• Possible Consequences of a Blue Wave
• Trump May Fire Sessions
• State Department Top is Almost Empty
• Carson Helped Pick $31,000 Dining Room Set
• McDaniel Switches Races and Will Run for Cochran's Seat
• It's Kudlow at the National Economic Council
• Another Trump Lawyer Tied to Stormygate
• Students Walk Out Over Guns
Most of the absentee ballots in Pennsylvania's special election have been counted, and Democrat Conor Lamb's lead over Republican Rick Saccone has grown, very slightly, to 627 votes. Inasmuch as there are only 500 ballots outstanding (mostly military and provisional), and that 500 is less than 627, that makes Lamb a winner, and nearly all media outlets have declared him as such.
Needless to say, that does not mean the GOP is giving up. Saccone has not conceded, and Republican Party lawyers are going to ask for a recount, and might even challenge the validity of the election in federal court. Their plan of attack has three prongs: (1) GOP attorneys were not allowed to watch the counting of the absentee ballots, (2) some voters found the Pennsylvania secretary of state's website confusing and didn't know where their polling places were, and (3) some voters in Allegheny County (which went for Lamb) didn't understand how to properly use their touchscreen voting machines. These are what is known, in legal parlance, as "grasping at straws." As to point #1, GOP attorneys are not entitled to be present for counting of absentee ballots, as that is done on a precinct-by-precinct basis, and would be a logistical nightmare. As to points #2 and #3, it is not clear why Democrats were able to understand the website and the voting machines and Republicans were not. Perhaps the GOP's attorneys are planning to argue that Pennsylvania Republican voters are dumb.
In the end, the result no longer particularly matters. Whatever happens, the GOP in general, and Donald Trump in particular, suffered a big, black eye on Tuesday night, and the canary in the coal mine just fell to the floor gasping for air. On Wednesday, members of the red team were at various places in the Kübler-Ross stages of grief. Some had already reached acceptance. That includes GOP strategist Douglas Heye, who wrote "we're in trouble," and NRCC Chair Steve Stivers, who called the race "a wake-up call." Others were still in denial. That includes Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who declared, "I just don't think this is something you'll see a repeat of."
Naturally, Team Trump is firmly in the denial camp. On Wednesday, they began spinning madly, with spokesman Raj Shah actually trying to turn the result into validation of Trump, declaring that, "The Democrat in the race really embraced the President's policies and position, where he didn't embrace Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leader." Uh, huh. If PA-18 voters wanted mini-Trump, Saccone was happy to give that to them. There is simply no way to look at Tuesday's result and avoid the conclusion that the President and/or his policies have lost some luster with the very people who put him over the hump in 2016. He has very little margin for error in 2020 and, at least for the moment, that margin appears to be gone. Even worse, perhaps, is that this marks the fourth time in a row that the President has tried to propel a candidate to victory, and the fourth time in a row that the candidate came up short: Luther Strange (Alabama primary), Roy Moore (Alabama general election), Ed Gillespie (Virginia governor), and now Saccone. There is no question that Donald Trump is a very good salesman, but it looks more and more like the only product he can sell is Donald Trump. GOP candidates in close midterm contests could decide he's more a liability than an asset and could ask him to stay away.
Shah is far from the only person to suggest that Lamb is a Democrat in Name Only, or that he's secretly a Trump foot soldier, or the like. This is simply not true, although Lamb's strategy for winning the election is certainly one of the more interesting angles here. He did embrace some conservative or conservative-leaning positions, including support for gun ownership and the military, disdain for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, opposition to raising the minimum wage, and support for Trump's tariffs. On the other hand, he blasted Trump's tax plan as a giveaway to the rich, stood firmly behind Obamacare, embraced labor unions, and called for the U.S. to move away from coal and other fossil fuels. He also hedged his bets on abortion, saying that he was personally opposed, but that he wanted them to remain safe and legal. In other words, Lamb ran as a fairly standard Blue Dog Democrat. In fact, there's not a whole lot that separates him from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who was enough a Democrat to be nominated the party's vice-presidential candidate.
Does this mean, then, that Lamb has "Giv[en] the Democrats a Map for Trump Country," as the New York Times' headline declared? Yes and no. If a moderate Democrat decides to clone Lamb's platform for a run in, say, one of the Republican districts in California that the blue team hopes to flip, he or she is going to get killed. However, there are two pretty clear lessons for the Democrats that do emerge from Lamb's victory. The first is that he was a good match for PA-18, and if the blue team wants to take Congress, those are the kinds of candidates they need to be supporting, not 435 candidates who would all be a good fit for San Francisco. The second, and arguably more important, lesson is that the only national Republican that Lamb attacked was Paul Ryan. Note the yuuuuuuuge name that is absent from that list. There is zero value in a Democratic candidate spending their time railing against Trump, for at least three reasons: (1) The reasons for disliking Trump are already well known, (2) Every moment a candidate spends talking about the President is one less moment that candidate is spending on why people should vote for him or her, and (3) If the Party wants to win back Obama-Trump voters, then it is not wise to get those folks' hackles up by effectively insulting them for the way they used their 2016 vote.
In short, there is no question that despite what they may say publicly, the folks who run the GOP are looking carefully at PA-18 to figure out what they can learn. Democratic partisans can only hope that their party is doing the same. (Z)
PA-18 has a Cook PVI of R+11, meaning it is 11 points more Republican than the country as a whole. The PVI of every congressional district is known so it is easy to calculate how many seats the Republicans would lose if all Republicans in districts R+11 or bluer fall (including open seats in R+11 districts). More interesting is the cumulative distribution, that is, what happens if all Republican-held seats that are R+x or more Democratic flip. Here is the answer:
For example, if the Democrats flip all seats that are R+0 (even) or more blue, they get 12 additional seats because there are currently eight Republicans in D+1 through D+6 districts and four Republicans in even districts. If Democrats also flip all the R+1 districts, they get those 12 and another six, for a total of 18. If they get all the D+x districts, the even ones, and the R+1 and R+2 districts, they get 25 seats and flip the House if they can avoid losing any of their own districts. Winning R+2 districts in a blue wave won't be that hard. The graph shows the consequences all the way up to R+33 (TX-13), Mac Thornberry's (R) district, which is the reddest in the country. In the extremely unlikely event that Democrats can flip all districts that are R+9 or bluer, they would pick up over 100 House seats.
However, before the Democrats can break out the champagne and Republicans start crying in their beer, there is a huge difference between a special election and most regular elections. Regular elections usually have incumbents, and beating an incumbent is a lot harder than beating a challenger. The incumbent, by definition, has already won an election in the district. People know him or her and the incumbent is probably good at raising money. That's a whole different ball of wax than a special election between two challengers.
Nevertheless, there is also a footnote here. So far, 34 Republicans have announced their retirements (click on the link House retirements to the left of the map above to see them). A retirement creates an open seat, so the battle there is essentially the same as a special election. Many insiders are predicting that some Republicans may announce their retirements in the coming days and weeks. This could cause a huge problem for the GOP because filing deadlines are looming, and finding a replacement candidate in multiple districts in a big hurry may cause NRCC chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) some sleepless nights. To be more concrete, here are the filing deadlines that occur before June 1, 2018.
As you can see, the filing deadlines have already passed in 18 states, and by tomorrow evening it will be too late to file in 22 states. What happens if an incumbent in one of those states drops out after the filing deadline? State law determines what happens next. The problem is not theoretical. Here is a list of Republican incumbents in districts R+2 or bluer in states whose filing deadline has already passed or is this week. If any of these decide to call it quits, the GOP may have a problem.
In short, the reverberations from the PA-18 election are far from finished. (V)
Yesterday's firing of Rex Tillerson may be small potatoes if Vanity Fair has it right. The magazine is reporting that Trump is seriously considering firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replacing him with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt would not have to recuse himself from the Russiagate investigation, and would take over supervision from Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. Pruitt pretty much does whatever Trump tells him to do and would almost certainly fire special counsel Robert Mueller if Trump requested that. But even if he didn't fire Mueller, Mueller would be reporting to Pruitt and would need his permission for subpoenas and much more. In effect, Pruitt could hamstring Mueller and make it impossible to continue the investigation.
In addition, Mueller is a special counsel, not an independent counsel as Ken Starr was. When Mueller is finished with his report, he is required to keep it confidential and give it to his boss. If that boss is Pruitt, it could wind up in the shredder without anyone ever reading a word of it. There might be a bit of blowback, but Trump might prefer that to having it be made public. Of course, if Mueller is fired and the Democrats capture the House in November, it is 100% certain that Trump will be impeached, but not so certain that 67 senators will vote for his conviction. It could get a tad messy. (V)
Donald Trump acts like he is his own secretary of state. He has to, since almost no one else is minding the store. Of the top 10 positions in the State Dept., eight are vacant and one is acting. Only one of the top 10, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan, is a regular, confirmed employee. Bloomberg News has produced this nice graphic of who's who in the State Dept.
As you can see, almost nobody's home. If Mike Pompeo is confirmed, he can start filling in the vacancies if he wants to, but his confirmation is not a sure thing. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has already announced that he will vote "no" on Pompeo's confirmation, and if one other Republican votes "no," and all the Democrats do as well (not a sure thing), Pompeo won't be confirmed. Actually, at the moment, Paul's "no" could be fatal, because Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is not present to vote, and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is quitting in two weeks.
Needless to say, it is unprecedented to have eight vacancies in the top 10 slots a year after a president's term has begun. If all were quiet in the world, it might not matter, but with Russia, China, North Korea, and the Middle East all trouble spots, running the State Department on autopilot probably is not in America's best interest.
Paul also said he will vote "no" on Gina Haspel as CIA director. McCain is probably also a "no" vote there (if he makes it back to Washington in time), along with every Democrat because Haspel ran a CIA black site in Thailand and tortured people some years back. Her chances of being confirmed now don't look bright. (V)
Several weeks ago, news broke that HUD Secretary Ben Carson was getting a brand-new, $31,000 dining room set for his office selected by his wife Candy. If that were not enough, that sum of money is far above the limit for spending on redecoration, so Candy reportedly told staffers to find a way to subvert the rules. When the story broke, the Carsons claimed they were not involved in the process. More specifically, the HUD spokeswoman who spoke to the press at that time explained that, "Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased."
Perhaps Secretary Carson, who says he is a God-fearing man, should get out his Bible and reread Deuteronomy 5:20, which has a thought or two about bearing false witness. Because, as it turns out according to e-mails acquired by CNN, this was a lie. The Carsons were indeed involved in the process, and were aware of the price. Since the purchase was canceled, no rules were actually subverted, while the lie technically came from a subordinate. So, there's likely nothing here that could get Carson into ethical/legal trouble. However, it is another embarrassment for the administration at a time when Donald Trump is reportedly compiling a list of whom to fire. Very likely, the good doctor just moved up the list a few spots. (Z)
Far-right Senate candidate Chris McDaniel (R) was planning to challenge Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS). However, the sudden resignation of Thad Cochran effective at the end of this month, changed all that. McDaniel will now run for Cochran's seat in a special election to be held in November. Gov. Phil Bryant (R-MS) will appoint someone to keep the seat warm until the end of this year, but the winner of the special election will get to serve out the rest of Cochran's term, until January 2021.
For McDaniel, the calculus was whether to go up against a well-known senator or try his luck against an appointed senator (assuming the appointed senator runs in the special election, which is likely) and possibly other contenders. He has apparently decided that Wicker is too tough a nut to crack and facing the as-yet-not-appointed senator would be easier. Mississippi has a nonpartisan jungle primary, with the top two finishers meeting in a runoff in December.
One Democrat, state House Minority Leader David Baria, has already announced a run against Wicker, but he could also switch to the special election. If he does and the top two finishers are McDaniel and Baria, the GOP will be in deep doodoo. McDaniel is about as far to the right as Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (albeit, without having molested any teenage girls). Nevertheless, he has a different problem: demographics. Alabama is 25% black but Mississippi is 37% black. If nearly all those black voters show up and vote for Baria, and Baria wins the suburban white vote, he might actually be able to win. When Republicans have to sweat Mississippi, they have a problem worse than PA-18. (V)
Donald Trump has officially chosen CNBC television personality Larry Kudlow to replace the departed Gary Cohn as Chairman of the National Economic Council. When he called Kudlow to give him the news, Trump told Kudlow "You're looking handsome, Larry." Trump doesn't care too much about whether his staffers are qualified, but he does want them to look good on television (see Perry, Rick).
Kudlow won't have an easy job. Like Cohn, he is a Jewish former Democrat who believes in free trade. Trump does not believe in free trade. Needless to say, however handsome Kudlow may be on television, these divergent views on trade are likely to cause some friction down the road. For example, Trump has said he wants to pull out of NAFTA if Canada and Mexico won't make major concessions. Kudlow has said this would be a "calamitously bad decision." What will Kudlow do if Trump pulls the plug on NAFTA? We might find out in the not too distant future. (V)
There is little doubt that porn star Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000 shortly before the 2016 election in order to keep her from talking about her dalliances with the very much married Donald Trump. At this point, the big question is exactly where the money came from. Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has taken sole responsibility, saying that he paid the money to protect his friend, and that the Trump campaign and Trump Organization had nothing to do with it. The reason that Cohen would claim that is that if the campaign/family business was indeed behind the payment, it was likely an illegal campaign contribution, which is a criminal offense. However, Cohen's story has never been particularly plausible, between its six-figure generosity, and the fact that he's carped to friends about not being repaid, and that he used his Trump Organization e-mail to arrange the payment.
Now, yet another nail in the coffin has come to light: It turns out that another Trump Organization lawyer, Jill Martin, is also listed on some filings related to the case. And so, it is now that much harder for the Trump Organization to claim that they had nothing to do with the arrangement. If The Donald had fessed up at the beginning, and said that the payment had come directly from him, then this would be a less serious issue, since candidates are allowed to give as much as they want to their own campaigns. Instead, however, he decided to deny, deny, deny, and so here we are. O! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. (Z)
Frustrated with the politicians' inability to do anything to make their schools safer, students across the nation walked out of their classes on Wednesday, spending 17 minutes in nonviolent protest, one minute for each victim of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings. The students say they would like to see a ban on assault weapons, universal background checks for gun purchasers, and the passage of a law that would empower courts to disarm people who demonstrate violent tendencies.
All of this, of course, made the Second Amendment partisans very unhappy. And, having apparently read the playbook of the folks who opposed the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, they did just about everything they could to make themselves into cartoon-like villains and to cede the moral high ground. There were the politicians, like Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC), who slammed the protests as "shameful" and claimed that the protesters are "being used as a tool by left-wing groups to further their own agenda." He might as well have declared "assault rifles now, assault rifles tomorrow, assault rifles forever." Then there were the anonymous folks who called in death threats to some of the schools whose students were planning on participating in the demonstration. And, of course, there was the NRA, who posted this rather sinister tweet to their official Twitter account:
They also posted a photo of Ronald Reagan shooting a rifle, presumably because true patriots love guns. Someone might want to tell them about The Gipper's support for the Brady Bill. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar14 After Rex, Who's Next?
Mar14 Trump Is Dominating the Democratic Primaries
Mar14 Trump Visits California
Mar14 Democrats Are Not Excited by Stormy Daniels
Mar14 Judge: Manafort Could Face 305 Years in Prison
Mar14 Two GOP Members of House Intelligence Committee Break with Their Colleagues
Mar13 House Intelligence Committee Exonerates Trump Completely
Mar13 Republicans Throw Everything They've Got at PA-18
Mar13 Stormy Daniels' Lawyer Tries to Pressure Trump
Mar13 Looks Like It's Kudlow
Mar13 DeVos Blows It on "60 Minutes"
Mar13 Warren Won't Take DNA Test
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Mar13 Trump Blocks Merger
Mar12 White House Unveils Gun Control Proposal
Mar12 Trump Brags about 5-0 Record in Special Elections
Mar12 Democrats Are Still Fighting about Superdelegates
Mar12 Polling Numbers Are Grim for Trump
Mar12 Flake Wants Primary Challenger for Trump in 2020
Mar12 Trump Wants Secret Service Agents to Monitor Elections
Mar12 Trump's Parade Won't Have Any Tanks
Mar11 Trump Rallies the Troops in Pennsylvania
Mar11 White House Looking to Hire Emmet T. Flood
Mar11 Could Stormygate and Russiagate Collide?
Mar11 In Case You Had Doubts about Steve Bannon...
Mar11 Here Are the Issues that Voters Want to See the Democrats Embrace
Mar11 Maryland May Try to Require Candidates' Taxes
Mar11 Warren: "I'm Not Running"
Mar10 About that Trump-Kim Meeting...
Mar10 Economy May Help Republicans in November
Mar10 Could Anthony Kennedy Save Dean Heller?
Mar10 Poll: Lamb Leading in PA-18 Special Election
Mar10 Cohen's House of Cards Is Falling Apart
Mar10 Nunberg Testifies Before Grand Jury
Mar10 Trump to Cabinet Secretaries: Stop Embarrassing Me
Mar10 Milwaukee Wants the 2020 Democratic National Convention
Mar09 Trump Imposes Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum
Mar09 Trump Accepts Meeting With Kim
Mar09 Manafort to Go on Trial in Virginia for Bank Fraud in July
Mar09 Trump: Cohn's a "Globalist"
Mar09 Sarah Huckabee Sanders Is in the Dog House
Mar09 Kirsten Gillibrand Wins Big in Texas
Mar09 Poll: Five Senate Democrats Would Lose if Election Were Held Now
Mar09 Poll: Trump Would Lose if Election Were Held Now
Mar09 Richard Painter May Run for Franken's Seat
Mar08 Trump Expected to Impose Tariffs Today
Mar08 Stock Market Has a Shaky Day
Mar08 Mueller Is Looking at Attempt to Set Up Back Channel from Trump to Russia