a lot of Trump supporters. "Give him a chance," they said over and over. They sense, correctly, that Democrats in Congress have sought not just to oppose Trump from Day One, but hope to actually remove him from office through the Russia investigation.
"I think it's a witch hunt -- they're not giving him a chance," one man in Marietta, Ga., told me.
So on Tuesday, if the GA06 vote was a referendum on the president, the message from a winning margin of voters in the district was probably this: Give him a chance.
"People are very optimistic about the Republican agenda," the strategist said. "Now, has it been smooth? You know the answer to that. But they are cautiously optimistic about the president's agenda, and they want to give him time."
And that is where Trump likely stands with supporters far beyond GA06. But that is right now, and just right now. Next year, nothing is guaranteed. "Next year, the most important factor will be what results we deliver," said the strategist when I asked whether Trump could build any support beyond those who voted for him in 2016. "If his administration leads the way in cutting middle class taxes and improving the economy, absolutely he will."
"People don't care about Russia," he continued. "They care about things that impact their life every day. Russia is not one of those. Those are partisan issues. They stir up the base. But the Democratic base already hates the president. They don't need to be stirred up any more."
It's not a bad formula for the president. If Trump were to follow it, he would manage the Russia affair, because it has to be managed. But he would spend his time working on delivering more jobs and higher wages to Americans who voted for him and Americans who didn't. On that, one prediction is pretty safe: If you improve the lives of voters, you'll do pretty well.