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Republican Estes Wins Special Election in Kansas

The first congressional election of the Trump Era is in the books, and it will be Ron Estes (R) who succeeds CIA Director Mike Pompeo as the representative for Kansas' 4th congressional district. Estes defeated Democratic challenger James Thompson 52.5% to 45.7%, with Libertarian Chris Rockhold capturing the remaining 1.7%.

Partisans on both sides were watching this one closely. At the moment, there are roughly 70 Congressional seats that are legitimately competitive, and the Democrats need to win roughly 50 of them to flip the House in 2018 (they currently hold about 25 of them). Everyone, then, is peering at the Kansas tea leaves to try and discern what the blue team's chances are of doing that. So what did the tea leaves tell us on Tuesday? Well, Thompson is a political newbie who was running against a Republican with electoral experience and statewide name recognition (Estes was, until Tuesday night, Kansas' state treasurer). Despite starting at a severe disadvantage, Thompson managed to turn an R+15 district that Donald Trump won by 27 points into an R+7. If the Democrats are able to use Trump to knock, say, 5 points off of each Republican's tally in 2018, they will easily retake the House.

With that said, we should not get ahead of ourselves here. It's only one election, in which only 120,000 people voted. That's hardly a national referendum on the performance of President Trump. Further, although Estes is an experienced politician, he ran a campaign that nearly everyone agrees was dismal. At the same time, Thompson collected a pile of money from outside the state. That won't happen, at least not as much, when there are 435 races going on as opposed to one or two. Finally, it can be argued that this election was as much a referendum on Kansas governor Sam Brownback (R) as it was on Trump. Brownback is the second least popular governor in the country (only Chris Christie, R-NJ, is doing worse), and has derailed the Kansas economy with a series of disastrous tax cuts. Point is, both parties can spin this result as "good news" and we're really going to need at least a few more elections' worth of data—including next week's election in GA-06—before we can reasonably begin to speculate on 2018. (Z)

Spicer Goose Steps in It

Presumably, there is no handbook for White House press secretaries. But if there were, the first sentence would be: "Never invoke Adolf Hitler." Unfortunately for Sean Spicer, nobody ever clued him in on this, and so that is exactly what he did on Tuesday. In an effort to justify the bombing of Syria, the Press Secretary declared, "We didn't use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had a, you know, someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons."

This is pretty bad. First, because it implies that Bashar al-Assad is somehow worse than the man who was responsible for instigating World War II and the Holocaust, which between them left 60 million people dead. Second, because it's not remotely true, inasmuch as Hitler regularly deployed poison gas as a means of executing Jews and others during the war.

Now, when these things were pointed out to Spicer, he immediately recognized he had erred, acknowledged that the comparison was a poor one, and apologized profusely. No, wait, that's not what happened. What happened is that he doubled down, and actually managed to make the situation worse. In an attempt to "clarify," Spicer said that he understood that Hitler took Jews "into the Holocaust center," but that he "was not using the gas on his own people."

This is really bad. First of all, concentration camps are rudimentary world history; it is truly remarkable that someone doing Spicer's job cannot recall that term, and then instead settled on "Holocaust center." Second, because Spicer implied that Jews were somehow not Germans. The only person who believed that was, well, Hitler (it was a main theme, arguably the main theme, of Mein Kampf). Making all of this worse is that (1) the administration already has a bit of an anti-Semitism problem, and (2) Tuesday was the first day of Passover. Eventually, at the end of the day, once someone not named Steve Bannon had presumably set him straight, Spicer finally did apologize for his ill-considered words, but the damage was done.

At this point, Spicer is a dead man walking. He is not an effective advocate for the administration, given his constant butchering of both facts and the English language. He struggles to control the White House press room, as well as his own outbursts. He's lost credibility with his constant string of exaggerations and outright falsehoods. Further, and to be very blunt, he comes off as not very bright or very well spoken. And if all of that were not enough, Donald Trump is reportedly even unhappy with Spicer's wardrobe choices and poor hygiene (think: spinach in the teeth). The only real question at this point is who goes first: Spicer, Bannon, Reince Priebus, or Rex Tillerson. For what it's worth, Paddy Power has it at 5/4 (44%) that Spicer will be canned by the end of June. (Z)

Nunes Was Apparently Making Things Up

Two weeks ago, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) visited the White House to discuss secret intelligence that supposedly vindicated the Trump administration in terms of its claims that they were spied on by members of the Obama administration. Trump quickly glommed onto this, eventually pointing the finger at former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and accusing her of trying to gather information that was none of her business.

Nunes' colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee have now been allowed to examine these secret documents, and on Tuesday several of them—both Democrats and Republicans—came forth to say that there is no evidence for any of Nunes' or Trump's claims. There's no "smoking gun," no evidence Susan Rice did anything wrong, nothing particularly sensitive at all. In fact, the so-called evidence is innocuous enough that the representatives called for the documents to be de-classified and released to the general public, so that they could see for themselves. So, the White House has given us another red herring. (Z)

The Infrastructure Bill Could Fail Just Like the Healthcare Bill

The healthcare bill failed due to divisions within the GOP, lack of support from the Democrats, and fuzzy math. Guess what? The yet-to-be-released infrastructure bill could fail due to divisions within the GOP, lack of support from the Democrats, and fuzzy math. As Yogi Berra put it: "It's deja vu all over again." It could be rough sailing.

The plan, which is scheduled for release in May, is expected to have $160-$300 billion in direct federal spending, with another $700-$800 billion in funding from the private sector (think: selling or leasing interstate highways to private companies on which they can then impose tolls). Republican deficit hawks may balk at even $160 billion in direct federal spending, let alone more, especially since only 18 months ago Congress enacted a $305 billion transportation bill. Before signing on, they want to see the details. Once again, the House Freedom Caucus may be an obstacle.

In contrast, the Democrats won't have a problem with the direct federal expenditures but are sure to resist leasing or selling federal assets and giving tax breaks to private companies, especially if the lion's share of the investment is expected to come from private sources. Once the bill is actually written, expect the opposition to start building.

A trillion dollars over 10 years is a lot of money and the math had better add up. For example, if the government is to spend even $160 billion, where is that money going to come from? Answers like: "It will come from the terrific economic growth we expect in the next 10 years" are not going to impress many economists. In short, the whole idea could be a tough sell to Congress. (V)

Trump Falsely Claims He's Created 600,000 Jobs

Mark Twain made famous the saying that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. He missed out on President Donald Trump by about 100 years, but the wisdom still rings true. On Tuesday, Trump offered up a statistic—that he's created 600,000 jobs since entering the White House—and it was definitely a damned lie.

To start, even if we give Trump credit for every job created since he took office (a dubious proposition), the number is 317,000. Apparently, Trump is also taking credit for all of January, even though he was in office for 1/3 of the month. And even then it barely gets us to 500,000. So, in sum, we take all of the jobs created in 2017 under the leadership of both Trump and Barack Obama, give credit for all of them to the President, and then multiply by 120% to get to The Donald's statistic. A similar sort of math is how a man worth $3.5 billion claims a net worth of $10 billion. (Z)

There Is An Easy Way to Get Trump's Tax Returns Released

In a piece in the Washington Post, University of Chicago Law School professort Daniel Hemel has suggested a way to get some of Donald Trump's tax returns out there for public inspection: Have New York State pass a law requiring the New York State tax returns of public officials to be released. Democrats have a majority in the state assembly and could probably cobble together enough votes in the state senate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) releases his tax returns every year, so he would probably sign the bill.

Federal law prohibits state officials from disclosing federal tax returns, but does not prohibit them from releasing state tax returns. While the state tax return does not include as much information as the federal one, it does contain a lot and would give the public a much better idea of whether Trump, for example, has loans from Russian banks. Hemel argues that while taxpayer privacy is important, government transparency is even more important, so New York state legislators should use their power and pass a law forcing Trump's tax returns out into the open. (V)

California May Move 2020 Primary to March

In 2016, California held its presidential primary in June, long after the nominees were determined. A bill now under consideration in the California legislature would move the date to the third Tuesday in March, after Iowa and New Hampshire. The bill would also authorize to the governor to move the date earlier if other states (read: Nevada and South Carolina) move their dates ahead of California's.

If the bill passes, and since the Democrats control the whole show in California, it might well do so, it could have a major effect on the candidate selection process. To start with, it would upend the current system, which despite its many faults, does do a few things right. Currently, four small states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) go first, meaning that a candidate with no money but a lot of gumption can actually get a shot at winning several early states and get some momentum. If California were to be #3, any candidate who was serious about getting most of California's massive trove of delegates would probably have to start out with something like $20-$50 million in the bank.

An early primary would also mean that a candidate who was a good fit to Californians' political tastes would get an enormous early boost. Given California's extreme distaste for Donald Trump, the Democratic prize would probably go to the candidate who screamed "I HATE DONALD TRUMP" the loudest. For the Republicans, it might mean that a challenger to Donald Trump, such as Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), might get a shot in the arm. In any event, if the bill becomes law, it will shake up the 2020 race enormously. (V)

Collins May Run for Governor of Maine

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is considering running to replace term-limited Gov. Paul LePage (R) in 2018. She ran for governor in 1994 and lost to now-senator Angus King (I-ME). She is quite popular in the Pine Tree State and would have a good chance of winning. If she did, she would get to name her own successor in the Senate. Presumably she would name a moderate Republican, someone much like herself, so it wouldn't change the partisan balance of the Senate. That appointee would serve, at very least, until Maine's next statewide election (November of 2019), and so any change would only come if the appointee was defeated at the polls. (V)

Christie Calls for Government to Forbid Overbooking of Flights

In the wake of the viral video of 69-year-old Dr. David Dao being dragged off a United Airlines flight by law enforcement personnel, Chris Christie demonstrated that he sometimes comments on things that he doesn't understand. He called for the government to forbid airlines from overbooking flights. While that might make sense in some cases, in the case of the United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, it doesn't. Every person who bought a ticket was seated. The plane was not overbooked. What happened that was at the last minute, the airline discovered that it had to get a crew to Louisville to be on a flight the next morning. A rule against overbooking wouldn't have changed a thing since the flight was not overbooked in the first place.

The fault lies entirely with the airline, not with the big bad government. Under current law, the airlines are allowed to offer payment to passengers to voluntarily give up their seats. For the flight in question, the allowed payment was $1,350 in cash. The airline offered $800 in scrip (basically, vouchers for United flights within a year with blackout dates and other restrictions). At the very least, the airline should have made a clear offer of $1,350 in cash plus a hotel room and a first-class ticket the next day. Alternatively, it could have offered cash plus a ticket on a competing airline. American Airlines has a nonstop flight an hour later and Delta has a 1-stop flight also an hour later. If there were still no takers, only then should it have started the bumping procedure. There might well have been no takers for the better deal, but the airline didn't even try.

The United CEO made it worse by saying that the people chosen for eviction were chosen at random. That is patent nonsense. No airline would ever, ever bump an unaccompanied minor. Losing your suitcase is one thing; losing your kid is something quite different. Airlines also never break up families, nor do they bump first-class passengers, full "Y"-fare cattle-class passengers, or people with high status in their frequent flyer program. Most likely they pick passengers who paid the cheapest fare and checked in late, preferably people with no checked baggage that has to be located and removed from the plane. Finally, after Dao identified himself as a doctor with patients to see in the morning, the gate agent should have explained the situation on the PA system and tried harder to find someone else. In other news, United's capitalized value dropped by $250 million yesterday. But none of this was the government's fault and Christie should have known all this. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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