Clinton 358
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Trump 180
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Click for Senate
Dem 50
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GOP 50
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  • Strongly Dem (231)
  • Likely Dem (71)
  • Barely Dem (56)
  • Exactly tied (0)
  • Barely GOP (31)
  • Likely GOP (54)
  • Strongly GOP (95)
270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
New polls: CO IA IN VA
Dem pickups vs. 2012: AZ NC
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Mercer Connection Explains Trump's Shake-Up

Hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah originally put $13.5 million into a super PAC supporting Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). After Trump gained the nomination, they renamed it "Defeat Crooked Hillary PAC" and put in another $1 million. They are now seen as key forces inside the Trump campaign.

Rebekah Mercer lives in a beautiful apartment in one of Trump's buildings on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She is a trustee of the Heritage Foundation and director of the Mercer Family Foundation. While her father provides the funds, she is the one running the Mercers' political operation. Micromanaging it, actually. When she donates money to a candidate, she puts conditions on the donation, including which consultants are hired and which vendors are used. One source told The Hill why Trump shook up his campaign and hired Stephen Bannon as the campaign's CEO, saying Rebekah Mercer and Bannon are "tied at the hip." The source said that because no other big donors want anything to do with Trump, the Mercers now own the campaign so they were able to put their man at the top of it.

Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, commented on the choice of Bannon as campaign CEO, by saying that Trump is turning "his campaign over to someone who's best known for running a so-called news site that peddles divisive, at times racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories." Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to President Obama, thinks that Trump is no longer running to win (more below). Demoting someone (Paul Manafort) who has actually run a presidential campaign and bringing in new people who have never run a presidential campaign is not the way one turns around an operation that is tanking. Below are photos of the key players here. (V)


GOP Scared Witless by Bannon

After Trump named Stephen Bannon as his campaign's CEO, The Hill sent reporters over to Capitol Hill to take the temperature. Almost without exception, they were close to apoplectic. They are scared to death that Bannon is going to run the most negative campaign in history, attacking the GOP leadership as much as he will attack Clinton. In particular, Bannon hates Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). In May, Bannon ran a story on Breitbart criticizing Ryan for opposing a religious ban on people (Muslims) entering the United States while at the same time sending his own children to a school that has a religious test for admissions (it is a Catholic school). During Ryan's primary, Bannon ran made-up headlines like: "Paul Ryan plummets to 43% in new primary poll" (Ryan won with 85% of the vote). Bannon also ran headlines saying Ryan was scared. The primary was a piece of cake from beginning to end for Ryan, and either Bannon has zero knowledge of politics (unlikely) or he thinks that out-and-out lying about everything is a perfectly fine strategy. Paul Manafort, for all his shortcomings, at least tried to keep Trump from saying inflammatory things; Bannon is going to egg him on.

Ryan has a reasonably thick skin and can handle all the insults, but the palpable fear among the GOP leadership is that Trump and Bannon (with the help of the Mercers' money) are going to destroy the Republican Party for a generation. Long-time Republican strategist John Feehery said that if Bannon runs a Breitbart-type campaign, the Republicans will get 30% of the vote. Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney's chief strategist in 2012 said: "The RNC shouldn't give a dime or help in any way a campaign run by Breitbart. It's like funding CDC [Centers for Disease Control] run by a Witch Doctor." Rick Tyler, who served as communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), said: "I think Mr. Trump has already won over the Breitbart crowd. I don't know how Steve Bannon helps attract more people to Trump." All of these comments and many more like them make it more likely, rather than less likely, that the RNC will simply abandon Trump. The Mercers can fill the financial gap, but they don't have the field operation that the RNC has. With enough money, Trump can set up offices and hire people to work in them, but time is running short and Trump doesn't seem inclined to do that at all. This is going to be an election like no other. (V)

Does Trump Want to Win?

The notion that Donald Trump never intended to be president, and has no interest in actually winning the election, has been hinted at for months by many commentators (including us). Now, something that had the faint whiff of conspiratorial thinking is out in the open. Consider these headlines, all published in the last couple of weeks:

Michael Moore: Is Trump Purposely Sabotaging His Campaign?
Forbes: Trump's Tough Week: Does He Even Want To Win?
The Hill: Is Trump deliberately throwing the election to Clinton?
TownHall: GOP Congressman Openly Wonders if Trump Is Trying to Lose
Fox News: Does Donald Trump really want to win the White House?
RCP: Supporters Are Wondering "Does This Guy Want to Win?"
HuffPo: GOP Operatives Aren't So Sure That Trump Even Wants To Win
MSNBC: Does Trump Really Want To Win?

The various theories vary a bit in the details, but they all go something like this: Trump began his campaign on a lark, perhaps for amusement, or to enhance the Trump brand, or even as a negotiating ploy to get a better deal on "The Apprentice." Then, to his (and everyone else's) surprise, he got traction, and it began to look like he could actually do some real damage. He began to run a somewhat serious campaign and managed to crush a generation of rising GOP stars. It was heady, even intoxicating, stuff as he began to entertain the possibility that he could actually win this thing.

But then, the general election campaign got underway. The lead-up to the GOP convention was rocky, as Trump heard "no" from a host of Republican luminaries (the Bushes, John McCain, etc.) and celebrities (Tom Brady, Mike Ditka, Ben Roethlisberger, etc.), and was forced to turn to the Scott Baios and Patricia Smiths of the world. The convention itself was a semi-disaster, from Melania's plagiarism to Ted Cruz's defiant non-endorsement. And since then, things have gone sharply downhill, both in terms of media coverage and in terms of Trump's polling numbers. He's now exhausted, frustrated, and desperately trying to avoid the scarlet "L"—loser. He would love for this thing to be over, so that he can take a nice, long vacation. But he needs it to end in a way that does as little damage to his ego and to his brand as possible. So, he is deliberately, or semi-consciously, or even subconsciously sabotaging himself, saying and doing things that he knows full well to be more harmful than helpful.

In many ways, this narrative fits the facts very well. For example, the fact that Trump's family has been his closest advisers and supporters, and yet right now, at the height of the campaign, they are all on vacation. Or the fact that the Trump campaign has ceased spending any appreciable money on advocating his candidacy. Or the fact that Trump surely knows that, for example, encouraging a Russian cyberattack or implying that Hillary Clinton should be assassinated or claiming Barack Obama founded ISIS, are politically disastrous. Or the fact that Trump has just put a campaign leadership team in place that has no experience running a presidential campaign.

We may never know for sure if Trump really is self-sabotaging. Even if he "admits" to doing so after the campaign, saying, "I wasn't really trying to win!" is something he might do to save face even if it's not true. Regrettably for his party, however, Trump 2016 may not be the only thing he is damaging. Polls reveal that Hillary Clinton has a massive lead of 56% to 20% among voters under 35. If this holds, and there's no reason to believe it won't, then that will mark three consecutive elections where the Democrats captured younger voters by a margin of 10 points or more, something that's never happened since these data first began to be collected in 1952. Trump is not solely responsible for costing the GOP a generation of voters, as the Washington Post's Michael Gerson puts it, but he is closing the deal, to use his own parlance.

As if that was not enough, that's not the only bad news for the red team. Trump's hire of Stephen Bannon makes clear that The Donald is going to spend the rest of the campaign in the gutter, hurling slings and arrows at his opponents. And while Hillary Clinton and the Democrats will be the target much of the time, we must recall that Bannon led Breitbart News, and that Breitbart News is not Fox News. While Fox regularly carries water for the GOP establishment, Breitbart is a platform for the far-right elements of the Party. Often, and with great eagerness, they set their sights on the Paul Ryans and the Mitch McConnells of the world. To them, so-called RINOs are as much the enemy as are Democrats. Given that Trump clearly feels abandoned by the Republican establishment, there's every reason to believe that they will be included in the scorched Earth approach he appears ready to adopt. So, if Reince Priebus & Co. presume that the worst-case scenario is that they cede the White House to another Clinton this year and then bounce back in 2020, they may have another think coming. (Z)

Trump's Casinos Owed $30 Million in Taxes, but Christie Forgave Most of It

When Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) took office, the state of New Jersey's auditors said that Donald Trump's casinos owed the state $30 million in back taxes and interest. The taxes were due in the years 2002 to 2006, during which period Trump took millions in fees and bonuses while the casinos lost money and underperformed competitors.

Things started improving for Trump when he struck up a "friendship" with Christie. The friendship included large donations from Trump to the Drumthwacket Foundation, which finances maintenance and improvements to the New Jersey governor's mansion. It also included large donations to the Republican Governors Association at a time when Christie was chairman. When Christie endorsed Trump after leaving the race himself, not surprisingly he said: "He has been a good and loyal friend." Who said money can't buy friendship? In 2011, when Christie was governor, the state accepted $5 million instead of the $30 million it was owed. This story explains a bit more about the relationship between the two men. (V)

Would Cutting Trump Loose Help Republicans Downballot?

Republican strategists know very well that a strong Clinton win could eliminate their Senate majority and strongly reduce their House majority. Many of them are already lobbying the RNC to cut off all funding and resources to Trump and redeploy them in critical Senate and House races. The big question is: "Would that work?" There is a precedent for telling the presidential nominee "you're on your own" and it is instructive to look at it. In 1996, Bill Clinton ran ahead of Bob Dole most of the year. The RNC eventually decided to pull the plug on Dole to try to save Senate and House candidates. The move devastated Dole, who ended up losing by 220 electoral votes, but to some extent it worked. The Republicans picked up two Senate seats to get to 52. In the House, they lost three seats. It is hard to know what would have happened absent the shift, though. Maybe the GOP would have gotten clobbered.

In one way, the 1996 and 2016 campaigns are the same: Paul Manafort was Dole's campaign manager, and until two days ago, was also Trump's. But 2016 differs from 1996 in quite a few ways. First, Dole wasn't dumped until the middle of October, at which point the Party knew there was not going to be any comeback and didn't care if Dole lost by 100 electoral votes or by 200. The Republican base then understood that Dole was a goner and didn't hold it against the RNC for dropping him. In contrast, it is still August and Trump's supporters would have a fit if the party dumped him this early. Many would just stay home on Election Day, which would be a disaster downballot.

The second big difference with 1996 is absentee voting and early voting. It was rare then, but is common now. If the RNC were to dump Trump now, the base would be infuriated. But if it waits until after the first debate (on Sept. 26), quite a few voters will have already voted for a straight Democratic ticket and all the new pro-Republican Senate and House ads will have less effect. Finally, there is the matter of the nominee. Dole was actually quite popular: He had an approval rating of 58%. He wasn't hurting the GOP brand the way Trump is. Making voters forget Trump and just vote for Republicans for Congress won't be as easy as it was in 1996. (V)

Could the House Be in Play?

The conventional wisdom is that while the Democrats have a decent shot at capturing the Senate, the House is a bridge too far. But Republican pollster Robert Blizzard has looked at the data from recent years and offers a word (actually, eight tweets) of caution. His conclusion from the years of data he examined is that it is hard for a House candidate to run more than 10 points better than the top of the ticket. Very hard. And the situation is worse now because there is so little ticket splitting. People who vote for one party for president usually vote for that party all the way down the line. This means that if Clinton's national lead stays above 5 points, many House Republicans will go down in flames. If her lead hits 10 points, there will be Republican blood all over the floor of the House.

Election guru Charlie Cook lists 16 Republican and 3 Democratic House districts that are pure tossups. If Clinton wins by more than 5%, those Republicans are toast. Cook also has an additional 11 Republicans in districts that lean Republican. If Clinton wins by 10%, those Republicans will probably be unemployed come January as well. Together these are 27 seats the Democrats could flip. They need to flip 30 to take over the House, so the stars really need to align for the Democrats to pull it off.

However, even if the Republicans end up with, say, a six-seat majority, that is not the end of the story. The first thing that will happen is that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) will curse the day he accepted his awful job. If all it takes for the Democrats to get bills passed is half a dozen or fewer Republicans, there are bound to be that number from moderate districts who will make their constituents happier by working with Nancy Pelosi to get things done than by obstructing everything. Ryan, meanwhile, will have an impossible job finding any positions that both the moderates and the Freedom Caucus can live with. (V)

Election Turnout in the U.S. Is Among the Worst in the World

Both parties had heavily contested primaries this year and only 29% of eligible voters bothered to vote in them. In 2012, only 58% of the eligible voters voted in the general election. It has been like this for years. Internationally, the U.S. ranks 120th out of 169 democracies in the world in terms of the percentage of registered voters who actually vote. If one looks at the percentage of the voting age population, including people who are eligible to register but haven't, the U.S. drops to 138. Australia is #1, with 95% turnout, but voting is mandatory there. How about some other countries? Here is the full list. Below are a few examples of the percentage of registered voters who vote, based on data going back to 1945:

Country Pct.
Belgium 93%
Austria 91%
Iceland 90%
Italy 90%
Albania 88%
Sweden 87%
Argentina 84%
Bolivia 82%
Bulgaria 81%
Belize 80%
Israel 80%
Uruguay 80%
Latvia 79%
Namibia 79%
Azerbaijan 77%
Tanzania 75%
Ukraine 73%
Uganda 71%
Dominican Republic 67%
United States 67%
Benin 66%

The U.S. is sandwiched in between the Dominican Republic and Benin, and is much worse than nearly all the countries of Western Europe. If instead of looking at the fraction of registered voters who vote, we look at the fraction of the voting age population that votes, the U.S. is 138th at 48%, between Armenia and Nigeria. It seems a bit hypocritical for the U.S. to lecture other countries about democracy when a majority of Americans who could vote, don't bother. (V)

Green Party's Baraka Has Some...Unorthodox Opinions

Yesterday, we took a look at some of the fringy elements of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein's rhetoric. Now, in honor of their CNN Town Hall on Wednesday, let us turn to her running mate, Ajamu Baraka.

Baraka has a distinguished record as a human rights activist and a teacher. What he does not have, however, is any political experience whatsoever. Consequently, he lacks the sort of verbal filter that political pros develop early in their careers. On matters of race and racism, his words tend to recall the militant rhetoric of Malcolm X. He has, for example, called Barack Obama an "Uncle Tom" and—though he supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the primaries—has said that the Vermonter is committed to "Eurocentrism and normalized white supremacy." A little fringy, but not too far out of the mainstream. On other matters, however, Baraka's history raises a few more eyebrows. He's been in the habit of associating with 9/11 truthers, for example, as well as Holocaust deniers. He himself has embraced various conspiracy theories, such as the notion that MH17 was not downed by pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine, but instead by anti-Putin Zionists. So, in other words, the Jews are behind everything.

It is hard to know exactly what constituency Stein felt she would be courting when she chose Baraka. However, the Veep should theoretically be someone who is capable of "sitting at the desk," as President Obama puts it. Nothing in Baraka's past suggests that he has that capacity. So, the conclusion here is the same one we reached with Jill Stein yesterday: The Green Party is failing to seize the day, with choices all-but-guaranteed to preserve their fringe, 0.36% of the vote status. The sad thing for the Greens is that Bernie Sanders showed there is support for a Democratic Socialist in America, but Stein and Baraka are the wrong messengers. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

Colorado's a lost cause for Trump, at this point, and Virginia is getting there, while Iowa is headed to the blue column, where it generally resides these days. Trump-Pence gets some good news in Indiana. After a poll earlier this week suggested the state might be in play, now it appears not to be.

With a new Iowa poll putting Clinton ahead, we now have her at 358 electoral votes, more than she could have even dreamed of before the campaign. Most likely, she was hoping to reproduce Obama's 2012 map with the addition of North Carolina. But if Georgia, South Carolina, Arizona, and Utah are all in play, she might conceivably approach 400 electoral votes.

What is also noteworthy here is that in all four polls today, Gary Johnson is in double digits and moving closer to the 15% mark that would get him on stage during the first debate. If Trump goes full Breitbart and Johnson is allowed on the debate stage, Johnson will zoom up as moderate Republicans for whom Clinton is a bridge too far desert the GOP for the Libertarian Party. (Z & V)

State Clinton Trump Johnson Start End Pollster
Colorado 41% 33% 16% Aug 09 Aug 16 Quinnipiac U.
Iowa 41% 39% 12% Aug 09 Aug 16 Quinnipiac U.
Indiana 36% 47% 10% Aug 13 Aug 16 Monmouth U.
Virginia 45% 34% 11% Aug 09 Aug 16 Quinnipiac U.

Today's Senate Polls

More and more, it's looking like Evan Bayh was a giant, early Christmas present that fell out of the sky for the Democrats. If they can take Indiana, their odds of regaining control of the Senate improve dramatically. If that happens, get ready for a parade of left-wing SCOTUS nominees in their 40s, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer step aside and clear the way for the blue team to dominate the Court for a generation or more. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Indiana Evan Bayh 48% Todd Young 41% Aug 13 Aug 16 Monmouth U.

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug17 Major Shakeup for Trump's Campaign Staff
Aug17 Who Will Moderate the Debates?
Aug17 Roger Ailes May Help Trump Prepare for the Debates
Aug17 Clinton Is Already Prepping for the Debates
Aug17 Clinton Is Not Counting on Winning Blue-Collar White Men
Aug17 Trump Deposition Video Could Be Made Public
Aug17 Why Have the Media Taken Off the Gloves When Reporting about Trump?
Aug17 Cheney Wins Republican Primary in Wyoming
Aug17 How the Tea Party Movement Was Murdered
Aug17 Stein's Shaky Science
Aug17 McLaughlin Dies at 89
Aug16 Trump Reveals Anti-terrorism Plan
Aug16 Trump Speech Fails to Impress
Aug16 Rudy Giuliani Has a Bad Day
Aug16 Trump Has To Turn His Campaign Around, and Fast
Aug16 Wall Street Journal Gives Trump Until Labor Day To Fix Things
Aug16 Manafort May Have Been Paid $13 Million by Former Ukrainian President
Aug16 What Will it Take For Johnson, Stein to Join Debates?
Aug16 McMullin Gets on Utah Ballot
Aug16 Priebus May Be Back for More
Aug15 RNC Might Abandon Trump
Aug15 What Will Happen To Trumpism After the Election?
Aug15 The RedState Gathering Was Not a Happy Meeting
Aug15 Gary Johnson, Serious Candidate
Aug15 Trump to Deliver Major Address on Terrorism
Aug15 Trump Adds Eight Women To His Economic Team
Aug15 Trump Borrows Another Anti-Semitic Image
Aug15 Mike Pence Has to Dance, Dance, Dance
Aug14 Trump Is Soliciting Election Observers To Prevent Cheating
Aug14 Can Donald Trump Be Saved from Donald Trump?
Aug14 Pointing the Finger Here, There, and Everywhere
Aug14 Trump Spokeswoman Blames Obama for Afghanistan War
Aug14 Millennial Voters Are Profoundly Unhappy with Their Choices
Aug14 Some Top Democrats Want Clinton to Renominate Garland If She Wins
Aug14 Democrats Think that the Path to Winning the House Runs through Republican Suburbs
Aug14 Cheney Is Running for Congress
Aug13 Trump's ISIS Claim Was Sarcasm--Or Maybe Not
Aug13 Trump Threatens the RNC on Fundraising
Aug13 Trump Isn't Sure that Getting Out the Vote Is Important
Aug13 Trump: Clinton Can Only Win Pennsylvania by Cheating
Aug13 Clinton and Kaine Release More Tax Returns
Aug13 Trump Won't Reveal Bundlers' Names
Aug13 Republicans Question Trump's Travels
Aug13 The Internet is Eclipsing Television for Campaigning
Aug13 Half of GOP Insiders Think that Trump Has Already Lost
Aug13 GOP senators Are Walking on a Tightrope and Falling Off
Aug13 Hacker Releases House Democrats' Phone Numbers, E-mails
Aug12 Trump Doubles Down on Claim that Obama and Clinton Cofounded ISIS
Aug12 Clinton Rebuts Trump in Speech on Economics
Aug12 Has the Trump Campaign Reached the Breaking Point?