Dem 48
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GOP 52
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

McConnell's Allies Go after Bannon

When Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon claimed another win yesterday with the retirement announcement of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell swung into action. Yesterday, his allies—and he has many of them—began an all-out attack on Bannon and his candidates. For starters, the Senate Leadership Fund (McConnell's PAC) began mocking perennial Nevada candidate Danny Tarkanian, a Bannon favorite who is running for the Senate against Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV). Tarkanian had earlier asked Heller to pledge opposing McConnell as majority leader:

Now the SLF has come up with a pledge of its own that it wants Tarkanian to sign:

Bannon responded to the tweet with laughter. If he does so to all the tweets coming up in the next year, he will have a very jolly year ahead.

McConnell's allies expect that tying candidates explicitly to Bannon will damage them. A poll in April by Quinnipiac University showed that just 11% of the voters viewed Bannon positively and 45% viewed him negatively. Given some of the things he said in public and whatever his two ex-wives care to share, McConnell's allies are going to have plenty of material to work with. (V)

Tax Cuts Have Gotten Even More Important This Week

With three Republican senators—Jeff Flake (AZ), Bob Corker (TN), and John McCain (AZ)—more or less in open warfare with Donald Trump, there is only one thing that can keep the Republican Party from exploding: tax cuts. Mitch McConnell reiterated that yesterday, when he said: "Tax reform is what we are about. If there is anything that unifies Republicans, it's tax reform." Right now, it is probably the only glue holding the party together. If tax reform fails, open civil war will break out within the Party.

However, reforming (which to Republicans means "cutting") taxes is easier said than done. To make the tax cuts permanent under the Senate's budget reconciliation rules, a tax bill has to be revenue neutral over a 10-year period. That means that new revenue must be found to offset the planned cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals. On Tuesday, Donald Trump said that changes to people's 401(k) retirement plans were off the table. Yesterday, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) put them kerplunk back on the table because as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, he has the job of writing the tax law and somehow making it revenue neutral. The new revenue has to come from somewhere, and for every potential source, some Republicans oppose it. Another example of a controversial revenue source is eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes, something the 23 Republican representatives from New York and California will fight tooth and nail to block. So while Republicans are united in their desire to cut taxes, they are anything but united in how to pay for it. As is so often the case, the devil is in the details. (V)

Trump Campaign Analytics Company Tried to Get Clinton E-mails from Wikileaks

Two days ago, news broke that the Clinton campaign engaged in some less-than-admirable tactics in an effort to get dirt on Donald Trump. It is probably not a coincidence, then, than news broke yesterday that the Trump campaign engaged in some less-than-admirable tactics in an effort to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. Specifically, Alexander Nix—chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, Trump's main data-crunchers—reportedly contacted Julian Assange and Wikileaks in an effort to get copies of Clinton's 33,000 deleted e-mails. Assange confirmed the story late Wednesday, and said he did not give Nix the requested e-mails (likely because Assange does not have them).

On balance, these two stories are much worse for Trump than they are for Clinton. First because one of them is president, and one is not. Second, because what the Clinton campaign did may not be something to brag about, all campaigns do oppo research and it is neither unethical nor illegal. On the other hand, Assange is not a U.S. citizen (he is an Ozzie), and if he were to provide the e-mails free of charge, it would be a violation of campaign finance law. Third, and most importantly, there are already lots of uncomfortable questions about the exact relationship between the Russians, Wikileaks, and the Trump campaign. Wednesday's revelations are certainly not going to make those questions go away. (Z)

Mueller is Zeroing in on Manafort

A new report from the Wall Street Journal claims that special counsel Robert Mueller is zeroing in on Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort. The alleged crime probably involves money laundering. Manafort has had numerous jobs working for Russian oligarchs and others close to Vladimir Putin. According to previously published reports, he was paid tens of millions of dollars for his work.

What is new with this report is that Mueller is apparently working closely with the office of the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York. Since August, Mueller has been working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. This is significant because if Manafort is charged with violating New York State law, Trump could not pardon him. His pardon power applies only to federal crimes.

Also highly relevant here is that Trump seems to be keenly interested in the candidates to fill the U.S. attorneys slots in Manhattan and Brooklyn. He even personally interviewed the front runners for each job. Such actions are highly unusual for any president, since the administration of justice is supposed to be under the attorney general, not the president, to keep it from being political. However, Trump apparently realizes that if Manafort (or for that matter, first son-in-law Jared Kushner) is charged under New York State law, he can't pardon them. So, a semi-helpful preemptive strike is to appoint U.S. attorneys who will agree in advance not to prosecute any of his campaign officials. The only problem here is that Schneiderman is a state official who can bring indictments on his own, no matter who the U.S. attorneys are. It is not 3D chess, but it looks like Trump can at least play checkers. (V)

Trump's Lawyer Made $20 Million in Profit in Cash Deals

McClatchy is reporting that Donald Trunp's long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, dabbled in real estate himself on the side. In particular, in 2014, a mysterious buyer using a shell company paid $10 million in cash for a small apartment building at 172 Rivington St. that Cohen had purchased 3 years earlier for $2 million. Quintupling your money in 3 years on a property whose assessed value was stable by selling it to a mystery buyer who paid cash tends to attract attention. Former federal prosecutor Jaimie Nawaday said: "There are perfectly good reasons to buy and sell through LLCs, but the combination of facts is one that tends to arouse interest." Three other properties Cohen bought and sold followed the same pattern.

These are not the only transactions to be of potential interest to the authorities. Cohen also played a role in the abortive attempt to build Trump Tower Moscow in late 2015 and 2016, in part during the presidential campaign. His dealings have undercut Trump's statement that he had no business dealings with Russia. Cohen has adamantly stated that he had nothing to do with any Russian involvement in the election. He will be questioned by a Senate committee this week. (V)

Trump Talks Only to Fox News

It's hardly a revelation that Donald Trump's favorite media outlet, by far, is Fox News. However, a new tally by Mark Knoller of CBS makes clear just how strong the President's preferences really are. He recently sat for his 19th interview with the cable outlet since assuming the presidency. That's only one less than he's granted to The New York Times (4), NBC (3), Reuters (3), The Wall Street Journal (2), CBN (2), ABC (1), CBS (1), The Washington Post (1), the Associated Press (1), Time (1), and Forbes (1) combined.

It's not that Trump cares only about having a direct line to his base, though that certainly doesn't hurt. It's that he prefers to be interviewed only by friends (ahem, Sean Hannity), which guarantees a steady supply of softball questions. That means that Fox News hosts with whom The Donald does not have a relationship (say, Bret Baier) aren't much better off than George Stephanopoulos or Lester Holt. It also means that the President is living in a self-created echo chamber, which means he is at risk of getting caught by surprise when he takes questions from less fawning media types. Like, say, questions about why he hasn't called the families of the dead soldiers from Niger. (Z)

Bad Polls for Trump

A couple of weekly pollsters released their latest on Wednesday, and the numbers definitely won't be finding their way to Donald Trump's Twitter feed. First up is Fox News, which certainly tries to tote the President's water, but the numbers say what they say. They have him with the lowest approval rating ever for their poll, 38%. He's losing ground among key constituencies, including men without a college degree, working-class white men, and evangelicals.

Politico/Morning Consult, meanwhile, has Trump with a slightly better overall approval rating, at 42%. But the rest of the numbers are pretty grim, as a majority of respondents find him untrustworthy (53%), dishonest (51%), reckless (56%), thin-skinned (52%), lacking in compassion (54%), unstable (54%), and sexist (50%). Since there are about 10% "no opinion" in each category, it means he's got only about a third of the population who actively objects to these labels. These numbers represent a dip from last week; the obvious explanation is Trump's (mis-)handling of the La David Johnson phone call. Puerto Rico surely didn't help, either.

While Trump's approval rating ebbs and flows depending on whatever the drama of the week is, it is clear that the overall trendline is downward, and pretty sharply so. Over the past nine months, he's bled about 6.5 points; from pulling numbers regularly in the mid-40s to numbers regularly in the high-30s. For a president who won office by the skin of his teeth, that's very concerning. It's also the case that no president has had such a bad first year on the approval-ratings front since the numbers were first tabulated during the Truman years. The only presidents who were even in the ballpark (see the data at the link) were Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford. Those two men saw their parties lose 54 and 49 seats in the House, and 8 and 4 seats in the Senate, respectively, in the midterm elections. So, to the extent that the numbers have predictive value, the conditions certainly appear to be building for the wave election of all wave elections. (Z)

Gillespie Is Leading Northam in New Poll

A Hampton University poll of the Virginia gubernatorial race has Ed Gillespie (R) leading Ralph Northam (D) 41% to 33%. Nearly every other poll has had Northam ahead, so either there has been a big shift in the race recently or this poll is completely off. The race could tell a lot about whether Democratic antagonism to Donald Trump can actually win statewide elections. Gillespie has attached himself closely to Trump's coattails. Barack Obama has campaigned for Northam and both he and Hillary Clinton have raised money for Northam. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct25 Corker Calls Trump a "Serial Liar"
Oct25 Flake Will Retire
Oct25 Rock Drops Out
Oct25 Americans Do Not Support a Tax Cut
Oct25 Senate, House Panels to Investigate Obama Uranium Deal
Oct25 Clinton Campaign and DNC Paid for Russia Dossier
Oct25 DACA Maybe, Bump Stocks No
Oct25 Senate Overturns Banking Law, with Help from Pence
Oct25 Trump the Least Powerful President in Recent Memory
Oct24 Trump: No Change to Your 401(k)
Oct24 Trump Feuds with Military Widow
Oct24 Republicans Don't Trust Trump as a Negotiator
Oct24 Democratic House Candidates Are Pulling in Serious Money
Oct24 Russians May Have Hundreds of Troll Networks Targeting the U.S.
Oct24 EPA Silences Scientists
Oct24 Feinstein Readies for Battle
Oct23 Trump Personally Interviewing U.S. Attorneys
Oct23 Khizr Khan Criticizes Trump and Kelly for Their Statements on the Niger Deaths
Oct23 Trump Administration Set to Create Another ACA Mess
Oct23 Is Mississippi the Next Alabama?
Oct23 Democrats Nervous about Virginia
Oct23 Another Republican Enters the Race for Corker's Seat
Oct23 Carter Wants to Go to North Korea
Oct23 McCain Keeps Poking the Bear
Oct22 Trump Unleashes Twitter Tornado
Oct22 Be Careful of Whom You Endorse, Mr. President
Oct22 Texas Democrats Liking Their Chances
Oct22 Trump Will Release JFK Documents After All, or Maybe Not
Oct22 Impeach Trump, Make $20 Million
Oct22 Alabama Senate Race Is Very Close. Or Isn't Close at All.
Oct22 Turmoil at Fox News
Oct21 Kelly Gets Sucked In
Oct21 Trump Working on Phone Calls to Soldiers' Families
Oct21 Congress Wants to Review Presidential War Powers
Oct21 Conservatives Willing to Bend in Order to Get Tax Cuts
Oct21 Trump Lifts the Curtain
Oct21 A Golden Age for Lobbyists
Oct21 JFK Assassination Secrets Likely to Remain Secret
Oct20 Numbers 43, 44 Slam Number 45
Oct20 Kelly Leaps to Trump's Defense
Oct20 Trump Commends Trump For Handling of Puerto Rico
Oct20 Trump Continues to Flog NFL
Oct20 Clinton Uranium Story Back in the Spotlight
Oct20 Will Senate Move Forward With Obamacare Stabilization?
Oct20 Cook Political Report Moves 11 Seats in Democrats' Direction
Oct19 Trump Shoots Himself in Both Feet
Oct19 Second Judge Rules Against Muslim Travel Ban v3.0
Oct19 Sessions Frustrates Senators
Oct19 Tiberi's Out
Oct19 Three Polls, Two Bad and One Good for Trump