• McCain "Joke" Keeps Reverberating
• Donnelly Comes Out for Haspel
• Trump Brags About Saving $999,800,000 on New Embassy in Israel
• O'Rourke to PACs: I Don't Want Your Money; PACs: Too Bad
• Few Cities Want 2020 GOP Convention
This week, Republicans got some seemingly hopeful signs that the party won't be destroyed in November's midterms. To start, the latest major "generic Democrat vs. generic Republican" congressional poll, conducted by CNN, suggests that the blue team leads by only three points, 47% to 44%. As that is within the margin of error for the poll, that effectively means that an advantage that was once as high as 18 points may be completely gone. On top of that, Democratic turnout was underwhelming in some of Tuesday's primaries, particularly the swing state of Ohio, where 20% more Republican ballots than Democratic ballots were cast. These indications were enough that some in the GOP are positively giddy. CNN contributor and former Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) spokeswoman Alice Stewart, for example, "downgraded" the blue wave to a trickle, and suggested the GOP might actually expand its majority in both houses. Democrats, for their part, are worried that the state of the economy will carry the day for the Republicans when people cast their ballots in November.
Not so fast. Each party is going to get plenty of good news and bad news in the next five months, so we cannot make too much of one week. And, in fact, the GOP did not have quite so good a week as it seemed. Let's start with the generic Republican vs. Democratic ballot. It's true that it's better to be up 18 points on the generic ballot than 3, but if national preference polls (and, for that matter, a good economy) were definitive, then President Clinton would be preparing for her next meeting with Angela Merkel right now. And, as the Washington Post's Philip Bump points out, Democrats still have a 12-point enthusiasm gap right now. As any political operative knows, getting voters on your side is important, but getting them to the polls is the other half of the battle. And there remains every reason to believe that Democrats are more likely to show up to vote in November.
But what about that Ohio turnout? Well, we're fond around here of recalling Tip O'Neill's old observation that "all politics is local." Certainly, that was the case in the Buckeye State. Right now, there is a rift in the Democratic Party between the centrist (i.e., Hillary) and progressive (i.e., Bernie) wings of the Party, with the latter suspicious and resentful of interference from the DNC. Consequently, the Party is trying to take a hands-off approach when possible, and to let things work themselves out. That was the situation in Ohio, where the DNC and its committees did not spend any money on advertising, and did not engage in any "get out the vote" efforts. The GOP has no such constraints, and so spent $8 million and launched a wide GOTV operation in order to get the most electable candidates nominated (aka, the least Trump-like). For these reasons, the Ohio numbers are not terribly instructive.
More instructive, possibly, is the state of West Virginia. There, the GOP also mobilized in a desperate (and successful) effort to keep the unelectable Don Blankenship from securing the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. The Democrats, as in Ohio, were hands-off, in part because incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin didn't need the help, and in part because "DNC" is a dirty word in the Mountain State. Despite this, the three Republican senatorial candidates combined for 136,220 votes, while the two Democrats combined for 159,891 (in other words, 23,671 more for the blue team). There were also signs of enthusiasm downballot, particularly in WV-03, a seat that is open because Rep. Evan Jenkins (R) decided to run for the U.S. Senate (and lost). In that primary, newly-minted Democratic nominee Richard Ojeda got 29,837 votes, while his November opponent Carol Miller got just 8,936. In part, that is because there were twice as many Republicans in the race than Democrats, but even when all candidates are considered, the blue team pulled in 57,327 votes in WV-03 to the GOP's 37,585. If Ojeda—a state senator who has taken a major public role in supporting the state's striking teachers—does triumph, he'll break the Republicans' current monopoly on West Virginia's congressional delegation.
There are other downballot races that bode well for the Democrats, and poorly for the Trump administration. As a new report from the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute makes clear, county-level officials—sheriffs and district attorneys—have an outsized voice in federal immigration policy, by deciding how vigorously they want to enforce federal mandates (or, if they want to enforce them at all). And, as Vox's Dara Lind points out, there were a number of primary elections in North Carolina this week for county offices where "I'll work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement" candidates ran against "I'll reduce cooperation" candidates. Without exception, the "reduce cooperation" candidates won.
And then there is fundraising. It can be hard, exactly, to figure out where the money is going because there are so many places it can go, some of them not very transparent. That includes national committees, state and local committees, PACs of various sorts, activist organizations of various sorts, and individual candidates. Either party might well be winning the fundraising race right now; nobody can possibly know. What we can know, however, is that many individual Democratic candidates are doing much better than usual. In North Carolina, for example, there are a number of races where the Democratic nominee is winning the money battle handily in Republican-leaning districts. In virtually all of the California congressional races, the Democrats have the upper hand, in part because that is where a lot of the Republican voters are sending their donations.
It is also worth reiterating something we first noted in Wednesday's post. While Republican voters have generally chosen Trump-loving candidates (although not in Ohio), Democrats have even more consistently favored centrist candidates over progressive ones. Clearly, the bitter taste of 2016 lingers, and many folks on the blue team are gravitating toward candidates who can win, even if they aren't ideologically ideal. If this trend continues, then the DNC may get what it wants (the most electable candidates) without alienating the left wing of the Party. And if there are a whole bunch of elections pitting a moderate Democrat against a mini-Trump, well, that does not generally favor the Party whose president has a low-40s approval rating.
On some level, in the era of Trump, all of the tools that psephologists use to predict the political future are broken. So, just about anything could happen in November, and it would not be too big a surprise. However, the evidence continues to support the expectation that there are going to be a lot of happy Democrats on November 7. (Z)
At this point, most politics-watchers are aware that White House staffer Kelly Sadler, discussing Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) opposition to CIA Director nominee Gina Haspel, declared that his opinion does not matter because "he's dying anyway." This was, apparently, a joke.
Not surprisingly, those who are friends with McCain, or who are merely supporters of common decency, have responded with outrage in the past several days. "People have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration," former VP Joe Biden and friend of McCain said in a statement. "It happened yesterday." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), another friend of McCain, slammed the remark as a "disgusting thing to say." Quite a few other members of Congress, including Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC), David Jolly (R-FL), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), and Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI), Joni Ernst, (R-IA), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) have registered their displeasure, with some of them calling for Sadler to be terminated. McCain's daughter, Meghan, agrees with the latter sentiment.
In any other presidential administration in history, there certainly would have been an apology, at the very least, and Sadler would have been lucky to keep her job. Particularly if that administration, just weeks earlier, had presumed to deliver a lecture about how certain kinds of jokes are out of bounds. But this administration does not do apologies. Not only have they ignored such requests/demands, they have made a point of publicly announcing that no apology is coming. "I'm not going to validate a leak one way or the other out of an internal staff meeting," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the press. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney seconded that position on Fox News, "This was a private meeting inside the White House. It was a joke." He even went so far as to argue that the real bad guy here is the leaker, whomever he or she may be, since they are actually the person who hurt McCain's feelings.
Indeed, Sanders (and Donald Trump) are reportedly furious about the whole situation, with the Press Secretary reportedly chewing out her colleagues on Friday. Like Mulvaney, neither cares about the original remark, they are both angry only because it leaked. They think, quite rightly, that such a callous remark reflects badly on the administration. What they do not seem to realize is that their response afterward reflects on them in a much, much worse fashion. (Z)
Speaking of Gina Haspel, another Democratic Joe facing reelection in a red state has said he will vote to confirm her as CIA Director. This time, it is Joe Donnelly (D-IN), who joins Joe Manchin (D-WV) in the club. He explained that the tiebreaker, for him, was that Haspel has the support of former CIA directors John Brennan, Michael Hayden and Leon Panetta.
This news comes dangerously close to confirming that Haspel will indeed be approved. First because Donnelly's vote (along with Manchin's) gives the GOP a fair bit of breathing room. Now, at least four Republicans would have to defect; even more if any other Democrats fall in line between Haspel. Beyond that, Donnelly has presumably been withholding his announcement until he was sure what way the winds were blowing. That he has laid his cards on the table suggests he has decided that confirmation is inevitable. (Z)
Donald Trump held another one of his campaign events in Indiana on Thursday night. And during his hour-long speech, he offered up a story about the "new" U.S. embassy in Jerusalem that is supposed to open for business this week. In the President's telling, he was asked to sign off on a $1 billion expenditure for the new facility, balked at the price tag, and managed to get the job done by investing $200,000 in renovating the existing U.S. consulate in Jerusalem instead. Thus, Trump concluded (to the crowd's delight), he saved Americans $999,800,000.
It is hard to believe that this story could pass anyone's smell test, since it is such an obvious distortion of the truth. To start, it is worth noting that the price tag would be $0 if Trump had not made the decision to move the embassy in the first place. Beyond that, the $200,000 is only enough to make the building minimally usable as an embassy, so that the move can happen as rapidly as is possible. Soon, the building will be expanded substantially, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. And then an actual replacement will be built, at which point that $1 billion will be needed. So, one accurate way to describe the situation is that Trump saved the American people from spending $1 billion...for a short time. Yet another accurate way to describe it is that Trump is going to cost the American people $1 billion due to his decision to move the embassy, and tens of millions more due to his desire to fast-track the move.
Meanwhile, once again the President has chosen not to think about the long-term risks of his bragging. Undoubtedly, the new embassy will be very carefully secured. However, it will also be a big target. Recall what a disaster Benghazi was for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, despite the fact that they had very little to do with the setup at that particular embassy. Now imagine, God forbid, that an attack is made against the new, temporary American embassy in Jerusalem and American lives are lost. "Why did you cut corners, Mr. President?" will be one question. And "Was it to pay for the tax break for corporations?" will be another. And "If Hillary Clinton deserved jail time, what do you deserve?" will be yet another. That would be the kind of deal-breaker that might even alienate a large segment of the base. (Z)
There are two segments of the voting public that are particularly leery of super PAC money: independent voters and progressives. Both groups are weary of "politics as usual" and both groups are noted for their concern that both parties are too much in the thrall of moneyed interests. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) needs votes from both of those factions (and from centrist Democrats, of course) if he is to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). And O'Rourke is having no trouble raising money. To that end, he has told the super PACs that he does not want their money or their support. And the super PACs have made clear that he's going to get it, whether he wants it or not.
Now, it is possible that what O'Rourke really cares about is posturing, and that as long as he can present himself as anti-super PAC, he doesn't mind them supporting his campaign. If he really does care, however, then too bad for him. He has no legal options for stopping them, since this is a free speech issue. Further the law specifically forbids coordination between campaigns and super PACs. The purpose of the law is to stop candidates and PACs from working together, which would make the PAC a way of getting around campaign finance limits. However, if O'Rourke was to call up, say, Scott Dworkin of the super PAC Democratic Coalition and say, "Do not run any ads for me anywhere, anytime, ever," that would be coordination, too. So, all the candidate can do is stomp his feet and yell, which is exactly what he's doing. (Z)
Now is the time that the two major parties begin to look ahead to 2020, and to begin planning their conventions. The Democrats have no shortage of options, and expect to receive bids from Atlanta; Birmingham, AL.; Denver; Houston; Miami Beach, FL.; Milwaukee, New York and San Francisco. The GOP, on the other hand, not so much. Only three cities have expressed interest, and only one of those is willing to actually admit it: Charlotte, NC.
Republican officials are working overtime to explain the lack of enthusiasm, noting that the security demands of hosting a convention are an enormous burden that many cities are not willing to take on these days. There is something to this, but if that were all there was to it, the Democrats should be having the same problem, and they are not. There's clearly something else going on here. Actually, two other things, probably. The first is the Trump effect. Conventions are held in big cities, and most big cities are either majority Democrat, or have a sizable Democratic minority. Given that two of the three candidates for the GOP convention are choosing to hide their identities, it is clear that there is some concern about getting burned, politically, by any association with Trump (politicians in Charlotte, which hosted the 2012 Democratic convention, are somewhat insulated against this). The second problem is that conventions can invite violence, and any mayor or governor who welcomes Trump and the GOP to town in 2020 is going to spend two years having Chicago 1968 themed nightmares. Undoubtedly, the Republicans will eventually find a place for the convention to take place (Mar-a-Lago?). But this story is a reminder that, in the Age of Trump, nothing is easy for the GOP. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
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