Sep. 14

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New Senate: DEM 47     Ties 2     GOP 51

New polls: FL MN MX RI
Dem pickups: NV
GOP pickups: IN ND

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Trump Claims Only 6 to 18 People Died in the Puerto Rico Hurricane

Yesterday, Donald Trump tweeted that only 6 to 18 people died in Hurricane Maria that hit Puerto Rico last year:

3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018

This is a baldfaced lie. The actual number of deaths related to the hurricane was about 2,975. He went on, further blaming the Democrats for inflating the number to make him look bad. Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and others on the right have picked up the ball and are running with it. Reality simply doesn't matter at all anymore to these people. The only thing that matters is what they concoct themselves, even if there is not a shred of evidence that there is any truth in it.

Trump, of course, knows that he has a dedicated base that will believe anything he says. If he were to say that the sun will be turned off this weekend for scheduled maintenance, they would believe it. When they saw the sun anyway, he would explain that it was a big LED lamp NASA launched to provide some light while the sun was offline, and his base would believe that, too. We have gotten to the point where 40% of the country rejects the concept of reality itself. It is hard to believe we are having this discussion, but here we are.

Nevertheless, some people are pushing back on Trump's nuttiness. Yesterday, congressional Democrats released an email from first responders dated Sept. 29, 2017, which mentioned mass graves in a mud slide area. Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rosselló was none too happy with Trump's pretending only a handful of Puerto Ricans died in the hurricanes and said yesterday: "Puerto Rico suffered a terrible tragedy at the hands of Hurricane Maria, and we strongly denounce anyone who would use this disaster or question our suffering for political purposes."

Even some Trumpist Republicans are pushing back on Trump. In particular, Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) and Ron DeSantis both openly disagreed with Trump yesterday. They know very well that to remain silent and tacitly agree with Trump will not go over well with the tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who fled the hurricanes and settled in Florida, and whose votes they very much want. Scott said: "I've been to Puerto Rico seven times and saw devastation firsthand." DeSantis' spokesperson said that DeSantis: "doesn't believe any loss of life has been inflated." Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) also chimed in with: "The president's comments on the nearly 3,000 American lives lost in Puerto Rico are shameful."

There is some method to Trump's madness, of course. If a lot of people die as a result of Hurricane Florence, he doesn't want to go on record as 0 for 2. He would rather say: "At least hardly anyone died in Puerto Rico," even if as many people died in the hurricanes as died in the 9/11 terrorist attack. (V)

New Yorkers Headed to the Polls

On Thursday, New Yorkers cast their ballots. As several readers pointed out, the non-Tuesday primaries are not so strange, since both New York and Rhode Island have many Jewish citizens, and we are in the midst of the Jewish high holidays. In other words, it's not something in the water, it's something in the Manischewitz. What is strange, though, is that New Yorkers were voting only on state-level offices on Thursday, having voted on federal offices a couple of months ago (recall the victory of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez). New York is the only state to divvy it up in that way.

In the marquee contest of the night, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) easily dispatched progressive challenger Cynthia Nixon, 66% to 34%. Cuomo will now face Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro (R), and will be a heavy favorite to win reelection. Cuomo's lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, also fended off a progressive challenger (Jumaane D. Williams), but by a much narrower margin (53% to 47%). She'll be matched up against Julie Killian (R), a perennial candidate, and will also be a big favorite. Both Republicans were unopposed in their races.

Speaking of progressives, they may not have had a great night at the top of the ticket, but they got some good news in the races for the state senate. In brief, there is one Democrat in that body who caucuses with Republicans (thus giving the GOP a slim majority), and another group of eight who (temporarily) broke away from the Democratic caucus and formed the "Independent Democratic Conference," which partnered with the chamber's Republicans in a power-sharing agreement. This displeased many left-leaning New Yorkers, and so a gaggle of progressive groups banded together in support of primary challengers to the apostate Democrats. Though the Democrat who caucuses with Republicans (Simcha Felder) survived, a remarkable six of the nine challengers (John Liu, Jessica Ramos, Zellnor Myrie, Robert Jackson, Alessandra Biaggi, and Rachel May) managed to knock off their incumbent foes. There's no predicting what will happen in the general, but the blue team needs to gain one seat in the state senate to have the trifecta in the Empire State (assuming Cuomo is reelected).

And finally, in the contest that may actually prove to be most impactful, New York may elect its first-ever black, female statewide officeholder. That is because the Democrats went with Letitia James (who had both progressive and establishment support) as their AG nominee. The Republicans went with Keith Wofford, who was the only person on the ballot on that side of the race (and who is also black). If James wins—and she too is a heavy favorite—she has promised to spend much of her time and energy looking into Donald Trump's misdeeds. One can only imagine the tweets; undoubtedly references to James' IQ, and comparisons of her to various fauna, will be frequent.

Thus ends primary season. The next time voters go to the polls, it will be on Nov. 6, aka the biggie. (Z)

Senate Might Not Confirm a Replacement if Trump Fires Sessions

Many Republican senators expect Donald Trump to fire AG Jeff Sessions after the midterms. However, some of them are not willing to confirm a replacement unless they are sure the new AG will refuse to fire special counsel Robert Mueller if ordered to do so. Some of them suspect that only a sitting senator could be trusted to leave Mueller alone, but not many of them seem to want the job. One "maybe" is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who says he is not interested, but other senators think he most definitely is interested. Graham suggested Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), but Cornyn immediately shot back with "no dice."

Of course, what Trump really wants is a lawyer who will look out for his personal interests, and that is problematical for some senators. The timing could also be important. If Republicans lose the Senate, they will want to hold confirmation hearings in a lame-duck session of the Senate in November or December. But after the midterms, every Democrat will vote "no" on pretty much every nominee, so all it would take is two Republican defections to sink the candidate. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) has already said it would be really difficult for him to confirm a successor. One of the senators who will not be returning in January, such as Jeff Flake (R-AZ) or Bob Corker (R-TN), might be the other one.

Another potential headache for Trump is the Secretary of Defense. According to D.C. scuttlebutt, Trump is going to fire Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis after the midterms. Several Republican senators, including Jim Inhofe (OK) and John Barasso (WY), have warned Trump not to fire Mattis. In short, if Trump starts firing cabinet members after the midterms, confirming successors could be a real problem. (V)

Kavanaugh May Not Be in the Clear Yet

Democratic activists in general, and in particular those in California, have been none too happy with Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) handling of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. Their general view is that she's been far too restrained, and not a vigorous enough attacker (in contrast to the state's other Democratic senator, Kamala Harris). Feinstein may well redeem herself in her critics' eyes, however, thanks to a mysterious letter that she sent to the FBI on Thursday.

The exact contents of the letter are not known, and Feinstein is being cagey about it. Here is her statement on the matter:

I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities.

There are at least two people who know what the letter says, because Feinstein first got the information from Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), whose constituency includes the unknown accuser. Neither the Senator nor the Representative has been willing to share much else, even with their colleagues in Congress. The scuttlebutt on the Hill, however, is that the accusations involve some sort of "sexual misconduct" back when the nominee was in high school. But even if that is true, it covers a wide range of offenses, some of which are considerably more problematic than others. Also unknown, at the moment, are the accuser's plans. Will she talk to the FBI? Has she hired counsel? Is she planning to go public at some point? All good questions.

The Senate Judiciary Committee's vote on Kavanaugh has already been delayed until next week, although chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) says he plans to move forward on September 20. We shall see if he sticks with that, especially since if Feinstein is going to tell anyone what she knows, it's him. If Kavanaugh does get the Committee's blessing, then we will see if the accusations make any of the GOP Senators (Susan Collins? Lisa Murkowski? Jeff Flake?) skittish. Needless to say, it would not be good for the Party if they blocked a legitimate SCOTUS nominee in Merrick Garland, put Kavanaugh on the Court, and then had it come out that he's got something Roy Moore-like in his past. In the Year of the Woman, one can scarcely imagine something more likely to get Democratic voters out of their houses and to their polling places. (Z)

House and Senate Reach a Bipartisan Budget Deal to Prevent a Shutdown

House and Senate negotiators have reached a deal to fund the government through Dec. 7. It doesn't provide for full funding of Donald Trump's wall, so Trump could veto the bill, but shutting down the government just before an election is not considered a good strategy. Furthermore, members of Congress, especially Republican ones, certainly do not want a shutdown, so even if Trump vetoes the bill, there might well be enough votes to override the veto. (V)

Gillum Leads DeSantis in Polls

A new poll of the Florida governor's race is out, and it has Andrew Gillum (D) leading Ron DeSantis by four points. This is consistent with the other polls of the race that have been conducted, all of which have given Gillum a small lead.

It's not too surprising that Gillum appears to be a slight favorite, despite the fact that a mysterious federal investigation is hovering over his head. First of all, DeSantis is a pretty poor match for Florida (too right-wing for a purple, majority-minority state). Second, outgoing governor Rick Scott (R), who is a better match and who has unlimited personal funds to tap into, barely eked out victories in his two electoral triumphs, and those were in non-blue wave years. Third, and finally, DeSantis' own remarks ("monkeying around"), and the racist robocalls that white supremacists have made on his behalf, and Donald Trump's callous remarks about the dead in Puerto Rico are all doing an excellent job of convincing non-white Floridians (who are, again, a majority) that the GOP is openly hostile to them.

A Gillum victory, particularly if he continues to gain in the polls, could have some significant national implications. This year, his coattails could help save Sen. Bill Nelson (D), whom the Democrats really need to win in order to have a chance at retaking the Senate. Then, in the 2020 presidential race, Gillum would undoubtedly play a key role in trying to keep Florida in the Democratic column. And finally, Gillum would likely still be in office when the new Congressional maps are drawn after the next census. At the moment, the state's map slightly favors the GOP. So, this is a contest that will attract much attention (and money) from outside the Sunshine State. (Z)

Inside the Mind of Donald Trump

Donald Trump's thought processes are rather incomprehensible to those of us who are witnessing his presidency in real time. And there is no question that generations of political scientists and historians will make their careers trying to figure it out. Best of luck to them; just the tweets alone will take a couple of years of full-time research work to go through. Those future scholars are definitely going to want to take a look at two different pieces published this week that try to make sense of the matter.

The first, by former Trump Organization executive Barbara Res, is headlined "Trump and his flunkies: Why aren't staffers standing up to him?" She recalls an incident when the then-real estate developer saw a bunch of bumps on the wall of an under-construction elevator at Trump Tower. The Donald did not understand what the bumps were, and Res had to gently explain to him that those are known as braille, and that their purpose is to help blind people navigate. "Get rid of the (expletive) braille. No blind people are going to live in Trump Tower. Just do it!" screamed Trump. When his underlings explained that discriminating against blind tenants and getting rid of the braille were both against the law, he refused to budge. So, Res & Co. simply ignored him and put the braille in, anyhow.

The point of Res' piece is that she's not surprised by anything that's happened during Trump's presidency, and in particular that she believes Bob Woodward's reporting in his new book, because the Donald has been behaving like this for decades. That is to say, abusing underlings, disregarding the law when it's inconvenient, asking folks to lie or break the law on his behalf, and harboring prejudices against whole groups of people (e.g., the blind). She also says that, much like the behavior detailed in the infamous anonymous op-ed, Trump's underlings have always learned to humor him at times, to ignore him at times, and to actively work behind his back to stymie him at times.

The second piece, by the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, is specifically inspired by Trump's insistence on claiming victory, even in the face of all evidence to the contrary. The main theme of the piece is that, being a businessman to his core, he is always selling. When you are, for example, trying to get someone to buy a condo, the "ok" things about the property become "great" things, the "good" things become "fantastic" things, and the bad things don't get mentioned. As a politician, Trump follows the same policy, exaggerating his accomplishments to the nth degree, and never, ever, admitting to anything negative.

The other interesting aspect of this is that Trump isn't just selling himself to followers, underlings, etc. 24-7. He's also selling Donald Trump to Donald Trump at the same time. He concluded many moons ago that nothing is more important in life than being confident. However, as anyone who has paid attention to him knows, confidence does not come easily to him. It seems strange that someone could be as insecure as he is, and also be president, but there it is. Nixon was basically the same way, after all. In any case, as one Trump biographer put it in his interview with Dawsey:

One of his great strengths is that he lives in his own reality distortion field—there is this narrative going on all the time in his head about how successful he is, how great he is—one of the things that allows him to plow ahead after he makes mistakes.

One is reminded of Mark Twain's remark that, "All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure."

In the end, the common ground between the two pieces is this: Nothing we've seen in the last two years, no matter how shocking, is particularly new for him. Further, he's a businessman first, and nothing else second, which means that he approaches every problem as a real estate developer would. The problem, as he has himself demonstrated, is that doesn't get it done for most things in politics. It may be instructive that the men who came to the White House with the most success as businessmen (non-plantation owner category) were among the worst presidents: Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush. (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Florida Bill Nelson* 45% Rick Scott 44% Sep 10 Sep 11 Pulse Opinion Research
Minnesota Amy Klobuchar* 53% Jim Newberger 38% Sep 06 Sep 08 SurveyUSA
Minnesota special Tina Smith* 48% Karin Housley 39% Sep 06 Sep 08 SurveyUSA
Rhode Island Sheldon Whitehouse* 54% Robert Flanders 32% May 30 Jun 04 SocialSphere

* Denotes incumbent

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