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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes – Comey Firing Edition

Most people who have been payhing attention are going to answer, “Oh Hell yes!” But David A. Graham explores the question “Was Russia the Real Reason Trump Fired James Comey?” at The Atlantic, and notes, “These may be good reasons to question Comey’s leadership and even to remove him, but it is all but impossible to believe that Trump believes them, because Trump has criticized Comey for dealing with Clinton too lightly all along. The day that Comey announced he was not recommending charges against her, Trump tweeted: “FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow! .” However, adds Graham, “Comey’s lengthy dissection of Clinton’s errors in that news conference offered Trump lots of ammunition to attack her.” In other words, Trump saw an opportunity to cloud  his firing of Comey with a phony reason and he seized it.

As Ed Kilgore pointed out yesterday, at New York Magazine, via TDS, comparisons of Trump’s firing Comey to Nixon’s ‘Saturday night massacre’ are badly flawed, in part because Democrats had majority control of the relevant congressional committees back then and the special/independent prosecutor law quietly expired in 1999, giving Trump a better chance of surviving his latest self-imposed crisis. Among Republicans, thus far only Sen. John McCain, among influential GOP leaders, has stepped up and directly called for “a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.” Whether or not that actually happens depends on the persistence of both the media and protestors.

Also at New York Magazine, Frank Rich takes a more optimistic view of the likely outcome in his post, “The Comey Firing May Be the Beginning of the End of the Trump Administration,” arguing that “the new [F.B.I.] director’s attempts to further derail the ongoing investigation will be met with revolt by the career professionals within the organization — an unwinding that may already be happening. There will be chaos. There will be leaks. There will be resignations. There will be synergy, clandestine or otherwise, with the Senate and House investigations into Trump and Russia. There will be blood. After the news of the firing broke last night, McCain called the scandal “a centipede” and made an unassailable prediction: “I guarantee you there will be more shoes to drop, I can just guarantee it. There’s just too much information that we don’t have that will be coming out.”

It appears that Attorney-General Jeff Sessions is calling the shots in Trump’s strategy now. “The drama was fresh evidence of Sessions’ role as a critical political player in the Trump cabinet,” writes Eliana Johnson about the Comey firing at Politico. “He has exhibited all the qualities of loyalty Trump most prizes: He was the first senator to endorse him, one of the only members of the upper chamber to embrace him enthusiastically during the presidential campaign, and, as his involvement in the Comey controversy demonstrates, has proved that he is willing to thrust himself into the breach and take political hits to advance the president’s interests…When Trump temporarily soured on his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and it looked like ideological moderates were on the ascent in the West Wing, National Review’s Rich Lowry referred to Sessions – the ideological patron of immigration hawks and trade skeptics – as Trump’s “indispensable man.”

The Reuters take on the Comey firing, “Delay seen, again, on Trump growth agenda after Comey sacking” puts the episode in context of the whole Trump project. Investors were all juiced up about Trump’s potential ability to implement deregulation and other pro-corporate ‘reforms’ to benefit the market. But this latest distraction gives them one more indication that C.E.O. Trump is incapable of focusing on the economic agenda. He doesn’t get his head in the economic game the way they hoped. “At the least, financial market participants viewed President Donald Trump’s abrupt dismissal of Comey as an unwelcome distraction, while some fretted it could tie Washington in knots for months, potentially postponing already-delayed reforms…The takeaway for the stock markets: don’t bet on any quick legislation around trade, the budget, health care, or infrastructure…”There is nothing good out of this for markets,” said Michael Purves, chief global strategist at Weeden & Co. “It will weigh on Trump’s ability to cut deals with Congress. It costs him negotiating leverage.””

Some Vulnerable Republicans Begin To Question Timing Of Comey’s Firing,” reports Jessica Taylor at npr.org: “I’ve spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey’s firing. I just can’t do it,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., tweeted late Tuesday night. Flake is up for re-election in 2018 and is one of the few Senate targets Democrats have in a map where they’re largely playing defense…Several of the most endangered House Republicans — including Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, New York Rep. John Katko and Texas Rep. Will Hurd — also expressed concern about the timing of Trump’s decision. All sit in districts that the president lost last November and are atop Democratic target lists in next year’s midterm elections.

Kate Glueck writes at McClatchey: ‘In interviews with current and former top RNC members on Wednesday, veteran Republicans called the timing politically problematic, with some warning of potentially serious consequences for the 2018 midterms…“It worries me for the midterm elections,” said a Republican national committeewoman who called the optics “bad” and the timing “odd” and “inconsistent.” “It looks like we’re shooting from the hip all the time with no real rhyme or reason. If people can’t figure out the logic about what we’re doing, how can they support it?” Agreed a former top RNC member: “If he wears the base down where eventually they say, ‘Maybe I can’t defend this so much anymore,’ and all of the enthusiasm is on the Democratic side in 2018—I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but it could be a wipeout kind of year for us. I think we need to be more careful about that.”…Of course, it’s far too early to say how Comey’s firing will affect races more than a year away. Trump’s base remains committed to him, and here in San Diego, many RNC attendees–who are generally supportive of the president’s record so far–applauded the decision to fire Comey, timing aside…One Republican strategist working on 2018 races said that while the White House would like the questions about Russia to go away, firing Comey ensures that the issue remains front and center for the GOP. That could have a chilling effect on Republicans considering a run for office next year—and a galvanizing one for Democrats doing the same, the source said…This development comes as Republicans continue to search for challengers in what should be marquee 2018 races.”

Asked “Do Democrats need a vision for 2018 and 2020? Or can they win just by running against Trump? (With the latest James-Comey-firing imbroglio, for example, there seems like plenty of material for Democrats to run on)” in a FiveThirtyEight chat, Nate Silver responds “For 2018, an anti-Trump/anti-GOP message should suffice. For 2020, they’ll need that plus something more affirmative…You might need an affirmative message if you were running against a super-popular Dwight D. Eisenhower-type of president and trying to make the case for why he needed some constraints on his power anyway. But the Democrats are running against Donald Trump. And Republicans already control both branches of Congress, in addition to the presidency. It’s not a hard argument to make.”

Noting that “Democratic candidates in upcoming special elections to replace GOP House members joined their party’s chorus. Jon Ossoff in Georgia and Archie Parnell in South Carolina both called for a special prosecutor to lead the Russia investigation,” Bridget Bowman writes at rollcall.com that “Some Democrats said the Comey firing may be another piece of ammunition against Republicans as they look to win back the House. “From the health care bill, with virtually no public support, to these outright outrageous actions by the president around Russian interference, … I think all of this puts us in a better position in 2018,” Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., told reporters on a Wednesday press call with liberal groups…Rep. Ruben Gallego, who was also on the call, agreed with Pocan…“I think it’s going to have a lot of impact,” the Arizona Democrat said. “If you have a party that is essentially siding with Russians and the obstruction of justice, … they will end up paying the consequences.”

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