Donald Trump has made it clear that he believes the memo released by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) proves special counsel Robert Mueller is on a witch hunt and that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is partly to blame. Yesterday, four Republicans on the Intelligence Committee—Trey Gowdy (SC), Chris Stewart (UT), Will Hurd (TX), and Brad Wenstrup (OH)—disagreed with Trump. Stewart even said that Mueller should be allowed to finish his work.
Gowdy is trying to have it both ways. He helped draft the memo, so he can hardly complain about its contents, but yesterday he said that it has no bearing on the investigation and that Trump should not fire Rosenstein. Gowdy is not running for reelection, but is running for appellate judge. With a remark like that, he may have ended his shot at being appointed to the vacancy on the Fourth Circuit as Trump prefers people who are on his team.
Democrat Adam Schiff (CA) will bring up a proposal to the committee today to release a rebuttal to Nunes' memo. He has proposed this before, but Republicans on the committee voted it down. Schiff has said that his memo refutes just about everything in Nunes' memo and puts the facts in context.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) released his own rebuttal memo to NBC News. Nadler, who as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee has seen all of the intelligence that Nunes has seen, managed to avoid using classified material, and so did not require approval from the President to release the document. Nonetheless, Nadler's memo provides a pretty good preview of what Schiff's memo must contain. Thus, the Democrats have largely gotten their version of the story out, which means that House Republicans and/or President Trump won't gain much by blocking the Schiff memo. At this point, they are probably better off just letting Schiff have his say. (V & Z)
The fallout from national politics is starting to hit state politics. Right now, Republicans completely control 31 state legislatures and in 25 of them, the governor is also a Republican. This has allowed states to pass laws limiting unions, putting restrictions on abortion providers, and most important of all, drawing federal and state district maps favoring the GOP.
Democrats are beginning to awaken from a decade-long slumber and are starting to contest many Republican state legislative seats, even in fairly red districts. Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, said that Republicans were on the defensive almost everywhere. He cited Democratic spending, organization, and energy as factors that could lead to Republican losses in state legislatures in November.
Adding to Republican worries are several pending lawsuits asserting that carefully-drawn Republican gerrymanders are unconstitutional. Battles are ongoing in Wisconsin, Texas, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. If the courts, and ultimately the Supreme Court, decide that partisan gerrymandering is not permissible, it could threaten Republican domination in many states, especially in Midwestern states and sunbelt states like Florida and Arizona. In Florida, Republicans hold the state senate 23 to 17, and in Arizona, both chambers have Republican majorities of fewer than 5 seats. In a Democratic wave, these chambers could very well flip. (V)
For decades, the Republicans have been the law-and-order party, always praising the FBI and all other law-enforcement organizations. Democrats who opposed them were "soft on crime" or worse. With the incessant attacks by Donald Trump on the Dept. of Justice in general and the FBI in particular, the parties have completely switched sides. A new Axios/SurveyMonkey poll shows only 38% of Repulicans approve of the FBI, with 47% disapproving. Among Democrats, it is 64% approval and 14% disapproval. The numbers for independents are 49% approve and 28% disapprove.
This is a huge reversal from the polls just after the 2016 election, when Democrats were fuming that then-Director James Comey should never have released a letter announcing that the bureau had found more Hillary Clinton emails, and especially not without first checking to see if they were genuinely new or just duplicates of what the bureau already had.
Further, it is clear that Trump's constant attacks are working, which could lead to Republicans cheering if he ultimately succeeds in firing Robert Mueller, someone Republican politicians said was completely honest and trustworthy at the time he was appointed. In addition, if Trump isn't able to get rid of Mueller, by damaging the FBI so much, he will be able to label Mueller's final report as "fake news". (V)
The British firm Barclays, which has been around for more than 300 years, is one of the foremost financial services companies in the world. When they speak, the financial world listens. And their assessment is that the current economic boom has nothing to do with Donald Trump.
According to Barclays analysts, their numbers suggest that not only is the present upward swing not related to Trump, it's not even particularly powered by the United States. The most important factors, in their view, are changes to trade policy made by the Chinese government and a rebound in the petroleum industry. And their pessimism about the President's record doesn't end there. William Hobbs, Barclays' head of investment strategy, said that the GOP's tax cut is not likely to have much positive impact when the economy is already doing well. While it "may make for good politics with midterm primaries approaching, it is unlikely to make for good economics long term," he opined.
Of course, the voting public doesn't much care what Barclays (or any other group of snooty British financiers) thinks. Given what happened in 2016, when Democrats took a beating despite a strong economy, it's fair to wonder if Trump's base is even all that sensitive to the United States' economic performance. But if they are, they are going to make their decisions based on their sense of how things are going, not Barclays' sense. And on that front, the President and the GOP currently have reason to be nervous. Last week, and last Friday in particular, were very bad for the markets. And on Monday morning, things did not improve, as the Asian markets took a big hit. Certainly, the United States is not in a recession yet, but this is definitely how they begin. And if that is where the country is headed, the GOP will be in quite a pickle. Not only do voters generally become unhappy when the economy struggles, but the tax plan's math was predicated on assumptions of vibrant growth. If things head in the other direction, then the government's books may get way out of balance far more quickly than anticipated, and voters will not be happy about that, either. (Z)
Donald Trump spent Sunday at Mar-a-Lago watching the Super Bowl with several hundred of his closest friends who have $1,000 to spend on a ticket. Undoubtedly, he was not happy with what he saw, and it wasn't just the fact that his bosom buddies Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft went down to defeat.
To start, the President certainly hoped to score some brownie points with the base by returning to the "kneeling players" well. Prior to the game, the White House issued a none-too-subtle statement that declared, in part:
We owe these heroes the greatest respect for defending our liberty and our American way of life. Their sacrifice is stitched into each star and every stripe of our Star-Spangled Banner. We hold them in our hearts and thank them for our freedom as we proudly stand for the National Anthem.
Never mind that one of the liberties "these heroes" fought for was freedom of expression, nor that many veterans have spoken out and said that they support the kneelers' right to demonstration. In any case, no players actually kneeled, which left The Donald with a bit of egg on his face. This must be why it was a statement and not a tweet, so that his incorrect guess would not linger eternally in his Twitter feed.
The commercials aired during the game, if he watched them, surely did not please the President either, as many of them were clearly designed as a not-very-subtle shot at him and his rhetoric. For example, this pro-diversity ad that points out that women, handicapped people, and Muslims are people, too:
There's also this one, which shows a diverse group of babies and has a narrator advising the infants that "we are equal" and that "some people may see your differences and be threatened by them" and that they should not "allow where they come from the dictate where they are going."
The only thing the narrator doesn't say to the babies, pretty much, is that they shouldn't get upset just because they have small hands. (Z)
Numerous polls have asked voters: "Do you want the Democrats or the Republicans to control the House?" in the past few months. In many of them, the Democrats have a double-digit lead. But a new ABC News poll sheds more light on the subject. Like the other polls, this one shows the Democrats with a big lead, 14% among likely voters nationwide. But this poll breaks it down by districts where the incumbent is a Democrat vs. districts where the incumbent in a Republican. In Democratic districts, Democrats lead Republicans 64% to 26%, but in Republican districts it is reversed. There, the GOP is ahead 51% to 45%. Getting massive landslides in districts they already hold but losing in Republican districts isn't going to help the Democrats capture the House.
Also important is how independents feel, since in swing districts their votes could be crucial. In Democratic districts, independents are with the Democrats, but in Republican districts, they are split almost exactly evenly.
One issue that greatly separates Democrats from Republicans and independents is the desirability of experience vs. new blood. By a huge margin, 72% to 20%, Democrats want experienced representatives. Republicans are almost evenly split 39% to 41%. Independents have a slight preference (45% to 51%) for experience over new blood.
That said, an election is not just about which candidate respondents might vote for. It's also about which respondents actually get out and vote on Election Day. And so, even in districts that appear pretty evenly divided, the Democrats may have the upper hand. Certainly, history is not on the Republicans' side. Bloomberg has produced a chart showing how well the president's party does as a function of the president's popularity. Here it is:
While the result is not linear, it is clear that when the president's approval is high, his party doesn't suffer too much. When it is low, it is hit much harder. In 2006, George W. Bush's approval was 38%, about what Donald Trump's is now, and Republicans lost 30 seats in the House. (V)
It appears that the energy on the Democratic side that led to statewide victories in Virginia, New Jersey, and Alabama last year, plus in dozens of local races isn't waning. The numbers for Q4 fundraising are now in and in over 40 congressional districts, one or more challengers has outraised the Republican incumbent. Also, the trendline is in the wrong direction for the GOP.
Over 80 Democratic challengers had at least $250,000 cash on hand at the end of 2017. This could be a sign that more House races are in play than the PVI map would indicate. On the other hand, so many Democrats think 2018 will be a blue wave that in many districts multiple well-funded Democrats are running and may end up spending all their money fighting other Democrats in the primary. For example, one-term Rep. John Faso (R-NY) is facing attorney Antonio Delgado and veteran and technology executive Pat Ryan, both of whom have raised more money than he has. In addition, Delgado and yet another Democrat, businessman Brian Flynn, have more cash on hand. Delgado, Ryan, and Flynn could clobber one another in the primary and the winner could end up tired and broke.
A similar pattern is occurring in CA-48, where Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) is facing two well-funded Democrats. Harley Rouda is a businessman and Hans Keirstead is a stem-cell researcher, and both raised more money than Rohrabacher last quarter, and Rouda also has more cash on hand than the congressman.
This situation is playing out all over the country. If the Democrats' campaigns are basically just: "I hate Trump more than you hate Trump," then it won't be too hard for the party to unite, even after hard-fought primaries. But if they pit centrists vs. progressives, supporters of the losers may go off and sulk to "teach the winner a lesson." Democrats have mastered the art of sulking far better than the Republicans. As an example, evangelicals, for whom Trump was their 17th choice during the primaries, voted for Trump in greater numbers in the general election than they did for George W. Bush, who actually is an evangelical. (V)
This is an unusual time in American politics. Donald Trump's popularity with some segments of the electorate has a large number of mini-Trumps thinking that they can take down more mainstream Republicans. His unpopularity with other segments also has lots of ambitious Democrats thinking that they can take down Republican officeholders, or else can seize open seats. Further, it is almost certainly the case that the two-party system is in the midst of a re-alignment, something that happens every couple of generations or so. Add it all up, and there are a lot of different politicians and would-be politicians with very different sales pitches desperately trying to get some attention. This is going to produce some exceedingly eyebrow-raising ads this cycle. Already, 2018 has given us two really bad ones, one of them basically inconsequential and the other much less so.
Let's start with the inconsequential one. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) is among the members of the GOP who represents a district won by Hillary Clinton. Her main challenger is Dan Helmer, an impressive fellow who graduated West Point, was a Rhodes Scholar, and did tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also has no political experience, and it shows in this ad:
The purpose of the ad, which is a spin on the movie "Top Gun," is to communicate that Helmer is young and hip, while arguing that Comstock is a far-right-winger in moderate's clothing. However, referencing a movie from 30 years ago, and in such a corny way, does not scream "young" or "hip." Helmer actually has a chance to win this thing, but if he wants to do so, he'll have to stop making commercials so bad they get mocked on late night TV as "the worst campaign ad of the 2018 midterms."
The other ad is for Illinois state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R). She is looking to unseat Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), and is channeling her inner Trump to do so:
The ad starts with a man who has a dress, a deep voice, and five o'clock shadow—presumably the GOP notion of those who are transgender. He says, "Thank you [Rauner], for signing legislation that lets me use the girls' bathroom." Then follows a young lady wearing the style of pink hat associated with women's marches, and who says, "Thank you, for making all Illinois families pay for my abortions." It doesn't get better from there. The ad has been rightly called "transphobic," "sexist," "racist," and "repulsive" and has been denounced by the Illinois state GOP. However, Ives refuses to withdraw it.
While this particular ad is not itself important—an incumbent Rauner is not likely to be unseated by a far right-winger in blue, blue Illinois—the basic tendency it speaks to could be very important indeed. If Republican incumbents get blasted from the right by candidates who espouse Trump-style populism (including its attendant racism, sexism, etc.), then some of them who are not so secure as Rauner may be forced to pivot. They could be unseated, or could be forced to take positions that make them less palatable in the general election. It's much like the tea party, except this time it's the Trump party (the T party?). It's too early to know whether large numbers of Republican challengers will embrace the kind of outrageousness that Ives is willing to. But if they are, that is not what the GOP needs this year. (Z)