Election victory not always clear-cut
When one side loses, winners should not mistake it for mandate.
Tom Price
After the Affordable Care Act passed without Republicans’ support, they retook Congress in the next election, which shows politicians need to know the difference between a mandate and winning only because the other side lost.
The memory of March 23, 2010, wafts over me from time to time. It did again last week.

That was the day the ACA (Obamacare) had its final passage in the U.S. House of Representatives.

I had the privilege of serving in the House representing Georgia’s 6th District and was in the U.S. House that fateful day.

Republicans in the House were adamantly opposed to the ACA and not a single one of us voted in favor of what we believed was terribly flawed legislation.

However, we were certain that if it became law that we would
be able to retake the majority in the House in the 2010 fall elections due to a backlash from the American people. We were so confident that when the final vote was cast to send the bill to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature, we serenaded the Democratic majority on the floor of the House with a very (not) mature “na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” complete with mocking waves of So Long.

We did indeed retake the majority in those fall elections, winning an unheard of net 63 seats — a major swing and securing a Republican majority for eight years.

In the 112th Congress beginning in January 2011, I had the further honor of serving in the Republican leadership as the Policy Chair. As our leadership organized and we discussed our planned strategy and policy priorities, I observed that it was imperative for us to remember one thing: We didn’t win the most recent election, the Dems lost it!

This likely seemed illogical or even foolish to some sitting with me — though I was certain of it.

I felt the Dems had overreached (not unusual for victors following an election) and that if we governed as if we had won the race more than the other side lost, then we would not have the kind of policy and political successes we would enjoy than if we were to acknowledge and appreciate the actual circumstances of our victory. My sense is that we did not recognize this reality and history confirmed.

One is given authority to govern differently following a winning race (as opposed to being victorious). Usually one truly wins an election, or a party wins emphatic support for their policy agenda, in a reelection-type race. That is when people clearly know what they’re supporting and, if victorious, are essentially saying “we want more.” Unlike being the victor when the other side loses, where one’s policy proposals and strategy must be more inclusive and cooperative with all factions (kind of how most folks think it should work all the time).

I revisit this now because it is often very difficult for the victor in any election to have the humility and introspection or reflection to be able to say: “I didn’t win this election, they just lost.” This is precisely where I think we are right now — in my home state of Georgia and, yes, in the nation.

For new Georgia senators the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, my counsel would be to appreciate the closeness of their respective races and to intellectually and emotionally grasp the reality that one of the major reasons for their electoral success was that the Republicans failed miserably in connecting with voters and actively lost their elections. The same is true in Washington, D.C., where the Senate and House are as closely divided as we’ve seen in a generation.

When your opponent loses an election, especially a reelection, it should cause one to govern differently. The voters are not so much saying “we want all of your policies,” as much as they’re saying “please be different than the previous folks.”

I understand that electoral victories are multifactorial. Having run for office and won primary and/or general elections every two years for 20 years, each of my elections was different.

It’s also not to say that winners shouldn’t actively work for their policy priorities — they should and they earned that privilege.

It is to say that governing is hard stuff, and reflection and humility on the part of elected officials would go a long way toward healing our current divide and helping build that more perfect union.

Congratulations to those who were victorious over those who lost. May those victors recognize and appreciate the distinction between winning and victory, and the consequent path for responsible governance.

Tom Price, M.D., is a former Georgia state senator, former member of Congress and was the 23rd U.S.

Secretary of Health and Human Services.