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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

November 2: #NeverTrumper Republicans Release a Cry of Despair

If you are having a bad day in politics, it’s worth remembering there are some political people who almost ever have a good day. I wrote about them for New York.

As David Weigel of the Washington Post explains today, the core of the #NeverTrump movement has been regularly getting together under the auspices of a group calling itself the Meeting of the Concerned.

A lot of familiar names are apparently still in the movement: Weekly Standard editor William Kristol (who said of Trump “he’s dead to me” after the mogul’s infamous 2015 dismissal of John McCain’s POW saga); columnists Mona Charen (long associated with National Review, the magazine that early in 2016 devoted an entire issue to an effort to delegitimize Trump among conservatives) and Max Boot (a foreign-policy expert who has repeatedly challenged Trump’s mental fitness for office); Evan McMullin (who actually ran against Trump in the 2016 general election as an independent candidate); and a couple of ex-congressmen, Bob Inglis and David Jolly.

As Weigel reports, this gang of discontents have decided to issue a public statement “asking congressional Republicans to preempt any presidential action against Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.” But ironically, what appears to have motivated them to do so is the recognition that they’ve lost the battle and the whole GOP’s in the tank for Trump.

“In interviews, members of the Meeting of the Concerned said that the Mueller issue forced their hand. Several said that the influence of conservative media, especially the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News, Wall Street Journal and New York Post, made them worry that the president would fire Mueller and spark a constitutional crisis. Charen pointed to a weekend of Wall Street Journal op-eds that laid out a case for ending the Russia probe, building on months of attacks on Mueller’s integrity.”

But if The Wall Street Journal has been “Trumpified,” of what value is this motley crew of dissenters? And who is likely to be listening on Capitol Hill, particularly with the like-minded Jeff Flake and Bob Corker headed for the exits? Nobody, it seems, according to their own assessment, as articulated by McMullin’s former running mate Mindy Finn:

“‘There’s a leadership vacuum,’ Finn said. ‘Ideally we’d have more members of Congress standing up for the rule of law, being willing to challenge the president. Given that they’re not doing that, we felt that groups like this need to exist and need to speak out.'”

So this statement is less a rallying cry than a cry of despair aimed at the history books more than at today’s historymakers. Or perhaps some of them are genuinely motivated by the moral hazard of associating themselves with the president so many fellow conservatives now idolize:

“‘Donald Trump is reshaping the heart of the GOP into something that is very dark and very diseased,’ said [former congressman] Inglis. ‘My nightmare scenario is a Republican Party that loses its soul. It’s one thing to lose an election. It’s another to lose your soul.'”

And it’s another thing altogether to lose your party to Donald J. Trump.


#NeverTrumper Republicans Release a Cry of Despair

If you are having a bad day in politics, it’s worth remembering there are some political people who almost ever have a good day. I wrote about them for New York.

As David Weigel of the Washington Post explains today, the core of the #NeverTrump movement has been regularly getting together under the auspices of a group calling itself the Meeting of the Concerned.

A lot of familiar names are apparently still in the movement: Weekly Standard editor William Kristol (who said of Trump “he’s dead to me” after the mogul’s infamous 2015 dismissal of John McCain’s POW saga); columnists Mona Charen (long associated with National Review, the magazine that early in 2016 devoted an entire issue to an effort to delegitimize Trump among conservatives) and Max Boot (a foreign-policy expert who has repeatedly challenged Trump’s mental fitness for office); Evan McMullin (who actually ran against Trump in the 2016 general election as an independent candidate); and a couple of ex-congressmen, Bob Inglis and David Jolly.

As Weigel reports, this gang of discontents have decided to issue a public statement “asking congressional Republicans to preempt any presidential action against Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.” But ironically, what appears to have motivated them to do so is the recognition that they’ve lost the battle and the whole GOP’s in the tank for Trump.

“In interviews, members of the Meeting of the Concerned said that the Mueller issue forced their hand. Several said that the influence of conservative media, especially the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News, Wall Street Journal and New York Post, made them worry that the president would fire Mueller and spark a constitutional crisis. Charen pointed to a weekend of Wall Street Journal op-eds that laid out a case for ending the Russia probe, building on months of attacks on Mueller’s integrity.”

But if The Wall Street Journal has been “Trumpified,” of what value is this motley crew of dissenters? And who is likely to be listening on Capitol Hill, particularly with the like-minded Jeff Flake and Bob Corker headed for the exits? Nobody, it seems, according to their own assessment, as articulated by McMullin’s former running mate Mindy Finn:

“‘There’s a leadership vacuum,’ Finn said. ‘Ideally we’d have more members of Congress standing up for the rule of law, being willing to challenge the president. Given that they’re not doing that, we felt that groups like this need to exist and need to speak out.'”

So this statement is less a rallying cry than a cry of despair aimed at the history books more than at today’s historymakers. Or perhaps some of them are genuinely motivated by the moral hazard of associating themselves with the president so many fellow conservatives now idolize:

“‘Donald Trump is reshaping the heart of the GOP into something that is very dark and very diseased,’ said [former congressman] Inglis. ‘My nightmare scenario is a Republican Party that loses its soul. It’s one thing to lose an election. It’s another to lose your soul.'”

And it’s another thing altogether to lose your party to Donald J. Trump.


October 28: The Fever Is Not Breaking Soon

Something Jeff Flake said this week sounded very familiar, so I wrote about it at New York:

I’m probably not the only one who had a sense of déjà vu when Jeff Flake deployed a certain medical term in an interview yesterday:

“After the senator from Arizona announced he was retiring because he couldn’t win a primary in President Trump’s Republican Party, Tapper asked: Why not make the case for why Trumpism is bad and let GOP voters decide?”

“’I think that this fever will break,’ Flake said. ‘I don’t know that it’ll break by next year.’”

During his 2012 reelection campaign, President Obama frequently referred to the extremism and obstructionism that had gripped the Republican Party since he took office in the same terms, as on this occasion during a speech in Minneapolis:

“I believe that if we’re successful in this election, when we’re successful in this election, that the fever may break, because there’s a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that. My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn’t make much sense because I’m not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again.”

Needless to say, that didn’t happen. After two more years of obstruction following the 2012 election, Republicans took back full control of Congress, and then wielded that power with a monomaniacal focus on seizing total power in 2016. To the extent that they did much of anything, it involved passing legislation they knew Obama would veto, to score ideological points and try to convince their “base” they’d tear up Obama’s legacy instantly if given the chance.

But the “fever” Republicans regularly fed to keep their activists, donors, and most committed voters revved up and howling at the moon got out of control. Out of the fever swamps emerged Donald Trump.

As Aaron Blake notes in a critique of Flake’s position, for all the peculiarities surrounding Trump, there’s less discontinuity with the recent past than some imagine:

“Trump has certainly taken the GOP in a wholly new direction on a few issues, especially trade. But the things that really define him and separate him from other Republicans — attacking basically any establishment politician, fighting culture wars that most Republicans steer clear of, shunning all forms of political correctness — have been in demand among the GOP base for the better part of the past decade or more.”

We’ll never know what might have happened to the Republican Party had Trump lost, as nearly everyone outside his immediate orbit (and some within it) expected. But for now, the raging debate within the GOP is not one between dissenters like Flake, McCain, and Corker (the “Last Hurrah Caucus” as Perry Bacon Jr. calls it) and Team Trump. It’s between the vast majority of Republican elected officials who have pledged fealty to Trump and those in the Republican base who believe that fealty is not passionate enough.

Symbolically, the fight echoes the one we just saw in Alabama between Luther Strange, the 1000-percent right-wing senator who could not utter a breath without singing a hymn of praise to Donald Trump, and Roy Moore, who embraced a more systematic radicalism aimed at Establishment Republicans who talked the talk but did not walk the walk of blowing up every conceivable limitation on full and immediate implementation of Trump’s agenda.

The GOP’s electoral base may determine the outcome of the fight between pro-Trump Establishmentarians and pro-Trump insurgents in a series of 2018 primaries. No matter who wins, though, it’s Trump’s party and “the fever” continues to rage.


The Fever Is Not Breaking Soon

Something Jeff Flake said this week sounded very familiar, so I wrote about it at New York:

I’m probably not the only one who had a sense of déjà vu when Jeff Flake deployed a certain medical term in an interview yesterday:

“After the senator from Arizona announced he was retiring because he couldn’t win a primary in President Trump’s Republican Party, Tapper asked: Why not make the case for why Trumpism is bad and let GOP voters decide?”

“’I think that this fever will break,’ Flake said. ‘I don’t know that it’ll break by next year.’”

During his 2012 reelection campaign, President Obama frequently referred to the extremism and obstructionism that had gripped the Republican Party since he took office in the same terms, as on this occasion during a speech in Minneapolis:

“I believe that if we’re successful in this election, when we’re successful in this election, that the fever may break, because there’s a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that. My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn’t make much sense because I’m not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again.”

Needless to say, that didn’t happen. After two more years of obstruction following the 2012 election, Republicans took back full control of Congress, and then wielded that power with a monomaniacal focus on seizing total power in 2016. To the extent that they did much of anything, it involved passing legislation they knew Obama would veto, to score ideological points and try to convince their “base” they’d tear up Obama’s legacy instantly if given the chance.

But the “fever” Republicans regularly fed to keep their activists, donors, and most committed voters revved up and howling at the moon got out of control. Out of the fever swamps emerged Donald Trump.

As Aaron Blake notes in a critique of Flake’s position, for all the peculiarities surrounding Trump, there’s less discontinuity with the recent past than some imagine:

“Trump has certainly taken the GOP in a wholly new direction on a few issues, especially trade. But the things that really define him and separate him from other Republicans — attacking basically any establishment politician, fighting culture wars that most Republicans steer clear of, shunning all forms of political correctness — have been in demand among the GOP base for the better part of the past decade or more.”

We’ll never know what might have happened to the Republican Party had Trump lost, as nearly everyone outside his immediate orbit (and some within it) expected. But for now, the raging debate within the GOP is not one between dissenters like Flake, McCain, and Corker (the “Last Hurrah Caucus” as Perry Bacon Jr. calls it) and Team Trump. It’s between the vast majority of Republican elected officials who have pledged fealty to Trump and those in the Republican base who believe that fealty is not passionate enough.

Symbolically, the fight echoes the one we just saw in Alabama between Luther Strange, the 1000-percent right-wing senator who could not utter a breath without singing a hymn of praise to Donald Trump, and Roy Moore, who embraced a more systematic radicalism aimed at Establishment Republicans who talked the talk but did not walk the walk of blowing up every conceivable limitation on full and immediate implementation of Trump’s agenda.

The GOP’s electoral base may determine the outcome of the fight between pro-Trump Establishmentarians and pro-Trump insurgents in a series of 2018 primaries. No matter who wins, though, it’s Trump’s party and “the fever” continues to rage.


October 26: Virginia May Signal Whether Minority Voters Are Likely To Turn Out in 2018

After reading a lot of back-and-forth about the trajectory of the November 7 Virginia gubernatorial election, I offered some thoughts at New York about the national implications:

For all the discussion about Donald Trump’s success among “Rust Belt” white working-class voters in 2016, another big factor in his upset win was unexpectedly low turnout among “Obama Coalition” voters (usually defined as young and minority voters), especially African-Americans. Despite Trump’s constant deployment of sub-rosa and not-so sub-rosa appeals to white racial resentments, according to census data, African-American turnout dropped from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent in 2016, the largest presidential cycle-to-cycle turnout slump for black voters in recorded history. Latino turnout was stable, a major disappointment to Democrats who thought Trump’s constant immigrant-baiting might create a large backlash. Millennial turnout was up, but not massively.

Some reasons for the African-American turnout drop-off in 2016 are reasonably obvious: It was the first presidential election since 2004 (when black turnout was very similar to 2016 levels) when the first African-American president was not on the ballot. And as Ari Berman has demonstrated, GOP-engineered voter suppression may have played an important role in reducing African-American turnout in some key states, notably Wisconsin.

Postmortems aside, the collapse of the Obama Coalition should cast a long shadow over Democratic hopes of a 2018 wave election. That’s because these voters traditionally have not participated proportionately in non-presidential elections. Unless the pattern changes — and after 2016 we now know that Donald Trump’s presence as leader of the GOP won’t likely change it without some additional encouragement — then Democrats looking to win back the House in 2018 may need a level of success with white voters beyond anything they’ve accomplished lately. In the last Democratic midterm wave election, in 2006, Democrats won 47 percent of the white vote. Barring something really unimaginable, that is not going to happen in 2018 (Republicans have now won at or near 60 percent of the white vote in four consecutive presidential and midterm elections).

In 2014, Democrats were worried enough about the “midterm falloff” problem in their electoral base that the Democratic National Committee created and funded an initiative — known as the Bannock Street Project —to address it. Utilizing the digital voter-targeting and outreach methodologies pioneered in the 2012 Obama campaign, the $60 million project targeted pro-Democratic demographic groups in ten states. All ten of those states had Senate elections in 2014; Republicans won nine of them — a net gain of six Senate seats in this relatively small slice of the country.

There is some empirical evidence the Bannock Street Project actually did boost base turnout, making a 2014 debacle less severe than it otherwise might have been, but it’s tough to get around the bottom-line failure. And given the uninspiring numbers from 2016, Democrats face 2018 with this very large problem still unsolved.

That is one reason to look closely at what is happening in the competitive off-year gubernatorial election in Virginia, a state with a large African-American population and a growing Latino presence as well. Despite a pro-Democratic trend in presidential elections (Virginia has now gone Democratic in three consecutive presidential years, after going Republican ten straight times dating back to 1964), the party has suffered underwhelming election finishes in the last two non-presidential years: in 2013, Terry McAuliffe undershot the polls in dispatching ultraconservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli; and in 2014, Republican Ed Gillespie nearly upset Senator Mark Warner. So the possibility of midterm falloff among minority voters is and should be a big concern.

At least one observer, civil-rights activist Steve Phillips, is warning that Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam and his campaign are ignoring African-American voters in the pursuit of white swing voters to an extent that may doom his candidacy:

“Northam has spent over $17 million as of October 1, 2017…. [T]he Northam campaign’s biggest line item—nearly $9 million—consists of funds given to an advertising firm led by an all-white board to run television ads. These campaign ads attack the Republican nominee for his ties to the oil company Enron. What is the strategic rationale of such an advertising campaign? Clearly, those ads are not supposed to motivate African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and other people of color to take time from their busy lives to come out and support the Democratic ticket.”

Phillips also deplores the scant attention and support pro-Democratic groups in Virginia have given to Northam’s African-American running mate, Justin Fairfax.

There are actually some signs in Virginia of Democratic concern for motivating base voters instead of simply competing for swing voters, including a high-profile appearance by President Obama. Swing-voter-focused ads have also been supplemented by more base-oriented efforts, including a flier that directly links Republican candidate Ed Gillespie to Donald Trump and to the infamous neo-Confederate protesters in Charlottesville. And it’s also possible Gillespie’s own racially tinged ads that demagogue about the MS-13 criminal gang or the restoration of felons’ rights will backfire (in one famous case, in Georgia in 1998, an over-the-top white racial appeal orchestrated by GOP operative Ralph Reed boosted African-American turnout in a midterm election significantly and produced a surprise Democratic statewide sweep).

It is not clear, moreover, that non-presidential election falloff among African-Americans in Virginia is as severe a problem as it is in some states. According to exit polls, the African-American percentage of the Virginia electorate was virtually the same (ranging from 20 percent to 21 percent) in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2016. The one exception, though, shows the potentially calamitous results of poor minority turnout: In 2009 African-Americans represented just 16 percent of the Virginia electorate, and Democrat Creigh Deeds lost decisively.

So minority turnout in Virginia (and for that matter, in the less competitive contest in New Jersey) is worth watching on November 7. Heading into 2018, Democrats would be well advised to conduct a full public discussion of the Bannock Street Project and other investments in “base” turnout, while making voter mobilization just as important a factor as swing voter persuasion in all the party’s investments.


Virginia May Signal Whether Minority Voters Are Likely To Turn Out in 2018

After reading a lot of back-and-forth about the trajectory of the November 7 Virginia gubernatorial election, I offered some thoughts at New York about the national implications:

For all the discussion about Donald Trump’s success among “Rust Belt” white working-class voters in 2016, another big factor in his upset win was unexpectedly low turnout among “Obama Coalition” voters (usually defined as young and minority voters), especially African-Americans. Despite Trump’s constant deployment of sub-rosa and not-so sub-rosa appeals to white racial resentments, according to census data, African-American turnout dropped from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent in 2016, the largest presidential cycle-to-cycle turnout slump for black voters in recorded history. Latino turnout was stable, a major disappointment to Democrats who thought Trump’s constant immigrant-baiting might create a large backlash. Millennial turnout was up, but not massively.

Some reasons for the African-American turnout drop-off in 2016 are reasonably obvious: It was the first presidential election since 2004 (when black turnout was very similar to 2016 levels) when the first African-American president was not on the ballot. And as Ari Berman has demonstrated, GOP-engineered voter suppression may have played an important role in reducing African-American turnout in some key states, notably Wisconsin.

Postmortems aside, the collapse of the Obama Coalition should cast a long shadow over Democratic hopes of a 2018 wave election. That’s because these voters traditionally have not participated proportionately in non-presidential elections. Unless the pattern changes — and after 2016 we now know that Donald Trump’s presence as leader of the GOP won’t likely change it without some additional encouragement — then Democrats looking to win back the House in 2018 may need a level of success with white voters beyond anything they’ve accomplished lately. In the last Democratic midterm wave election, in 2006, Democrats won 47 percent of the white vote. Barring something really unimaginable, that is not going to happen in 2018 (Republicans have now won at or near 60 percent of the white vote in four consecutive presidential and midterm elections).

In 2014, Democrats were worried enough about the “midterm falloff” problem in their electoral base that the Democratic National Committee created and funded an initiative — known as the Bannock Street Project —to address it. Utilizing the digital voter-targeting and outreach methodologies pioneered in the 2012 Obama campaign, the $60 million project targeted pro-Democratic demographic groups in ten states. All ten of those states had Senate elections in 2014; Republicans won nine of them — a net gain of six Senate seats in this relatively small slice of the country.

There is some empirical evidence the Bannock Street Project actually did boost base turnout, making a 2014 debacle less severe than it otherwise might have been, but it’s tough to get around the bottom-line failure. And given the uninspiring numbers from 2016, Democrats face 2018 with this very large problem still unsolved.

That is one reason to look closely at what is happening in the competitive off-year gubernatorial election in Virginia, a state with a large African-American population and a growing Latino presence as well. Despite a pro-Democratic trend in presidential elections (Virginia has now gone Democratic in three consecutive presidential years, after going Republican ten straight times dating back to 1964), the party has suffered underwhelming election finishes in the last two non-presidential years: in 2013, Terry McAuliffe undershot the polls in dispatching ultraconservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli; and in 2014, Republican Ed Gillespie nearly upset Senator Mark Warner. So the possibility of midterm falloff among minority voters is and should be a big concern.

At least one observer, civil-rights activist Steve Phillips, is warning that Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam and his campaign are ignoring African-American voters in the pursuit of white swing voters to an extent that may doom his candidacy:

“Northam has spent over $17 million as of October 1, 2017…. [T]he Northam campaign’s biggest line item—nearly $9 million—consists of funds given to an advertising firm led by an all-white board to run television ads. These campaign ads attack the Republican nominee for his ties to the oil company Enron. What is the strategic rationale of such an advertising campaign? Clearly, those ads are not supposed to motivate African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and other people of color to take time from their busy lives to come out and support the Democratic ticket.”

Phillips also deplores the scant attention and support pro-Democratic groups in Virginia have given to Northam’s African-American running mate, Justin Fairfax.

There are actually some signs in Virginia of Democratic concern for motivating base voters instead of simply competing for swing voters, including a high-profile appearance by President Obama. Swing-voter-focused ads have also been supplemented by more base-oriented efforts, including a flier that directly links Republican candidate Ed Gillespie to Donald Trump and to the infamous neo-Confederate protesters in Charlottesville. And it’s also possible Gillespie’s own racially tinged ads that demagogue about the MS-13 criminal gang or the restoration of felons’ rights will backfire (in one famous case, in Georgia in 1998, an over-the-top white racial appeal orchestrated by GOP operative Ralph Reed boosted African-American turnout in a midterm election significantly and produced a surprise Democratic statewide sweep).

It is not clear, moreover, that non-presidential election falloff among African-Americans in Virginia is as severe a problem as it is in some states. According to exit polls, the African-American percentage of the Virginia electorate was virtually the same (ranging from 20 percent to 21 percent) in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2016. The one exception, though, shows the potentially calamitous results of poor minority turnout: In 2009 African-Americans represented just 16 percent of the Virginia electorate, and Democrat Creigh Deeds lost decisively.

So minority turnout in Virginia (and for that matter, in the less competitive contest in New Jersey) is worth watching on November 7. Heading into 2018, Democrats would be well advised to conduct a full public discussion of the Bannock Street Project and other investments in “base” turnout, while making voter mobilization just as important a factor as swing voter persuasion in all the party’s investments.


October 20: When It Comes To Senate Races, Are Trump and Bannon Both Losers?

After reading an awful lot of articles about Steve Bannon and Donald Trump jousting over 2018 Senate primaries, I expressed some skepticism at New York about this alleged clash of the titans:

While it hasn’t been formally confirmed by the White House just yet, Politico is reporting that President Trump called up three Republican senators who are up for reelection and promised to help them fend off any primary challengers that might emerge. It’s probably not a coincidence that all three – John Barrasso of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi — have been the subject of dark imprecations and thinly veiled threats from former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, that great defender of Trumpism even if that involves opposing Trump.

The three senators receiving an offer of help from Trump are a goodly portion of the incumbents under fire from Bannon. There are only eight GOP senators up next year. Bannon isn’t messing with Ted Cruz. Bob Corker is retiring. Another, Orrin Hatch may retire, too; he hasn’t announced his intentions. There are two senators that Bannon and like-minded “populists” might target but that Trump probably won’t back no matter what Mitch McConnell does: sworn presidential enemy Jeff Flake of Arizona and the less-abrasive but still unreliable Dean Heller of Nevada. That leaves the very three Trump apparently called this week.

Two potential right-wing challengers are looking at Barrasso with bad intent: gazillionaire Foster Friess, the man who bankrolled Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign, and Blackwater founder (and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) Erik Prince. Bannon has talked to former Nebraska state treasurer Shane Osborn, who lost badly to Ben Sasse in a 2014 Senate primary, about taking on Fischer. And Chris McDaniel, who blew a primary runoff against Thad Cochran in 2014, is eager to run against Wicker, who had the temerity to suggest that Mississippi might want to consider ending its ancient and evil love affair with the Confederacy.

The big question is exactly what either Trump or Bannon will add to any of these three races. Trump obviously has clout and ultimate visibility as the president of the United States, and for all the #NeverTrump movement conservatives (Flake and Sasse now being their increasingly isolated representatives) who initially withheld affection for their party’s ravisher, he’s now loved by the right-wing rank-and-file as though he were the reincarnation of Barry Goldwater.

But Trump’s clumsy and narcissistic embrace of Luther Strange in Alabama should give pause to any future endorsee. A postelection study showed Trump did little or nothing to boost his candidate’s standing, even in a state where Republicans adore him. It’s possible his appeal, such as it is, simply isn’t transferrable, and it’s also possible his fans believe in doing what Trump does rather than doing what Trump says. Candidates adept at bone-charring rhetoric and provocation of the hated liberals may be irresistible to Trump’s base, no matter whom he backs.

On the other hand, Bannon’s insurgent wizardry is a bit suspect as well. The idea that he deserves much credit for Roy Moore’s primary win in Alabama is laughable: Moore was a massive celebrity in his home state (and among Christian-right folk nationally) back when Bannon’s main theater of operations was in sinful Hollywood. And Luther Strange, bless his little heart, was a great big hot-air balloon losing altitude from practically the moment he accepted appointment to the Senate from a disgraced governor he had been protecting from impeachment. It is at this point not at all certain he can go rolling into a state like Wyoming with Mercer money and screaming Breitbart headlines and take down an incumbent senator, particularly if his candidate is a sketchy character like Prince, who probably knows more about sandy plains of Iraq than about the windy plateaus of the Equality State.

It could well turn out that neither Trump nor his former sidekick and ideological shaman is going to have that dramatic an effect on GOP Senate primaries in 2018.

So much losing. Sad!


When It Comes to Senate Races, Are Trump and Bannon Both Losers?

After reading an awful lot of articles about Steve Bannon and Donald Trump jousting over 2018 Senate primaries, I expressed some skepticism at New York about this alleged clash of the titans:

While it hasn’t been formally confirmed by the White House just yet, Politico is reporting that President Trump called up three Republican senators who are up for reelection and promised to help them fend off any primary challengers that might emerge. It’s probably not a coincidence that all three – John Barrasso of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi — have been the subject of dark imprecations and thinly veiled threats from former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, that great defender of Trumpism even if that involves opposing Trump.

The three senators receiving an offer of help from Trump are a goodly portion of the incumbents under fire from Bannon. There are only eight GOP senators up next year. Bannon isn’t messing with Ted Cruz. Bob Corker is retiring. Another, Orrin Hatch may retire, too; he hasn’t announced his intentions. There are two senators that Bannon and like-minded “populists” might target but that Trump probably won’t back no matter what Mitch McConnell does: sworn presidential enemy Jeff Flake of Arizona and the less-abrasive but still unreliable Dean Heller of Nevada. That leaves the very three Trump apparently called this week.

Two potential right-wing challengers are looking at Barrasso with bad intent: gazillionaire Foster Friess, the man who bankrolled Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign, and Blackwater founder (and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) Erik Prince. Bannon has talked to former Nebraska state treasurer Shane Osborn, who lost badly to Ben Sasse in a 2014 Senate primary, about taking on Fischer. And Chris McDaniel, who blew a primary runoff against Thad Cochran in 2014, is eager to run against Wicker, who had the temerity to suggest that Mississippi might want to consider ending its ancient and evil love affair with the Confederacy.

The big question is exactly what either Trump or Bannon will add to any of these three races. Trump obviously has clout and ultimate visibility as the president of the United States, and for all the #NeverTrump movement conservatives (Flake and Sasse now being their increasingly isolated representatives) who initially withheld affection for their party’s ravisher, he’s now loved by the right-wing rank-and-file as though he were the reincarnation of Barry Goldwater.

But Trump’s clumsy and narcissistic embrace of Luther Strange in Alabama should give pause to any future endorsee. A postelection study showed Trump did little or nothing to boost his candidate’s standing, even in a state where Republicans adore him. It’s possible his appeal, such as it is, simply isn’t transferrable, and it’s also possible his fans believe in doing what Trump does rather than doing what Trump says. Candidates adept at bone-charring rhetoric and provocation of the hated liberals may be irresistible to Trump’s base, no matter whom he backs.

On the other hand, Bannon’s insurgent wizardry is a bit suspect as well. The idea that he deserves much credit for Roy Moore’s primary win in Alabama is laughable: Moore was a massive celebrity in his home state (and among Christian-right folk nationally) back when Bannon’s main theater of operations was in sinful Hollywood. And Luther Strange, bless his little heart, was a great big hot-air balloon losing altitude from practically the moment he accepted appointment to the Senate from a disgraced governor he had been protecting from impeachment. It is at this point not at all certain he can go rolling into a state like Wyoming with Mercer money and screaming Breitbart headlines and take down an incumbent senator, particularly if his candidate is a sketchy character like Prince, who probably knows more about sandy plains of Iraq than about the windy plateaus of the Equality State.

It could well turn out that neither Trump nor his former sidekick and ideological shaman is going to have that dramatic an effect on GOP Senate primaries in 2018.

So much losing. Sad!


October 19: First New Hampshire Poll For 2020 Shows Trump Potentially Vulnerable

Don’t look now, but the pollsters are already out there looking at the 2020 elections. I wrote about it at New York.

Yes, it’s incredibly early to be taking polls for the 2020 presidential contest. But on the other hand, there are places like Iowa and New Hampshire where presidential politics is pretty much a constant preoccupation. So it’s worth taking a quick look at the University of New Hampshire’s Granite State Poll, the first to examine the standing of potential candidates in the first-in-the-nation primary.

Among Democrats, what jumps off the page is that there does not at the moment appear to be a deep yearning for fresh faces. Bernie Sanders runs first at 31 percent and Joe Biden runs second at 24 percent. In other words, over half of New Hampshire Democrats currently favor a presidential candidate who would seek to become the first to celebrate an 80th birthday in the White House. Even though she represents a state whose media markets extend well into New Hampshire, Elizabeth Warren is running a relatively poor third at 13 percent. Perhaps, at 68, she’s just a bit too young.

Nine other potential Democratic candidates are named, and they register a collective 17 percent of the vote (Cory Booker leads the pack with 6 percent).

Among Republicans, no potential challenger to Donald Trump is tested, but interestingly enough, only 47 percent say they “plan” to vote for the president in the 2020 primary, with 23 percent saying they’d prefer another candidate and 30 percent being unsure. The same survey at the same point in Barack Obama’s presidency showed 64 percent of Democrats planning to vote for the incumbent, 5 percent expressing support for a different nominee, and 30 percent unsure.

It’s important to remember that the cast of characters for the 2020 presidential contest has not been formed. At the same juncture four years ago, neither of the eventual winners of the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic and Republican primaries, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, was even listed in the Granite State poll field. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton, who was eventually trounced by Sanders in New Hampshire, was favored by 64 percent, with no one else being in double digits. Among Republicans, Rand Paul and Chris Christie led the 2013 Granite State Poll; Paul would drop out before New Hampshire and Christie would finish sixth. Trump ultimately led the field by nearly 20 points. Indeed, Trump’s 35 percent as an upstart candidate facing a huge group of opponents in 2016 isn’t that much less than the 47 percent he currently commands in New Hampshire as the president of the United States.

So it will be fascinating to see if any Republican arises to test Trump’s vulnerability in the early going.


First New Hampshire Poll For 2020 Shows Trump Potentially Vulnerable

Don’t look now, but the pollsters are already out there looking at the 2020 elections. I wrote about it at New York.

Yes, it’s incredibly early to be taking polls for the 2020 presidential contest. But on the other hand, there are places like Iowa and New Hampshire where presidential politics is pretty much a constant preoccupation. So it’s worth taking a quick look at the University of New Hampshire’s Granite State Poll, the first to examine the standing of potential candidates in the first-in-the-nation primary.

Among Democrats, what jumps off the page is that there does not at the moment appear to be a deep yearning for fresh faces. Bernie Sanders runs first at 31 percent and Joe Biden runs second at 24 percent. In other words, over half of New Hampshire Democrats currently favor a presidential candidate who would seek to become the first to celebrate an 80th birthday in the White House. Even though she represents a state whose media markets extend well into New Hampshire, Elizabeth Warren is running a relatively poor third at 13 percent. Perhaps, at 68, she’s just a bit too young.

Nine other potential Democratic candidates are named, and they register a collective 17 percent of the vote (Cory Booker leads the pack with 6 percent).

Among Republicans, no potential challenger to Donald Trump is tested, but interestingly enough, only 47 percent say they “plan” to vote for the president in the 2020 primary, with 23 percent saying they’d prefer another candidate and 30 percent being unsure. The same survey at the same point in Barack Obama’s presidency showed 64 percent of Democrats planning to vote for the incumbent, 5 percent expressing support for a different nominee, and 30 percent unsure.

It’s important to remember that the cast of characters for the 2020 presidential contest has not been formed. At the same juncture four years ago, neither of the eventual winners of the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic and Republican primaries, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, was even listed in the Granite State poll field. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton, who was eventually trounced by Sanders in New Hampshire, was favored by 64 percent, with no one else being in double digits. Among Republicans, Rand Paul and Chris Christie led the 2013 Granite State Poll; Paul would drop out before New Hampshire and Christie would finish sixth. Trump ultimately led the field by nearly 20 points. Indeed, Trump’s 35 percent as an upstart candidate facing a huge group of opponents in 2016 isn’t that much less than the 47 percent he currently commands in New Hampshire as the president of the United States.

So it will be fascinating to see if any Republican arises to test Trump’s vulnerability in the early going.