Jan. 08

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New Senate: DEM 49             GOP 51

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Bannon Expresses Regret

In a desperate effort to save his job, his career, and his movement, still-executive chairman of Breitbart News Steve Bannon expressed regret about all the things he said about the Trump family that were quoted in Michael Wolff's new book. In the book, he is quoted as saying Junior's meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 was treasonous. Yesterday, he said Junior was a good man. Nevertheless, in effect he confirmed that he was quoted correctly on much, if not all, the material. If Wolff had made it all up, Bannon wouldn't have said, in essence: "I'm sorry I said it." He would have said: "It's all lies."

Bannon clearly realizes now that if most of his former supporters have to choose between Trump and him, they will almost all choose Trump. That also goes for Breitbart management. In particular, Trump and others in his orbit are pushing Breitbart CEO Larry Solov and Andrew Breitbart's widow Susie Breitbart to dump Bannon. His only chance to survive is to suck up to Trump and hope for the best. (V)

White House is in Full Damage Control Mode

It was all hands on deck on Sunday, as the White House tried to downplay Michael Wolff's book and discredit it as a pack of lies. The highlight, if we can call it that, was Stephen Miller's appearance on Jake Tapper's CNN show. It was 12 minutes of bloviating and pre-scripted talking points from Miller before Tapper cut him off, saying he had wasted enough of the viewers' time.

In those 12 minutes, Miller's verbiage was wildly over-the-top, calling Wolff the "garbage author of a garbage book" who produced "a pure work of fiction," referring to the whole situation as "tragic" and "grotesque," and describing the media's reaction as "salacious" and "hysterical." In amongst the slams on the media and on Wolff, Miller also parroted some of the claims the President has made on Twitter, calling Trump a "political genius," and declaring that Steve Bannon had zero impact on White House policymaking. This, of course, is a flat-out lie—the Muslim travel bans were Bannon's work, for example. Miller also managed to contradict himself multiple times, such as when he insisted that he had no knowledge of the notorious meeting at Trump Tower, and then promptly said that everything Wolff wrote about that meeting is a lie. It does not seem to have occurred to Miller that if he knows nothing about the meeting, then he cannot judge the veracity of Wolff's reporting.

It is remarkable that Team Trump cannot grasp that they are just making the damage to themselves worse. If Wolff's book had claimed, for example, that Trump is actually a Martian double agent, sent as an advance scout in anticipation of their conquering of Earth, the administration would not care. But the fact that they have allowed their whole week to be consumed by this, and that they have threatened legal action, and gone to DEFCON 1 on Twitter and on television, make it obvious that Wolff got dangerously close to the truth. And not only is the administration helping to sustain the author's claims, they are also serving as his very best salesmen. (Z)

Trump's Day Is Getting Shorter

Although the days are getting longer now that the winter solstice is in the rearview mirror, Donald Trump's days are getting shorter. This is according to Axios, which has obtained a copy of his schedule. He now gets to work at 11 a.m., even though his commute consists of walking downstairs in the White House. Before that he watches TV, tweets, and makes phone calls in the residence. In contrast, George W. Bush was an early bird who popped into the Oval Office by 6:45 a.m. Barack Obama worked out before work, but still showed up between 9 and 10 a.m.

Trump doesn't make up for a late start by burning the midnight oil, either. By 6 p.m., he has gone home (meaning upstairs). So maybe he works really hard from 11 to 6? Not really. He might have a meeting or two, and he might make a couple of calls, but he watches a lot of TV in the office or in the adjacent dining room. In response to the Axios piece, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, in part: "The President is one of the hardest workers I've seen." (V)

Where Trump Gets His Information From, if it Wasn't Already Clear

At 7:37 p.m. EST last Tuesday, Fox News did a story about Kim Jong-Un and his nuclear button. At 7:49 p.m. EST last Tuesday, Donald Trump sent out a tweet declaring that his button is "much bigger." This is, of course, not a coincidence. For three months, Politico's Matthew Gertz has been following Trump's Twitter feed while comparing it to Fox News, and he says there is no question that an enormous percentage of Trump's Twitter output is prompted by what he sees on the network, particularly on "Fox and Friends."

The article goes through more than a dozen examples, with screen captures and time and date stamps, from the nuclear button to attacks on Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin to NFL players kneeling to Trump's bragging about airline safety. From this, Gertz reaches two rather damning conclusions:

  1. There is no strategy to Trump's Twitter feed; he is not trying to distract the media. He is being distracted. He darts with quark-like speed from topic to topic in his tweets because that's how cable news works.

  2. A man with unparalleled access to the world's most powerful information-gathering machine, with an intelligence budget estimated at $73 billion last year, prefers to rely on conservative cable news hosts to understand current events.

What does the President think about all of this? Perhaps "Fox and Friends" will cover the story tomorrow, so we can find out. (Z)

Trump Is Planning a Trade Crackdown

One of the main issues Donald Trump campaigned on was cracking down on other countries that he says unfairly compete with the U.S. During the few hours he does work, his next big project is going to tackle that. Very likely, tariffs are in the offing. Particularly important is whether Trump imposes tariffs on China. If he does, companies like Boeing, Caterpillar, and Microsoft may quickly notice new tariffs on their exports to China. A full-blown trade war is a real possibility, with potentially disastrous effects on the economy.

What Trump still has not realized, apparently, is that governing has a lot of moving parts that are all connected. If he imposes tariffs on China, he can forget about any cooperation when he asks Xi Jinping to pressure North Korea into abandoning its nuclear program. When he discovers that no other country can exert pressure on North Korea, he will have to decide whether containing the hermit kingdom is more or less important than trade. (V)

Colorado's Governor's Race is a Microcosm of the Country

Colorado is a deep purple state: Both parties do well there. One senator is a Democrat and the other is a Republican. Three of the representatives are Democrats and four are Republicans. It is very evenly balanced. So naturally, politicians from both parties are keenly interested in succeeding the term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO). The race, especially the primaries, will speak volumes about what kinds of candidates are acceptable to each party.

The leading Democrat, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), who is 42, is a progressive gay multimillionaire. But another young Democrat, Mike Johnston (43), with Kennedyesque good looks, is running on a platform of work and jobs, which might appeal to blue-collar workers. A candidate actually named Kennedy, deputy mayor of Denver Cary Kennedy, is also under 50 (by one year). For older, more conservative Democrats, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne (D-CO) is available. She likes the sky, having climbed 58 mountains in Colorado, but does not believe in pie-in-the-sky politics like free pre-school and free college. In other words, Colorado Democrats have plenty of options.

So do Colorado Republicans. They can choose their favorite dynasty, between Romneys (Doug Robinson) and Bushes (Walker Stapleton). Business-oriented Republicans can choose Victor Mitchell (52). People who want a female governor might like AG Cynthia Coffman (56). Colorado has always had a libertarian right-wing fringe, and they, too, have a candidate in former congressman Tom Tancredo (72). In short, there is something for every taste in the Centennial State. (V)

Ten Governors' Races to Watch

Colorado isn't the only place with an interesting gubernatorial race this year. Politico is in list mode these days, what with a new year and a new election cycle getting underway, and they have a good one laying out the 10 races to watch in 2018:

At present, Republicans hold 33 governorships, with 16 for Democrats, and the one Independent in Alaska. In total, 36 governor's mansions will be up for grabs in 2018; of those 36, 26 are held by Republicans, 9 by Democrats, and then again the one Independent in Alaska. The overall map is very nearly the opposite of the Senate map. Only one Democrat will be contesting a state that Donald Trump won (Tom Wolf, PA), while there are eight states that Hillary Clinton won that currently have GOP governors (New Hampshire, Nevada, New Mexico, Maine, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Vermont). So, the blue team is surely going to even the gap a bit. And if it's a wave year, it's not impossible that the Democrats could walk away from the midterms holding a majority of the governors' mansions. That will be helpful to the Party, perhaps, when it comes time to redistrict after the 2020 census. (Z)

More Republicans Are Leaving Congress

As the 2018 campaign season looms on the horizon, the number of people leaving Congress continues to grow. Last week, Reps. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Gregg Harper (R-MS) joined the list. In total so far, there have been 22 representatives (16 R, 6 D) to announce their retirement from politics, and another 19 (11 R, 8 D) who will leave the House to run for another office. In addition, some are leaving right now either due to a scandal or to take an administration job, but since there will be special elections to fill these in 2018, they won't be open seats in 2018, so we won't include them here. The departure of 14 Democrats is par for the course at this point in the cycle. On the other hand, the exit of 27 Republicans is unusually substantial. This ties the record for the largest number of retirements from either party in the last six House elections (27 Republicans retired in 2008.)

What's going on here? There appear to be three major factors in play. The first, and most obvious, is the political environment. A lot of members who have thrown in the towel are from swing districts, and recognize that they could be facing a bruising primary, followed by a bruising general election campaign. Not a pleasant prospect for someone who could easily get washed away in a Democratic wave. Further, their future marketability as a political commentator, or as a lobbyist, is greater if their career did not end in defeat. In other words, for many it is time to get out while the gettin's good.

Beyond that, there is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. And that room happens to be the Oval Office. A fair number of representatives don't want to spend months dealing with Donald Trump's comments and controversies, and are also wary of surprise damage that could be done via Twitter at literally any moment. One of the retirees, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) spoke to The Hill and was blunt: "You clearly alienate a lot of Hispanic voters with [Trump's] comments on Mexicans and Latinos, and of course you have the Charlottesville situation. Politics and getting elected is an exercise in inclusion and not exclusion." The Congressman also observed that, "[T]he litmus test has changed. The issue is loyalty to the man, to the president. And for some, you know, loyalty is not enough, you have to be angry and aggrieved."

The two factors above apply to Republican departures. The third, on the other hand, affects both parties. Politico Magazine talked to two dozen members of Congress who have decided to leave, and asked them why. Their answers returned, again and again, to how unpleasant the job has become due to hyperpartisanship, and to the need to pander to the base on a daily basis via social media. Among the more instructive quotes:

The bad news for whoever it is that replaces these folks is that everyone agrees that things are going to get even worse before they get better.

Here is the complete list of representatives leaving the House in 2019. It is sorted on PVI.

Representative Party District PVI Reason for leaving
Marsha Blackburn Republican TN-06 R+24 Running for governor
Joe Barton Republican TX-06 R+24 Got caught sending out dirty pictures
Evan Jenkins Republican WV-03 R+23 Running for senator
Raul Labrador Republican ID-01 R+21 Running for governor
Diane Black Republican TN-07 R+20 Running for governor
Bill Shuster Republican PA-09 R+19 Retiring from public office
Luke Messer Republican IN-06 R+18 Running for senator
Todd Rokita Republican IN-04 R+17 Running for senator
Jeb Hensarling Republican TX-05 R+16 Retiring from public office
Kristi Noem Republican SD-AL R+14 Running for governor
Bob Goodlatte Republican VA-06 R+13 Retiring from public office
Gregg Harper Republican MS-03 R+13 Retiring from public office
Blake Farenthold Republican TX-27 R+13 Sex scandal
Sam Johnson Republican TX-03 R+13 Retiring from public office
John Duncan Jr. Republican TN-02 R+11 Retiring from public office
Ted Poe Republican TX-02 R+11 Retiring from public office
Lynn Jenkins Republican KS-02 R+10 Retiring from public office
Lou Barletta Republican PA-11 R+10 Running for senator
Lamar Smith Republican TX-21 R+10 Retiring from public office
James Renacci Republican OH-16 R+8 Running for governor
Steve Pearce Republican NM-02 R+6 Running for governor
Tim Walz Democratic MN-01 R+5 Running for governor
Dave Trott Republican MI-11 R+4 Retiring from public office
Charlie Dent Republican PA-15 R+4 Retiring from public office
Carol Shea-Porter Democratic NH-01 R+2 Retiring from public office
Jacky Rosen Democratic NV-03 R+2 Running for senator
Martha McSally Republican AZ-02 R+1 Running for senator
Frank LoBiondo Republican NJ-02 R+1 Retiring from public office
Dave Reichert Republican WA-09 Even Retiring from public office
Ruben Kihuen Democratic NV-04 D+3 Sex scandal
Sander Levin Democratic MI-09 D+4 Has a position at the University of Michigan
Kyrsten Sinema Democratic AZ-09 D+4 Running for senator
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Republican FL-27 D+5 Retiring from public office
John Delaney Democratic MD-06 D+6 Running for president
Michelle Lujan-Grisham Democratic NM-01 D+7 Running for governor
Niki Tsongas Democratic MA-03 D+9 Retiring from public office
Jared Polis Democratic CO-02 D+9 Running for governor
Colleen Hanabusa Democratic HI-01 D+17 Running for governor
Beto O'Rourke Democratic TX-16 D+17 Running for senator
Gene Green Democratic TX-29 D+19 Retiring from public office
Luis Gutiérrez Democratic IL-04 D+33 Retiring from public office

Note that representatives who have already left and for whom a special election will be called in 2018 are not listed. Only the seats that will be open in Nov. 2018 are listed. (Z & V)

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