washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

November 10: Roy Moore’s Troubles Could Open the Door for Democrats

As we all absorbed the lurid story of predatory behavior by Roy Moore towards teenage girls that the Washington Post reported, I began thinking ahead a bit at New York about the broader partisan implications if the allegations stick:

Moore’s immediate reaction was to deny everything and claim the story was “a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post,” the media outlet that ran the story. But despite Moore’s carefully cultivated image of religiosity and moral probity (he is sometimes called the Ayatollah of Alabama), the allegations are numerous enough, detailed enough, disturbing enough, and, well, creepy enough to cause him some serious problems unless they are somehow discredited.

The alleged behavior, especially the story of the 32-year-old prosecutor whisking away 14-year-old Leigh Corfman for illicit sexual conduct after offering to “watch” her while her mother was in a court proceeding, is not the sort of thing that can be dismissed as a “youthful indiscretion” or as a product of contemporary standards of acceptable conduct. Given the multiple accusations of Moore pursuing minors during that period of his life, there’s always the chance more accusers will now come forward.

So this could well be a five-alarm political fire for the GOP in one of its strongholds. And it opens up the first realistic path for Democrats to secure control of the Senate by the end of 2018.

Thanks to his long record of hypercontroversial statements compounded by not one but two occasions on which he lost his gavel as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for defiance of federal law, Moore was already more vulnerable than Republicans usually are in Alabama statewide races. The current RealClearPolitics polling average gives him only a six-point lead over Democrat Doug Jones. If the new allegations aren’t dispelled very quickly, Moore could be in enough trouble to convince Democrats to make a major investment in Jones, and then anything could happen.

The emerging situation brings back memories of the Missouri Senate race in 2012, when it was widely assumed Democrat Claire McCaskill was going to lose. Then hard-right Republican Todd Akin won a complicated primary and proceeded to destroy his candidacy with ignorant and misogynistic comments suggesting rape exceptions for an abortion ban were unnecessary because “legitimate” rapes don’t cause pregnancy. For a while national and Missouri Republicans talked about substituting another candidate for the doomed Akin, but in the end they just watched him go down to defeat. Along with another favored GOP candidate who couldn’t stop saying stupid things about rape, Richard Mourdock of Indiana, Akin helped dash Republican dreams of retaking the Senate that year. And these incidents involved unfortunate words from GOP candidates. What Moore stands accused of is far worse.

This time around, if Moore craters, reducing the GOP Senate margin to 51/49, Democrats could have a real chance of winning back the Senate next year, despite only eight Republican seats being up for reelection. Jeff Flake’s seat in Arizona and Dean Heller’s in Arizona are already highly competitive. It’s finding that third realistic target that’s been tough for Democrats. But a Jones win this year would reduce the magic number to just two.

Yes, a Jones win is still a reach, and to regain the Senate Democrats would have to win a large number of races involving vulnerable members of their own party. But with what looks like a possible Democratic wave forming for 2018, the landscape may be shifting dramatically. What Democrats most need now to place the Senate in play is some luck, and the prospect of another oh-so-holy cultural conservative blowing up his campaign might be just what the donkey ordered.

And if it turns out Roy Moore is guilty of what the Post story reports, he may discover that the sin the Lord most swiftly and surely punishes is self-righteousness.

As the Post story spreads, the odds of political punishment for Moore are climbing rapidly. Mitch McConnell is saying that “[i]f these allegations are true, he must step aside.” So is Cory Gardner, chairman of the Senate Republicans’ campaign committee. John McCain is already convinced Moore should hang it up. And even Moore’s would-be Senate colleague from Alabama Richard Shelby will only say: “Let’s see how the story runs.” That’s not exactly a vote of confidence.


Roy Moore’s Troubles Could Open the Door for Democrats

As we all absorbed the lurid story of predatory behavior by Roy Moore towards teenage girls that the Washington Post reported, I began thinking ahead a bit at New York about the broader partisan implications if the allegations stick:

Moore’s immediate reaction was to deny everything and claim the story was “a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post,” the media outlet that ran the story. But despite Moore’s carefully cultivated image of religiosity and moral probity (he is sometimes called the Ayatollah of Alabama), the allegations are numerous enough, detailed enough, disturbing enough, and, well, creepy enough to cause him some serious problems unless they are somehow discredited.

The alleged behavior, especially the story of the 32-year-old prosecutor whisking away 14-year-old Leigh Corfman for illicit sexual conduct after offering to “watch” her while her mother was in a court proceeding, is not the sort of thing that can be dismissed as a “youthful indiscretion” or as a product of contemporary standards of acceptable conduct. Given the multiple accusations of Moore pursuing minors during that period of his life, there’s always the chance more accusers will now come forward.

So this could well be a five-alarm political fire for the GOP in one of its strongholds. And it opens up the first realistic path for Democrats to secure control of the Senate by the end of 2018.

Thanks to his long record of hypercontroversial statements compounded by not one but two occasions on which he lost his gavel as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for defiance of federal law, Moore was already more vulnerable than Republicans usually are in Alabama statewide races. The current RealClearPolitics polling average gives him only a six-point lead over Democrat Doug Jones. If the new allegations aren’t dispelled very quickly, Moore could be in enough trouble to convince Democrats to make a major investment in Jones, and then anything could happen.

The emerging situation brings back memories of the Missouri Senate race in 2012, when it was widely assumed Democrat Claire McCaskill was going to lose. Then hard-right Republican Todd Akin won a complicated primary and proceeded to destroy his candidacy with ignorant and misogynistic comments suggesting rape exceptions for an abortion ban were unnecessary because “legitimate” rapes don’t cause pregnancy. For a while national and Missouri Republicans talked about substituting another candidate for the doomed Akin, but in the end they just watched him go down to defeat. Along with another favored GOP candidate who couldn’t stop saying stupid things about rape, Richard Mourdock of Indiana, Akin helped dash Republican dreams of retaking the Senate that year. And these incidents involved unfortunate words from GOP candidates. What Moore stands accused of is far worse.

This time around, if Moore craters, reducing the GOP Senate margin to 51/49, Democrats could have a real chance of winning back the Senate next year, despite only eight Republican seats being up for reelection. Jeff Flake’s seat in Arizona and Dean Heller’s in Arizona are already highly competitive. It’s finding that third realistic target that’s been tough for Democrats. But a Jones win this year would reduce the magic number to just two.

Yes, a Jones win is still a reach, and to regain the Senate Democrats would have to win a large number of races involving vulnerable members of their own party. But with what looks like a possible Democratic wave forming for 2018, the landscape may be shifting dramatically. What Democrats most need now to place the Senate in play is some luck, and the prospect of another oh-so-holy cultural conservative blowing up his campaign might be just what the donkey ordered.

And if it turns out Roy Moore is guilty of what the Post story reports, he may discover that the sin the Lord most swiftly and surely punishes is self-righteousness.

As the Post story spreads, the odds of political punishment for Moore are climbing rapidly. Mitch McConnell is saying that “[i]f these allegations are true, he must step aside.” So is Cory Gardner, chairman of the Senate Republicans’ campaign committee. John McCain is already convinced Moore should hang it up. And even Moore’s would-be Senate colleague from Alabama Richard Shelby will only say: “Let’s see how the story runs.” That’s not exactly a vote of confidence.


November 8: Anatomy of a Very Good Night For Democrats In Virginia

After watching returns for a while on the evening of November 7, I offered some thoughts at New York about Ralph Northam’s win and its implications.

Democrat Ralph Northam handily defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor’s election by turning out his “base” and also doing very well in suburban counties in both Northern Virginia and the Richmond area. The New York Times estimates the final margin will be 54/45, far above Northam’s 3.3 percent lead in the pre-election RealClearPolitics polling average. Democrats shared their gubernatorial candidate’s win, electing (by narrower margins than Northam’s) Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, and making major gains in the Republican-controlled Virginia House (stunningly, control of that chamber is still in play with a few seats still undecided; Republicans enjoyed a 66/34 margin going into this election).

Team Northam’s turnout operation seems to have done its job, with voting up across much of Northern Virginia despite terrible weather (though higher early voting also contributed to the results). African-Americans were a steady 20 percent of the electorate, nearly as high as in last year’s presidential election. And Latino and Asian voting was notably higher:

But Northam’s margins among white and suburban voters really stand out. If exit polls are accurate, he carried 42 percent of the white vote, which is well above the percentage won in Virginia by Hillary Clinton in 2016 (35 percent), Mark Warner in 2014 (37 percent), Terry McAuliffe in 2013 (36 percent), and Barack Obama in either 2008 (39 percent) or 2012 (37 percent).

Northam’s performance in key suburban jurisdictions was equally impressive. In his narrow 2014 Senate loss to Mark Warner, Ed Gillespie won Northern Virginia swing jurisdiction Loudon County; Northam won it 60/39 today. Gillespie only lost another key NoVa suburb, Prince William County, to Warner by 3 percent; he lost it to Northam by 23 points. In the state’s largest county, the NoVa suburb of Fairfax, Northam won 67/31; even Hillary Clinton, who did very well in Fairfax, only won 65 percent there.

And the Democrat’s suburban wins weren’t limited to Northern Virginia. One of the state’s classic Republican-leaning suburbs is Chesterfield County, south of Richmond. Gillespie won it by 9 percent against Warner, and Donald Trump carried it by two points in 2016. The candidates basically tied there today. In another suburban Richmond County, Henrico, Northam ran two points ahead of Hillary Clinton, eight points ahead of Terry McAuliffe in 2013, and five points ahead of Mark Warner.

More predictably, Northam did well in his native Tidewater region, and Gillespie’s equally predictable margins in Western, West-Central, and Southside Virginia weren’t enough to overcome his suburban shortfalls.

Who were these suburban Northam voters? According to the exit polls, he actually won white college graduates by a 51/48 margin. Hillary Clinton’s statewide win in 2016 was attributed heavily to her success in winning 45 percent of college-educated white voters. Northam lost non-college-educated whites by a stunning 72/26 margin, basically the same shellacking Clinton took from these voters.

One would be tempted to guess Northam won a good number of anti-Trump Republicans. But the exits suggest he won only 4 percent of self-identified members of the GOP. What seems to have mattered more is that self-identified Democrats were 41 percent of the electorate, as opposed to only 31 percent who were Republicans. That is a testament to the Democratic voter targeting and turnout operation, and possibly an indication that Republicans are losing a significant number of Virginia’s white suburban voters altogether.

In terms of the dynamics of the campaign, it is reasonably clear that Gillespie’s investment in racially tinged culture-war messages did not significantly improve his performance in his “base” areas, and clearly cost him in the suburbs, where an Establishment Republican like him (who actually lives in Fairfax County) would have been expected to do well.

The president’s Twitter reaction to the results suggested that Gillespie lost because he didn’t wear a MAGA hat or explicitly appeal to Trump voters:

Actually, Gillespie’s support pretty closely tracked the president’s 2016 proposal in heavily pro-Trump jurisdictions like Augusta County (Trump, 71 percent; Gillespie, 73 percent) or Campbell County (Trump, 71 percent; Gillespie, 74 percent).

In general, it appears Northam took Hillary Clinton’s advantages over Donald Trump and intensified them. That this happened in a non-presidential year where low turnout typically helps Republicans is a very good sign for the Donkey Party going forward.


Anatomy Of A Very Good Night For Democrats In Virginia

After watching returns for a while on the evening of November 7, I offered some thoughts at New York about Ralph Northam’s win and its implications.

Democrat Ralph Northam handily defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor’s election by turning out his “base” and also doing very well in suburban counties in both Northern Virginia and the Richmond area. The New York Times estimates the final margin will be 54/45, far above Northam’s 3.3 percent lead in the pre-election RealClearPolitics polling average. Democrats shared their gubernatorial candidate’s win, electing (by narrower margins than Northam’s) Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, and making major gains in the Republican-controlled Virginia House (stunningly, control of that chamber is still in play with a few seats still undecided; Republicans enjoyed a 66/34 margin going into this election).

Team Northam’s turnout operation seems to have done its job, with voting up across much of Northern Virginia despite terrible weather (though higher early voting also contributed to the results). African-Americans were a steady 20 percent of the electorate, nearly as high as in last year’s presidential election. And Latino and Asian voting was notably higher:

But Northam’s margins among white and suburban voters really stand out. If exit polls are accurate, he carried 42 percent of the white vote, which is well above the percentage won in Virginia by Hillary Clinton in 2016 (35 percent), Mark Warner in 2014 (37 percent), Terry McAuliffe in 2013 (36 percent), and Barack Obama in either 2008 (39 percent) or 2012 (37 percent).

Northam’s performance in key suburban jurisdictions was equally impressive. In his narrow 2014 Senate loss to Mark Warner, Ed Gillespie won Northern Virginia swing jurisdiction Loudon County; Northam won it 60/39 today. Gillespie only lost another key NoVa suburb, Prince William County, to Warner by 3 percent; he lost it to Northam by 23 points. In the state’s largest county, the NoVa suburb of Fairfax, Northam won 67/31; even Hillary Clinton, who did very well in Fairfax, only won 65 percent there.

And the Democrat’s suburban wins weren’t limited to Northern Virginia. One of the state’s classic Republican-leaning suburbs is Chesterfield County, south of Richmond. Gillespie won it by 9 percent against Warner, and Donald Trump carried it by two points in 2016. The candidates basically tied there today. In another suburban Richmond County, Henrico, Northam ran two points ahead of Hillary Clinton, eight points ahead of Terry McAuliffe in 2013, and five points ahead of Mark Warner.

More predictably, Northam did well in his native Tidewater region, and Gillespie’s equally predictable margins in Western, West-Central, and Southside Virginia weren’t enough to overcome his suburban shortfalls.

Who were these suburban Northam voters? According to the exit polls, he actually won white college graduates by a 51/48 margin. Hillary Clinton’s statewide win in 2016 was attributed heavily to her success in winning 45 percent of college-educated white voters. Northam lost non-college-educated whites by a stunning 72/26 margin, basically the same shellacking Clinton took from these voters.

One would be tempted to guess Northam won a good number of anti-Trump Republicans. But the exits suggest he won only 4 percent of self-identified members of the GOP. What seems to have mattered more is that self-identified Democrats were 41 percent of the electorate, as opposed to only 31 percent who were Republicans. That is a testament to the Democratic voter targeting and turnout operation, and possibly an indication that Republicans are losing a significant number of Virginia’s white suburban voters altogether.

In terms of the dynamics of the campaign, it is reasonably clear that Gillespie’s investment in racially tinged culture-war messages did not significantly improve his performance in his “base” areas, and clearly cost him in the suburbs, where an Establishment Republican like him (who actually lives in Fairfax County) would have been expected to do well.

The president’s Twitter reaction to the results suggested that Gillespie lost because he didn’t wear a MAGA hat or explicitly appeal to Trump voters:

Actually, Gillespie’s support pretty closely tracked the president’s 2016 proposal in heavily pro-Trump jurisdictions like Augusta County (Trump, 71 percent; Gillespie, 73 percent) or Campbell County (Trump, 71 percent; Gillespie, 74 percent).

In general, it appears Northam took Hillary Clinton’s advantages over Donald Trump and intensified them. That this happened in a non-presidential year where low turnout typically helps Republicans is a very good sign for the Donkey Party going forward.


November 3: Trump Tax Bill Repeals Ban On Politicking From the Pulpit

Something strange and interesting is popping up almost hourly that is half-hidden in the new Trump tax legislation. I wrote about one such item this week at New York.

Nestled in the new House tax bill is a provision that doesn’t have a big (if any) impact on federal revenues, raise or lower anyone’s tax rates, or really change much of anything, at least in the short run. Yet it represents a major political payoff by Donald Trump and the Republican Party to a very important electoral constituency: conservative Evangelical clergy. It would repeal the Johnson Amendment, the 1954 law (sponsored by then-senator Lyndon Johnson, who was angry at a right-wing nonprofit group that was attacking him in Texas) that prohibits tax-exempt charitable organizations, including churches, from such partisan electioneering activities as endorsing candidates.

The Johnson Amendment is rarely enforced, and is thus something of a phantom threat. Indeed, once a year since 2008 conservative ministers have held a “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” on which they address blatantly political topics in order to defy the Johnson Amendment, without consequence. But the law has gotten all tangled up in conservative Evangelical paranoia about “religious liberty” being under attack from secular-socialist political enemies. And so Donald Trump made repealing it one of his principal campaign promises to Christian-right activists. It was even included in the 2016 Republican Platform. In his first speech as president to a distinctly religious audience, he amped up the rhetoric, promising to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, something actually not within his power.

But it is within Congress’ power, which is how it wound up in this tax bill.

It’s an almost entirely symbolic gesture so long as the IRS continues to give churches (and other tax-exempt organizations) that violate the Johnson Amendment a wide berth. It could, however, have a significant impact on campaign-finance practices down the road, if political donors figure out they can get a tax deduction for contributing to churches that intend to spend the money on particular parties or candidates. Last year Emma Green predicted conservative Evangelical churches could wind up becoming “the new super-PACs” if the Johnson Amendment was repealed.

For now, though, the drive to repeal the Johnson Amendment is most notably an example of Donald Trump’s transactional relationship with the Christian right and with white conservative Evangelical voters. He doesn’t much bother to even pretend to share their religiosity, but he does make them very specific political promises — notably turning over his entire judicial vetting process to hard-core conservatives guaranteed to produce nominees like Neil Gorsuch who are reliably aligned with Christian-right views on hot-button constitutional issues — and keeps them. So repealing the Johnson Amendment is just another layer of concrete in the foundation of trust between this heathenish president and his loyal conservative Christian flock.


Trump Tax Bill Repeals Ban on Politicking From the Pulpit

Something strange and interesting is popping up almost hourly that is half-hidden in the new Trump tax legislation. I wrote about one such item this week at New York.

Nestled in the new House tax bill is a provision that doesn’t have a big (if any) impact on federal revenues, raise or lower anyone’s tax rates, or really change much of anything, at least in the short run. Yet it represents a major political payoff by Donald Trump and the Republican Party to a very important electoral constituency: conservative Evangelical clergy. It would repeal the Johnson Amendment, the 1954 law (sponsored by then-senator Lyndon Johnson, who was angry at a right-wing nonprofit group that was attacking him in Texas) that prohibits tax-exempt charitable organizations, including churches, from such partisan electioneering activities as endorsing candidates.

The Johnson Amendment is rarely enforced, and is thus something of a phantom threat. Indeed, once a year since 2008 conservative ministers have held a “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” on which they address blatantly political topics in order to defy the Johnson Amendment, without consequence. But the law has gotten all tangled up in conservative Evangelical paranoia about “religious liberty” being under attack from secular-socialist political enemies. And so Donald Trump made repealing it one of his principal campaign promises to Christian-right activists. It was even included in the 2016 Republican Platform. In his first speech as president to a distinctly religious audience, he amped up the rhetoric, promising to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, something actually not within his power.

But it is within Congress’ power, which is how it wound up in this tax bill.

It’s an almost entirely symbolic gesture so long as the IRS continues to give churches (and other tax-exempt organizations) that violate the Johnson Amendment a wide berth. It could, however, have a significant impact on campaign-finance practices down the road, if political donors figure out they can get a tax deduction for contributing to churches that intend to spend the money on particular parties or candidates. Last year Emma Green predicted conservative Evangelical churches could wind up becoming “the new super-PACs” if the Johnson Amendment was repealed.

For now, though, the drive to repeal the Johnson Amendment is most notably an example of Donald Trump’s transactional relationship with the Christian right and with white conservative Evangelical voters. He doesn’t much bother to even pretend to share their religiosity, but he does make them very specific political promises — notably turning over his entire judicial vetting process to hard-core conservatives guaranteed to produce nominees like Neil Gorsuch who are reliably aligned with Christian-right views on hot-button constitutional issues — and keeps them. So repealing the Johnson Amendment is just another layer of concrete in the foundation of trust between this heathenish president and his loyal conservative Christian flock.


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.