Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

White House Counsel Don McGahn Has Been Cooperating with the Special Counsel

When examining the Watergate Scandal, it is clear that Richard Nixon made some egregious tactical mistakes. Maybe they were defensible in real-time, or maybe Nixon was in his bubble and could not see what everyone else saw, or maybe he was worn down and started to get sloppy. In any event, Donald Trump appears to have made a blunder of this sort that could prove to be as catastrophic as anything Nixon did. Namely, as reported by the New York Times on Saturday, the President allowed White House counsel Don McGahn to speak at length to special counsel Robert Mueller, without asserting either attorney-client or executive privilege.

Figuring out what happened requires, first of all, an understanding of the dynamic between Trump and McGahn. The two men need each other, and are able to work together on certain things, like rolling back regulations and getting conservative judges appointed. However, there is also much tension between them. Trump does not particularly respect McGahn, especially since he did not go to a top law school (he graduated from Widener University). Further, Trump tends to blame McGahn for just about anything that has to do with law and goes south—say, the failures of the Muslim travel bans—regardless of whether McGahn is actually responsible. McGahn, for his part, does not much care for Trump personally, and certainly does not like being a frequent target of abuse. Behind Trump's back, McGahn calls him "King Kong" in reference to the President's explosive temper. In short, the relationship between Trump and his White House counsel is pretty much like the relationship between Trump and his attorney general.

When Mueller first asked to speak to McGahn, Trump's legal team (which was then led by Ty Cobb) thought that agreeing, without conditions, would signal that the President has nothing to hide, and would also help bring the investigation to a rapid conclusion. Trump, for his part, assumed the McGahn would behave like any other attorney in his employ, and would proceed as if his job is to protect the President at all costs. McGahn, of course, saw things very differently. His loyalty is to the presidency, and not the president. Further, he suspected that he was being set up as a fall guy (not unlike Nixon did with his underlings), and so he and his lawyer cooked up a strategy that would allow McGahn to protect his own rear end. This did not necessarily mean selling Trump completely up the river, but it did mean answering Mueller's questions fully and honestly, and also making sure it was understood that McGahn bore no culpability for what happened.

It is not clear exactly what Mueller got from McGahn. In fact, it's not clear that even Trump knows how badly he's been exposed. However, the Mueller-McGahn interviews have totaled 30 hours so far, so clearly a lot of information has changed hands. And given that McGahn was at ground zero for all the biggest, and most compromising events of the Trump presidency—for example, the firing of former FBI director James Comey—that 30 hours' worth of information is presumably quite valuable. The Times talked to Solomon L. Wisenberg, a deputy independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation, and he said, "A prosecutor would kill for that. Oh my God, it would have been phenomenally helpful to us. It would have been like having the keys to the kingdom." One wonders how much longer McGahn will keep his job once Trump gets wind of this. It may depend on whether Fox News picks up the story. (Z)

Judge Guts Trump NDA

Jessica Denson, a former Trump campaign staffer, is suing, alleging sexual discrimination and harassment while she worked for the campaign. Like everyone who works for Trump in pretty much any capacity, she signed a non-disclosure agreement. And, in view of the NDA, Team Trump tried to force Denson into secret, binding arbitration. Judge Arlene Bluth considered the matter, and concluded that the NDA was so poorly written, it only applies to a very narrow set of circumstances, and a harassment claim is not one of them. So, the lawsuit will go forward, and in full public view.

This is not a good look for a President who already has a whole litany of issues related to the treatment of women. However, it is potentially of more interest because the NDA that Omarosa Manigault Newman signed—and that Trump's lawyers are trying to use to shut her up—is similar. In fact, in may very well be identical. It was questionable that even an ironclad NDA would stand up under these circumstances, and if the NDA is something less than ironclad, then it's probably not worth the paper it's written on. (Z)

No Security Clearances Revoked on Saturday

Yesterday, we wondered if Team Trump might try to revoke some security clearances today, so as to fly under the radar a bit. After all, using your Constitutionally-delegated powers to punish your enemies is kind of a sleazy business, and presumably not something you would want to show off. Dick Nixon did not make a point of publicizing his enemies list, for example. At least, that was our thinking.

As is turns out, however, the base loves this kind of stuff. So much so, in fact, that the goal of Team Trump is most certainly not to fly under the radar. It's actually the opposite: To get as much publicity as possible. In fact, the Washington Post reports that the White House's press operation, particularly Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Bill Shine, has strategized about how they can optimally time the yanking of clearances so as to distract attention from other, less favorable stories. Like, for example, the latest recording released by Omarosa Manigault Newman. So, it would seem the next time someone's clearance is pulled, the first question should be: What happened today that the administration thinks is embarrassing? (Z)

Trump's Knowledge of the World and Foreign Affairs Is Sad

This headline is a very brief summary of this story from Politico, which documents some of the...gaps in Donald Trump's knowledge, particularly as regards his diplomatic responsibilities. The highlights (lowlights?):

  • Examining a map of South Asia, Trump was surprised to learn of the existence of Bhutan and Nepal, which he had never heard of, and which he pronounced 'Button" and "Nipple".

  • Ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's June 2017 White House visit, Trump wondered if Modi's wife would be coming along. Modi and his wife have been estranged for many years.

  • When Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte visited, Trump congratulated him on the "tremendous victory," even though he didn't actually run for anything (he was a compromise candidate chosen when no party claimed a parliamentary majority).

  • Trump fumbled the pronunciation of Namibia (missing the first 'i'), but impressed staff by getting Côte d'Ivoire basically right, which suggests something about low expectations.

  • Trump does not know, or else does not care, that world leaders' time is valuable, and that he should not bother them unless absolutely necessary. In particular, he's been particularly willing to impose upon Japan's Shinzo Abe and France's Emmanuel Macron. Abe, for his part, is too polite to push back, and has been roped into seven different face-to-face meetings with Trump, who invariably brings up the same two subjects (trade and North Korea). Abe's aides joke that their boss has not had seven meetings with Trump, "he's had one meeting with Trump seven times."

  • Remarkably, Trump apparently struggles to grasp how time zones work, and that he cannot simply call other world leaders anytime he wants, because they might well be asleep. In particular, he has tried to call Abe around noon EDT on several occasions (aka 1:00 a.m. in Tokyo). Reportedly, Trump's staff has to explain this on "a constant basis."

Every president has a learning curve. And for some, it would seem, the curve is steeper than others. While there is a certain tolerance for that fact, American diplomats point out that Trump's blasé attitude about protocol, and about the norms of other cultures, communicates disrespect, and needlessly harms the United States' relationship with other nations and leaders. It's hard to argue with them. (Z)

This Week's Senate News

It's time to start getting serious about the Senate races. Our Senate capsules are now completely up-to-date (and are always available using the "All Senate candidates" link to the left of the map). After the Delaware primary on Sept. 6, we will know all the Senate candidates except the Republican in Rhode Island [who will be crushed by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)], so we can then begin updating the map daily with the polling data. To date, there are 16 Senate races for which nonpartisan polls aren't yet available. Hopefully after Labor Day the pollsters will get to work. (As an aside, commercial pollsters are for-profit businesses and only run a poll when some media outlet is willing to pay for it, although an increasing number of universities—with varying amounts of expertise— seem to be running polls as well now.)

Also, starting this week, we will put together a collection of stories each Sunday that gives a sense of anything interesting going on in the various races. Here is this week's installment:

  • In Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is about to unleash $42 million in advertising, after having let his opponent, millionaire Gov. Rick Scott (R), dominate the airwaves to this point. Maybe this will shake things up in a race that has, thus far, been a dead heat.

  • In an effort to prop up the flailing campaign of challenger John James (R), who trails Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in the polls by 20 points, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been campaigning with him. Because if there is one thing that Michigan voters ask themselves before pulling the lever, of course, it's "What would Marco Rubio do?"

  • Missouri AG Josh Hawley, who would like to take Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D) seat from her, is making the classic politician's error of trying to be all things to all people. This week, he announced that he is maybe, definitely, possibly, positively in favor of potentially legalizing medical marijuana. Or not.

  • Rock band Pearl Jam held a concert to raise funds for Sen. Jon Tester (D)'s reelection campaign. The poster for the show has Tester flying over a flame-engulfed White House, with a dying Donald Trump in front:

    Pearl Jam poster

    Republicans, particularly Tester's opponent Matt Rosendale, say that Tester clearly wants the President dead. Tester says he knew nothing about the poster prior to the concert, and that he would have vetoed it if he had known.

  • Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is running a commercial that connects his opponent, Rep. Jim Renacci (R), with businessman and convicted felon Ben Suarez. Suarez, whose conviction was for witness tampering, gave $100,000 to Renacci's campaign. After Renacci claimed he barely knew Suarez, it came out they've spoken on the phone...40 times. Needless to say, if Brown can keep the focus on his opponent's bad behavior, and away from the issues, it works to his advantage in this swing state.

  • The Koch network announced this week that they aren't going to give any money to Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) in his effort to unseat Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA). They don't like the Representative's outspoken Trumpism or the fact that he's lagging badly in the polls. The loss of this potential lifeline may not be the final nail in Barletta's coffin, but it's close.

  • Corey Stewart (R), down 15-20 points in most polls of his race against Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), decided that desperate times call for desperate measures. So, he decided to try and link Kaine to Antifa, including a clumsily-Photoshopped image of Kaine, taken during his time in Honduras, inserted into a stock image of Nicaraguan rebels:

    Kaine Antifa

    The image, and the underlying claim, are both fake, of course.

  • In Wisconsin, GOP challenger Leah Vukmir is trying to get traction by attacking Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) over the Tomah VA scandal. In short, that VA hospital was prescribing a lot of opioids, a Marine Corps veteran overdosed and died, and it came to light that Baldwin's staff had a report warning them about the over-prescriptions and didn't act on it. The Senator fired one staffer and demoted two others; we will see whether that will be enough to satisfy voters.

  • Sen. Angus King (I-ME) picked up endorsements this week from two titans of Maine politics, former Senators George Mitchell (a Democrat) and Bill Cohen (a Republican).

  • Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) and his challenger, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), are waging a particularly nasty campaign. This week, they are fighting over who loves veterans more.

  • Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who would very much like to replace the retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), has been accused of coordinating with the super PACs that support her reelection bid. If true, that is a big no-no.

So, that's the news of the week. Tune in next week, same bat time, same bat channel. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: John Hickenlooper

There are two things we can say for certain about the 2020 election. The first is that it's already well underway. The second is that the Democratic field is going to be enormous. To that end, we will take a close look at one potential candidate per week for the foreseeable future. By the time we work our way through the whole list, it will probably be time to go back and revisit. Note that the pros and cons refer specifically to the individual's strengths as a general election candidate. This week's contender:

  • Name: John Hickenlooper

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 68 (his 69th birthday is 17 days later, though)

  • Background: Raised by a single (and notoriously parsimonious) mother, Hickenlooper put himself through Wesleyan University, earning a B.A. in English and a master's degree in geology. He moved to Colorado to get into the oil business, but when that industry took a nosedive in the state, so did his career. Thereafter he opened Wynkoop Brewing Co., a brewery and restaurant, and built it from a struggling concern in a dilapidated part of Denver to a local landmark.

  • Political Experience: He's been governor of Colorado since 2011, and during his time in office, he served as chair of the National Governors' Association (2014-15). He also had a very successful run as mayor of Denver from 2003-2011.

  • Signature Issue(s): Pragmatism. Hickenlooper generally seeks to find centrist solutions to issues that Democrats and Republicans can agree upon. For example, he wants the border to be more secure, but also would like to make it easier to gain citizenship. He likes the Second Amendment, but he favors background checks. He's known for being very budget-conscious, something that presumably came from his mother and his business career. He claims the last GOP presidential candidate he voted for is George W. Bush (in 2000) and that he's never voted for a Democrat for the White House, preferring instead the Libertarian ticket.

  • Instructive Quote: On Donald Trump, whom Hickenlooper dislikes but says he "gets": "There is clearly something about 'The Strongman,' the one who doesn't care about what anyone says, who's going to attack anyone who looks at him the wrong way. If he thinks someone's going to attack him, he'll punch first. That's an attractive figure these days."

  • Completely Trivial Fact: Hickenlooper is a direct descendant of Brig. Gen. Andrew Hickenlooper, who was, at 28, among the youngest generals in the Civil War (even though he was promoted to the rank only three weeks before the war ended).

  • Recent News: Hickenlooper has been in the headlines due to his battle, undertaken in his capacity as governor, with Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips. Just this week, despite having already won his Supreme Court battle, Phillips sued Hickenlooper, claiming "religious discrimination."

  • Three Biggest Pros: (1) Hickenlooper's down-to-earth style, centrism, and ethnicity would appeal to the white, working-class voters that fled to Trump in 2016; (2) Voters clearly like the idea of an "entrepreneur president," and Hickenlooper can be that; and (3) The Governor has a long record of bipartisanship.

  • Three Biggest Cons: (1) Gay cake ruling aside, progressives would be furious if the party nominated a candidate whose positions on immigration, gun control, and public sector unions, among others, could easily be confused for those of George W. Bush or Mitt Romney; (2) Minority voters would surely struggle to get excited about another aging white guy, particularly one who did not see fit to vote for Barack Obama; and (3) Bipartisanship may work in Colorado, but it's been a bust in Washington for years, and an "I'll reach across the aisle" pitch may ring hollow with voters these days.

  • Is He Actually Running?: Yes. Among 2020 candidates, he's gone further than almost anyone to signal his interest. He's on an ongoing media tour in which he tells anyone who has asked that he is "definitely considering" a bid.

  • Betting Odds: The books have him anywhere from 25-to-1 to 35-to-1, which is to say they give him between a 3% and 4% chance of claiming the nomination.

  • The Bottom Line: If the Democrats nominate Hickenlooper, then they would essentially be betting the Party can return to where it was in the era of Bill Clinton (that is, only very slightly left of center). The problem is that era is probably gone forever, and even if it's not, Hickenlooper does not have Clinton's ability to attract black voters or white Southerners. Given this, along with the fact that Hickenlooper comes from a fairly small state that does not cast its presidential primary votes early, he's extremely unlikely to get the nod.

For reference purposes, we will maintain a list of candidate profiles at the 2020 Dem candidates link in the menu to the left of the map. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug18 Manafort Jury Goes Home for the Weekend without a Verdict
Aug18 Why Hasn't Manafort Flipped?
Aug18 Trump Says He Will Yank Bruce Ohr's Security Clearance Next
Aug18 Trump Cancels Military Parade
Aug18 U.S.-Supplied Bomb Kills 40 Children in Yemen
Aug18 Nathan Gonzales Changes House Ratings toward the Democrats
Aug18 The Hill Sees a 72-Seat Wipeout as the Worst Case Scenario for House Republicans
Aug18 FiveThirtyEight Has New House Ratings Out, Too
Aug17 Newspapers Assert Freedom of the Press; Trump Fires Back
Aug17 Omarosa Releases a Recording of Lara Trump Offering Her a $15,000/Month Job
Aug17 No Verdict Yet in Manafort Case
Aug17 Another Piece of the Stormygate Puzzle
Aug17 Admiral Who Oversaw the Raid on Bin Laden Wants His Security Clearance Revoked
Aug17 Trump Badly Wants to Take the Show on the Road
Aug17 Trump Has Praised All the Candidates in the Arizona Senate Primary
Aug17 Who's Who on the House Judiciary Committee?
Aug16 Takeaways from the Primaries
Aug16 Does Trump's Endorsement Matter?
Aug16 Trump Revokes Security Clearance of Former CIA Director John Brennan
Aug16 Manafort's Trial Ends
Aug16 Republican Midterm Strategy Is to Play Nice for a Few Months
Aug16 Democratic Midterm Strategy Is to Go Local
Aug16 Researchers Show that Votes Can Be Hacked in Nearly 30 States
Aug16 Defeated Democrat Says He Was Targeted by Hackers
Aug15 Election Results, States that Held a Primary Last Night Edition
Aug15 Kobach Advances, Johnson Throws His Hat in the Ring
Aug15 White House Staffers Scared Witless of Omarosa's Next Tape
Aug15 Trump Doing His Best to Prove that Yes, He Is a Racist Who Used the N-Word
Aug15 The Five Most Competitive House Races
Aug15 Americans Want Mueller to Finish by Election Day
Aug15 Latinos in Florida Prefer Nelson to Scott, but Barely
Aug14 FBI Fires Peter Strzok
Aug14 Prosecution Rests Its Case in the Manafort Trial
Aug14 Stone Says He Won't Testify Against Trump
Aug14 Omarosa Keeps Dishing
Aug14 Team Trump Decides on a New Flynn Narrative
Aug14 Florida Might Have a Red Tide Instead of a Blue Wave
Aug14 Political Spending at Trump's Properties Is $3.5 Million Since His Inauguration
Aug13 Omarosa: Trump Is a Racist
Aug13 Hawaii Chooses the Democrats Who Will Be Elected in November
Aug13 Four States to Vote on Tuesday
Aug13 A Year Later, What Is the Lesson from Charlottesville?
Aug13 Charlottesville, Part II Fizzles
Aug13 Over 100 Newspapers Will Fight Back on Trump's Attacking the Media
Aug13 The Trump Jr. Follies Continue
Aug12 Omarosa Was Telling the Truth about the Hush Money
Aug12 Charlottesville Back on Deck Today
Aug12 Chris Collins Will End Re-Election Bid
Aug12 Today's Swamp News, Part I: Wilbur Ross the Grifter
Aug12 Today's Swamp News, Part II: Who's Really Running the VA?