Dem 46
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Ties 2
GOP 52
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: MO ND
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Issues Warning to Saudis
      •  Zinke's Official Calendar Is a Work of Fiction
      •  Kushner Basically Doesn't Pay Taxes
      •  A Week of High-Profile GOP Defections
      •  This Week's Senate News
      •  Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Bernie Sanders

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Bonus Quote of the Day
Trump Gives RNC Chair Another Term
Lewd Conduct Has Created ‘Toxic’ Iowa Statehouse
Sasse Warns of ‘Deepfake’ Perfect Storm
Exchange of the Day

Trump Issues Warning to Saudis

Donald Trump will be on "60 Minutes" this week, and CBS decided to release the most significant part of the interview on Saturday morning. In that segment, the President said that the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is "being looked at very, very strongly," that he "would be very upset and angry" if Khashoggi has been killed, and that such a finding would result in "severe punishment."

This is what many Americans have been waiting to hear. However, it also comes off as an exercise in damage control rather than a serious statement of intent. The Turkish government says they have proof of Khashoggi's murder. Surely, whatever they have is now in the hands of the U.S. intelligence community, which means that Trump is privy to that evidence. And yet, in the CBS interview, the President observed that when they are asked about the killing, the Saudis "deny it and they deny it vehemently." So, he's framing it as yet another "two sides of the story, who knows which one is right?" situation. Indeed, the Donald's rhetoric is almost word-for-word the same as he's used with Vlad Putin. And outside of a few symbolic maneuvers, the hammer hasn't exactly come down on Big Daddy Vladdy yet, despite the fact that his crimes are considerably greater than the murder of one man.

Indeed, the list of countries that have been threatened by Trump is long: Russia, North Korea, Iran, China, Mexico, Syria, etc. And yet, when in comes to punishment, the President rarely follows through. On those occasions he actually does, it's pretty much limited to tariffs and withdrawing from treaties and/or trade deals negotiated by past presidents. It's unlikely that Trump would even go that far here, since he regards the sale of billions of dollars in arms to the Saudis as one of his signature achievements, and would not want to remove that particular jewel from his crown. So, the Saudi royal family is not likely quaking in their boots right now, and—if past experience is any guide—will not begin to do so anytime soon. (Z)

Zinke's Official Calendar Is a Work of Fiction

Generally speaking, maintaining one's official calendar is not supposed to be an act of creative writing. However, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is a different kind of government official. He has already been caught hiding meetings that might look bad, politically. And now, thanks to FOIA documents requests, we know that this particular form of chicanery dates back to the Secretary's very first day in office.

On that day (when he had to cope with regular doors, since the $139,000 custom doors he ordered for his office were not yet installed), Zinke's very first meeting was with Chris Cox, former GOP congressman from California, and current executive director of lobbying for the NRA. That confab was scrubbed from the Secretary's calendar. So was a meeting the next day, this one with the managing director of Sandfire Resources, an Australian mining company that has been trying for six years to open a copper mine in Zinke's home state of Montana. At least half a dozen other "disappearing" meetings have been uncovered, all of them with high-powered lobbyists, or else with big-wigs from corporations who find environmental regulations to be a nuisance.

At the moment, of course, there is nobody in Washington who has their hands on the reins of power and is interested in holding administration officials accountable for their bad behavior. However, as you may have heard, there is an election in a few weeks. And after that election, quite a few of those reins of power could end up in the hands of the blue team. And those folks will be very interested in pushing back against the developments of the last two years, not to mention setting themselves up for their 2020 campaigns. So, Zinke's calendar could be filled with a very different kind of meetings starting mid-January of next year, whether he chooses to write them down or not. (Z)

Kushner Basically Doesn't Pay Taxes

You may want to prepare your fainting couch before you read this, since it involves a rich guy not paying much in taxes. In any case, the New York Times has published the next story in its series on the Trump's family's taxes. The new installment is about Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who may not be genetically related to the Donald, but shares with him a fondness for using every trick in the book to avoid paying taxes. From 2009 to 2016, Kushner's net worth jumped from about $75 million to about $325 million. During that time, his tax bill was either $0, or very close to it.

Kushner does not appear to have broken any laws. He avoided his tax bill by taking advantage of depreciation, a common accountancy convention in which the wear and tear/general upkeep on a building are counted as losses, and can be subtracted from one's income. Some regard this as a fair way of balancing the books and encouraging investment in real estate projects, but most see it as a pretty blatant loophole that does not account for the fact that the building's overall value often increases far beyond the costs of the wear and tear/general upkeep.

What it amounts to is that Kushner (and his father-in-law) have done an excellent job of avoiding tens of millions, or maybe hundreds of millions, in taxes. The various tricks they used were, by and large, carefully preserved in the 2017 tax bill. We shall see if the Democrats are able to make some hay out of that in November, or in 2020. (Z)

A Week of High-Profile GOP Defections

The U.S. political system is clearly in the midst of a political realignment right now, with some traditional Democratic voters drifting rightward, and some traditional Republican voters heading in the other direction. Time will tell how it all shakes out (and, in particular, how long-lasting the Trump coalition is). However, as the midterms draw near, and as we deal with the Brett Kavanaugh after-effects, this week has witnessed a particularly sizable number of highly-publicized GOP defections.

For example, (now) former Republican pundit Max Boot has just published an entire book about why he left the GOP, and an excerpt was published in the Washington Post this week. In the excerpt, he declares:

The Republican Party will now be defined by Trump's dark, divisive vision, with his depiction of Democrats as America-hating, criminal-coddling traitors, his vilification of the press as the "enemy of the people," and his ugly invective against Mexicans and Muslims. The extremism that many Republicans of goodwill had been trying to push to the fringe of their party is now its governing ideology.

That's why I can no longer be a Republican, and in fact wish ill fortune on my former party. I am now convinced that the Republican Party must suffer repeated and devastating defeats beginning in November. It must pay a heavy price for its embrace of white nationalism and know-nothingism. Only if the GOP as it is currently constituted is burned to the ground will there be any chance to build a reasonable center-right party out of the ashes. But that will require undoing the work of decades, not just of the past two years.

Clearly, Boot's defection was a long time coming, which is consistent with the fact that he had time to write a whole book about it.

By contrast, the departure of Tom Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, appears to be more recent in origin. Writing in The Atlantic, he explains:

I have written on social media and elsewhere how I feel about Kavanaugh's nomination. I initially viewed his nomination positively, as a standard GOP judicial appointment; then grew concerned about whether he should continue on as a nominee with the accusations against him; and finally, was appalled by his behavior in front of the Senate.

It was [Sen. Susan] Collins, however, who made me realize that there would be no moderates to lead conservatives out of the rubble of the Trump era. Senator Jeff Flake is retiring and took a pass, and with all due respect to Senator Lisa Murkowski-who at least admitted that her "no" vote on cloture meant "no" rather than drag out the drama—she will not be the focus of a rejuvenated party...

That it is necessary to place limitations, including self-limitations, on the exercise of power is—or was—a core belief among conservatives. No longer. Raw power, wielded so deftly by Senator Mitch McConnell, is exercised for its own sake, and by that I mean for the sake of fleecing gullible voters on hot-button social issues so that Republicans can stay in power. Of course, the institutional GOP will say that it countenances all of Trump's many sins, and its own straying from principle, for good reason (including, of course, the holy grail of ending legal abortion).

Politics is about the exercise of power. But the new Trumpist GOP is not exercising power in the pursuit of anything resembling principles, and certainly not for conservative or Republican principles.

Boot and Nichols are not particularly famous, nor particularly high-profile. Someone who is very high-profile, by contrast, is Colin Powell. It is not clear that he has left the GOP, but as someone who voted for Barack Obama twice, and has now emerged as a high-profile critic of Trump, it's not clear he hasn't. He appeared on CNN this week to lambaste the President as forcefully as he ever has:

You see things that should not be happening. How can a president of the United States get up and say that the media is the enemy of Americans? Hasn't he read the First Amendment? You are not supposed to like everything the press says, or what anyone says...that's why we have a First Amendment, to protect that kind of speech. I hope the president can come to the realization that he should really stop insulting people. I used this two years ago when I said I could not vote for him in the 2016 election. Why? He insulted everybody. He insulted African-Americans, he insulted women, he insulted immigrants. He insulted our best friends around the world—all of his fellow candidates up on the stage during the debates. I don't think that's what should be coming out of a president of the United States. But I don't see anything that's changed in the last two years.

Powell also called on Congress to begin exercising some oversight, as per their Constitutional duties. If that's the general's goal, then it certainly argues for voting the Democratic ticket for his fourth election in a row.

We will, of course, begin to learn exactly how much re-aligning has already happened when folks cast their ballots next month. Polls are a somewhat useful tool, but they may struggle to capture the response to a president who is sui generis. However, it may take until 2020 for things to really come to roost. Max Boot notwithstanding, it's pretty difficult for someone to switch from one major party to another all in one fell swoop. Many folks spend an election as an independent—sort of a form of detox—before completing the process of crossing the aisle. So, it's possible there will be a fair number of write-in or third-party votes this year that turn into Democratic votes in 2020. The same could also happen in the other direction, of course.

And on that note, one group that is definitely not growing disaffected with Trump is evangelicals. The fact that he is not a practicing Christian, and that his personal life and his political program both include some decidedly un-Christian elements, becomes less and less of a concern every day, thanks to his appointment of arch-conservative judges, his moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and, this week, his administration's securing the release of evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson after two years in a Turkish prison. Televangelist James Robison put it in a nutshell: "He wouldn't be our Sunday School teacher necessarily, but he's doing a great job of leadership. I love him so much I can hardly explain it." Given that about 27% of the U.S. identifies as evangelical, this probably goes a long way to explaining the 35% or so of Americans who will not abandon the President, no matter what he does. (Z)

This Week's Senate News

Although Brett Kavanaugh remains a popular thing for Senate candidates to argue about, he's not in the news quite as much as he was. Which means there is a fair amount of Senate news this week that doesn't involve him:

  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is getting a little less abuse these days, because the new favorite target of the right is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Feinstein is also a liberal woman from San Francisco. But unlike Pelosi, she's Jewish, which adds an extra level of outrage for some folks. That said, the fact that millions of people in Alabama or Indiana hate her will have little impact in California.

  • Hurricane Michael has put the Florida Senate race on hold, which included postponing this week's scheduled debate.

  • Speaking of Florida, Republican challenger Gov. Rick Scott is getting hammered due to one of the skeletons in his closet, namely his role (while CEO of Columbia/HCA) in defrauding TRICARE, a military health care program, out of billions of dollars. Columbia/HCA ended up paying a $1.7 billion fine as a result of a federal lawsuit.

  • In Indiana, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) has deployed every Democrat with a national profile who remains popular with blue-collar Midwestern voters. So, that's Joe Biden, and...more Joe Biden.

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) inadvertently handed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) the slogan, "nevertheless, she persisted." White House Chief of Staff John Kelly appears to have done it again this week, calling Warren an "impolite arrogant woman" in an e-mail that he did not expect to become public. You can already buy your impolite arrogant woman t-shirt.

  • Geoff Diehl (R) claims he's going to get a "Kavanaugh bump" in his race against Warren. Given that polls give her an average lead of 25 points, he would need a whole Supreme Court worth of Kavanaugh bumps in order to have a chance.

  • John James (R), who wants to knock off Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), apparently decided this week that his best strategy was to make crude jokes about breastfeeding and sexual assault. No surprise that his rallies this week will feature noted feminists Kid Rock and Donald Trump Jr.

  • Given the importance of Missouri's senate seat, and the fact that it might be the most toss-up of toss-up seats this year, it's not too much of a surprise that both candidates are collecting more money from outside the state than from within.

  • They're having a strange sort of argument in Montana. The NRA would like to see Sen. Jon Tester (D) defeated, so they made a big point of giving him a 'D' grade. Tester has responded by detailing all of the hundreds of animals he's shot and killed. Somewhere, Theodore Roosevelt is smiling approvingly.

  • It looks like Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) will be saved from his own corruption by the corruption of his opponent, Bob Hugin (R), and by the fact that there are lots of competitive races downballot that are expected to drive Democrats to the polls.

  • Missouri pastor David Barton has spent years railing against LGBT Americans, describing them as "Nazis," suggesting the government should "regulate" homosexuality, and predicting that there will never be an AIDS vaccine because God wants gay men to die. Senate candidate Josh Hawley (R) claims he was unaware of all of this when he scheduled a rally appearance with Barton. Once the pastor's past got some press attention, Hawley suddenly discovered that he was overbooked, and couldn't appear with Barton after all.

  • Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) is in an excellent position to unseat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). But he insisted on shooting himself in the foot this week, by suggesting that the whole #MeToo movement is essentially a sham.

  • Mitt Romney, who thinks (rightly) that he's got his own race in the bag, is now campaigning in Arizona for Senate candidate Martha McSally (R). That's the kind of thing someone does when they're toying with a future (second) presidential run.

  • Romney, who appears to have no principle that's not up for negotiation, is also busy telling anyone who will listen that he was never really a never-Trumper. Which means that when he said, "Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud," he apparently meant it as a compliment.

  • Phil Bredesen (D) is trying to get as much mileage as he can out of pop star Taylor Swift's endorsement, which is about the only good news he got this week as his campaign for Tennessee's Senate seat sank in the polls.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who seems unable to run on anything other than how bad his opponent is, is kind of embarrassed by how badly Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) is out-fundraising him. So, the Senator is claiming that his opponent has been bought and paid for by far-left groups.

And that's the kind of week it's been. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Bernie Sanders

And now it is one of the very frontest of frontrunners, possibly even the current favorite for the nomination, depending on whom you ask. As always, the pros/cons refer to the general election, and not the primaries.

  • Name: Bernie Sanders

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 79

  • Background: Born to a Jewish family in New York City, Sanders grew up fairly poor (there wasn't a lot of money in selling paint, his father's profession). He was a track star, a voracious reader, and developed an early interest in politics. After a year at Brooklyn College, he transferred to the University of Chicago, graduating in 1964. Sanders was a self-admitted mediocre student, as he spent most of his energy on extracurricular activities, including participation in a sizable number of activist groups (CORE, SNCC, the Young People's Socialist League, etc.). As part of his activist career, he was present for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in August 1963. After his college years, Sanders lived on a kibbutz in Israel, then settled in Vermont, where he did a number of hippie-ish jobs (filmmaker, freelance writer, teacher of low-income children with Head Start). He avoided service in Vietnam by applying for "conscientious objector" status. The application was eventually turned down, but it took so long for that to happen that he was too old to be drafted by the time the decision was made.

  • Political Experience: Sanders ran for a number of municipal offices in the 1970s as a third-party candidate (the Liberty Union Party) and lost every time. His first win came in 1981 when, calling himself a "democratic socialist," he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vt., by 12 votes. He was reelected three times (to 2-year terms), then won Vermont's sole seat in the House of Representatives in 1990 in a very close election. As an independent, he was a caucus of one. He often worked with the Democrats, but not always, and broke with a sizable number of his colleagues over their support for the Persian Gulf War. After eight terms in the House, Sanders ran for the U.S. Senate, and easily trounced his GOP opponent, Rich Tarrant, despite Tarrant's dropping $7 million of his own money into the race. Sanders is currently wrapping up his second term in the Senate, and as the senator with the highest approval rating in the entire body (77%), is about to be re-elected to his third.

  • Signature Issue(s): Wealth inequality. Karl Marx tended to blame that problem on the owners of the means of production; Sanders tends to see Wall Street banks and corporations as the culprits. Call him a Marxist for the post-industrial era. Anyhow, anything that involves giving more money and/or resources to the workers (higher minimum wage, free college tuition, universal health care), and less to the bankers and corporations (regulation, higher taxes) he's for.

  • Instructive Quote: "Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy."

  • Completely Trivial Fact: The first time Sanders ran for president—of his high school class—he finished in third place. Foreshadowing?

  • Recent News: The Senator announced this week that he will spend the next month campaigning in nine battleground states, in this order: Indiana, Michigan, South Carolina, Iowa, Wisconsin, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and California. In other words, he will not be speaking to a single voter who is able to vote for the U.S. Senate in Vermont. On the other hand, he'll be visiting each of 2020's first four primary/caucus states except for New Hampshire (aka, Vermont East), as well as several of the March 3 "Super Tuesday" states (particularly delegate-rich California).

  • Three Biggest Pros: (1) Progressives will be thrilled with Sanders, and the rest of the Democrats would surely fall in line behind him, since he meets their #1 qualification for 2020—he's not Donald Trump; (2) He may be able to turn out millennial voters who might otherwise stay home; and (3) Many presidents got practice in their first run for the White House, and then used the lessons from that to win their second run (FDR, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush).

  • Three Biggest Cons: (1) Despite his past civil rights activism, Sanders sees all problems through the lens of class, which means that he has some difficulty connecting with non-white voters, particularly those who see race as the more significant issue; (2) Much of Sanders' program is not a lot more realistic than Donald's Trump's program, and that will give a lot of voters (particularly independents) pause; and (3) The last few years have made clear that there are far more anti-Semites in the country than it might have seemed, and they will be out in force to vote against a Jewish candidate (the fact that he no longer practices the religion is, of course, irrelevant).

  • Is He Actually Running?: Sanders is very prominent, and has a pre-built fundraising network, which means he can wait for a very long time to formally declare. So, that hasn't happened yet, and probably won't until late next year. But yes, he's running.

  • Betting Odds: Most books have him between 8 (aka 16/2) and 11/2, which implies an 11%-15% chance of landing the nomination.

  • The Bottom Line: Sanders is well positioned for another run as a "fly in the ointment" who pushes the Democratic Party to the left. Is he suited to taking the next step, and becoming the Party's standard-bearer? That's the $64,000 question, and we won't have a clear answer until April or May 2020, at the earliest.

You can access the list of candidate profiles by clicking on the 2020 Dem candidates link in the menu to the left of the map. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct13 Family Separations May Soon Begin Again
Oct13 Today's Voter Suppression News, Part I
Oct13 Today's Voter Suppression News, Part II
Oct13 Trump Kills Blue-Slip Protocol
Oct13 Trump Praises Robert E. Lee
Oct13 Ballot Measure Could Change Florida Politics for Years
Oct13 Democrats Have Raised a Lot of Money
Oct13 Today's Senate Polls
Oct12 The Surreal Life
Oct12 Trump's Lawyers Are Reportedly Preparing to Write Answers to Mueller's Questions
Oct12 Administration Casts Around for Haley, Sessions Replacements
Oct12 Haley 2020?
Oct12 Melania Trump May Soon Be as Unpopular as Her Husband
Oct12 Market Takes Another Beating
Oct12 Bredesen Tried to Have it Both Ways, Couldn't
Oct12 Today's Senate Polls
Oct11 Trump Has a Saudi Arabia Problem
Oct11 Stock Market Takes a Dive
Oct11 Ford Announces Layoffs
Oct11 Trump Slams Medicare-for-all in Op-ed
Oct11 Is the Donald Trump Show Getting Old?
Oct11 Kavanaugh Story Lingers On
Oct11 Politico: 209 House Seats Leaning or Firmly Democratic
Oct11 Today's Senate Polls
Oct10 Nikki Haley Resigns
Oct10 House Republican Ads Are Nasty and Misleading
Oct10 Majority of Americans Oppose Kavanaugh
Oct10 Beware the Narrative
Oct10 An Embarrassing Tweet, Even by Trump's Standards
Oct10 Category 4 Hurricane Hits Election
Oct10 Missouri Judge Blocks Part of Voter-ID Law
Oct10 Today's Senate Polls
Oct09 Trump Is Not Planning to Fire Rosenstein Right Now
Oct09 Trump Apologizes to Kavanaugh on Behalf of the Nation
Oct09 Trump Spars with Taylor Swift
Oct09 Has the GOP Lost Women Forever?
Oct09 Watch Out for the Mob
Oct09 Donnelly and Braun Debate Each Other
Oct09 States Switching from Insecure Voting Machines to Other Insecure Voting Machines
Oct09 Debating the Debates
Oct09 Today's Senate Polls
Oct08 Winners and Losers from the Fight over Kavanaugh
Oct08 Trump Will Reportedly Meet with Kim Again
Oct08 Times' Reporting on Trump's Taxes Isn't Finished
Oct08 Candidates for Whom Trump Has Held Rallies
Oct08 Charlie Cook's House Ratings
Oct08 Republicans Rule
Oct08 As Maine Goes, So Goes the Nation
Oct08 Booker Launches His Presidential Campaign
Oct08 Today's Senate Polls