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

Bannon Is Planning Primaries against Senate Incumbents

With friends like Steve Bannon, who needs enemies? The former chief strategist to Donald Trump is planning to launch an all-out war against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and a number of incumbent Republican senators in 2018. Bannon is close friends with Rebekah Mercer, daughter of extreme conservative billionaire Robert Mercer, who will be happy to finance the insurgents Bannon chooses to run against the Republicans who don't see eye to eye with him. These include Republican senators Dean Heller (NV), Jeff Flake (AZ), Bob Corker (TN), and maybe even Roger Wicker (MS), among others.

At the very least, well-funded primary challengers will force the Republicans to spend millions of dollars on primary fights, money they would much rather use in the general election. Every dollar that is spent defending Dean Heller in a primary is a dollar that can't be spent going after Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) or Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO). A side effect of these challenges is that they are ideological in nature, and after a bitter ideological primary, the loser's supporters don't automatically jump on the winner's bandwagon, possibly causing losses in the general election. Nevada and Arizona are especially vulnerable. Finally, serious challenges will put President Donald Trump in a bind. McConnell will support the incumbents and Bannon will support the challengers. Whichever side Trump picks, he makes a serious enemy.

We are getting a dress rehearsal of the strategy in 2 weeks. That is when the Alabama runoff election will be held, with McConnell supporting Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) and Bannon supporting former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore. If Moore wins—and polls show him ahead by double digits— the dam will burst and Bannon will think he can knock off anyone. It will make 2018 extremely divisive for the Republicans. (V)

Bannon Says Firing Comey Was Biggest Mistake in Modern Political History

Steve Bannon, who is in many ways the 2017 version of Karl Rove, has a reputation as something of an evil genius of political gamesmanship. While helping to get Donald Trump elected was no small feat, some of Bannon's recent maneuvers are certainly calling into question the "genius" part of the equation. His plan to muck up the primaries for too-moderate Republicans (see above) has a small chance of success, and a significant chance of backfiring, perhaps even to the point of handing the Senate to the Democrats. Similarly, in his much-ballyhooed "60 Minutes" interview that aired Sunday, Bannon offered up an exceedingly dubious and ill-informed argument, declaring that Trump's decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey was the biggest mistake made by any modern president.

Bannon did not make clear exactly when he thinks "modern political history" began, but historians would generally say FDR, so we'll use him for our purposes here. Since he took office, every single president since has made mistakes that at very least rival, and in most cases clearly exceed, the Comey firing in their negative impact. For example:

This is just one example per president; there are some on the list where we could easily go five or ten items deep.

Bannon's argument here is that the Comey firing was the first domino in a chain reaction, leading directly to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller and a host of other negative consequences. In making this argument, however, Bannon reveals two things about himself. The first is that he doesn't really know much about history, since there are a number of items on the list above that absolutely wrecked presidencies. The Comey firing may eventually rise to that level, but it's not there yet, and even if it does, it will be one factor among many. Of course, Bannon's historical ignorance is not much of a revelation, given his predilection for reading pseudohistorical tripe like The Fourth Turning, which, as far as scholarship goes, is not much better than The Da Vinci Code.

The second thing that Bannon has revealed about himself is his fundamentally selfish worldview. Note that his only concern, as he reaches his conclusion about worst mistakes, is how much damage Trump did to himself. But the truly bad decisions, the ones more worthy of criticism and reflection, affect not only the president, but also the country, its citizens, its institutions, and even the world at large. To take but one example, Johnson's shenanigans in Vietnam not only wrecked a presidency that had been very successful, it also ripped American society apart, shattered many Americans' faith in their government, and left 50,000 Americans and countless Vietnamese dead. That's the bigger picture, the one that goes beyond the Oval Office, and that the Steve Bannons of the world do not care to notice. (Z)

California Is Going to Shake Up the 2020 Presidential Nomination Process

California traditionally holds its presidential primary in June, long after the nominees have been determined, effectively disenfranchising California's 18 million voters. A bill currently under consideration in the California state legislature would change all that. The bill moves California's primary much earlier in the season, just after the four small states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina) have voted. The bill is expected to pass and Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) is expected to sign it.

If the bill becomes law, it will completely upend the primary process in many ways. First, California is a huge and expensive state. The idea of an unknown governor (say, Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton) winning the nomination by going door to door would become almost inconceivable. If one candidate wins the first four states, probably that candidate is already the de facto nominee, but if the early states split, then anyone with a massive amount of money to fight the air war in California has a huge advantage. A clean win in California would make it nearly impossible for anyone to play catch-up. So California could easily determine the nominee. And that holds for both parties, especially if Donald Trump runs in 2020 and is challenged by Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and others.

Second, California is a very liberal state. Very liberal candidates will have a big advantage there. If, say, Elizabeth Warren runs and wins California big time, it will be very hard to stop her. Conservative Democrats or poorly funded candidates are likely to drop out after a big defeat in California. So the Golden State could winnow the field very quickly.

Third, local candidates will get a huge boost because they already have name recognition. Eric Garcetti may not be a household name in Iowa, but the mayor of Los Angeles is probably known to nearly every voter in California. Garcetti could even make a daring plan to skip the first four states and put all his eggs in the California basket. A big win there would get him far more delegates than the four small states combined, and make him the instant front runner. Of course, he may have to compete with Sen. Kamala Harris, for whom the same logic applies. Come to think of it, other California politicians may come to the same conclusion, skip the first four states, and bet the farm on doing well in their home state. However, since Democrats allocate delegates proportionally by congressional district, it could also be a mess.

Fourth, some Democratic strategists are against California moving up the primary date because if the nominee is essentially known in early March, ground operations and turnout will be depressed in the later states, which could hurt the Democrats in the general election. On the other hand, if the Democratic nominee is known in March, he or she will have eight months to prepare for the general election.

Fifth, a key issue is whether California goes before, after, or at the same time as the Southern states, which banded together to form Super Tuesday. If California goes first, the South may become irrelevant. The Southern states aren't going to like that. If all of the South plus California vote on Tuesday, March 3, 2020, we have something approximating a national primary. Anyone wanting to compete had better have already collected $20-30 million.

In short, if California moves up the primary, it will be a sea change in how presidential elections are fought, and give a big advantage to very liberal, well-funded candidates. Of course, there is a downside for the Democrats as well, namely, picking someone who plays well in San Francisco, but not so well in Tampa. (V)

Trump's Lawyer Hires a Lawyer

These are good times for lawyers in D.C., since everybody seems to want one. Don McGahn, the White House Counsel (i.e., Donald Trump's official government lawyer) has hired his own lawyer to prepare for his upcoming chat with special counsel Robert Mueller. He hired William Burck, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, one of the biggest law firms in the world, with over 700 lawyers and offices in 10 countries. Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus also hired Burck. The way it is going now, pretty soon the lawyer's lawyer will also be hiring a lawyer. (V)

McCain: I'm Facing a Challenge

Yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said: "I'm fine. The prognosis is pretty good. Look, this is a very vicious form of cancer that I'm facing, but all the results so far are excellent." Then he went on to stress the seriousness of the disease and said he didn't want to paint a rosy picture.

There is a protocol in this kind of statements. Well-known people never, ever say: "My doctors are very pessimistic. They are doing their best, but realistically, I'm going to be dead in 6 months." It just isn't done. Reading between the lines, it sounds like McCain is in big trouble.

Should he die in the next year, that has serious political implications, with positives and negatives for both parties. After his death, Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) will appoint another Republican to fill his seat until a special election in Nov. 2018. Since McCain was the 51st vote against the health-care bill, if his successor is in favor of the bill, Mitch McConnell could bring it up again and possibly get it passed. That would be a huge win for the Republicans and a major defeat for the Democrats.

On the other hand, if McCain dies, the Democrats have an outside chance of taking control of the Senate in 2018. The path is very narrow, but there is a path. It starts out with holding all 25 of the seats currently occupied by Democrats and independents that are up in 2018. That certainly won't be easy, but Senate incumbents have a reelection rate of 85-90% and the president's party has lost Senate seats in 17 of the past 20 midterms. Then the Democrats have to knock off Dean Heller and Jeff Flake. Heller will be fairly easy, Flake will be harder, but not impossible. With the 48 seats they currently hold plus Heller's seat and Flake's seat, the Democrats get to 50.

This is where McCain comes in. He is not up for reelection in 2018, but if he dies in the next year, his appointed successor will have to face the voters in Nov. 2018. He will have been in office less than a year and appointed senators don't have a great track record. That could be the Democrats' 51st seat. So, a lot is riding on McCain's doctors. They are undoubtedly doing everything humanly possible to beat the cancer, but sometimes cancer wins. (V)

When Trump Promises Happiness, Look Out

For someone who has spent a lot of his career as something of a con man and a flim-flam artist, Donald Trump isn't actually all that great at playing the part. The real virtuosos can lie, and lie, and lie some more, and make you believe everything they're saying. Bill Clinton, for example, or Ronald Reagan among presidents; Bernie Madoff, or Jim Bakker, or Lance Armstrong if we expand our pool. Trump, by contrast, tips his hand, such that it's actually pretty easy to figure out when he's lying or exaggerating, at least for those who are willing to accept that the emperor is wearing no clothes.

Yes, Trump has some pretty obvious tells when he's shoveling the manure. When he repeats himself, for example. Or when he doubles up words, like, "It's going to be very, very big" or "This is a great, great crowd." Anytime he says "trust me," you shouldn't. And talk show host John Oliver has just identified another dead giveaway: Anytime the President talks about how happy people will be, it means he's got nothing. For example, discussing the future of DACA with Chuck Todd back in 2015, Trump said:

They have to go. We will work with them, they have to go. We will do it, and we will expedite it so people can come back in...Chuck, it will work out so well, you'll be so happy. In four years you're going to interview me and you're going to say, 'What a great job you've done, President Trump.'

Of course, we know now that Trump had no plan, other than "punt to Congress."

Trump actually plays the "happy" card quite a lot. He promised business leaders that, "Wait till you see what's up for you. You are going to be so happy." At the moment, they are not, and there's no policy initiative in the pipeline that is likely to change that. Speaking of blue collar workers, Trump said, "The steel folks are going to be very happy." Again, we have yet to hear a word of the President's plan to revitalize the steel industry.

In poker, when a player knows he's giving off tells, he works hard to fix the problem, or else he loses a lot of money. But it's not Donald Trump's style to do things like grow or change, and so as the viewers' guide to the President becomes more complete, it will get easier and easier to read his mind. (Z)

Sometimes the "Fake News" Really Is Fake

Given the tendency of President Trump and his supporters to label any news stories that they do not like as "fake," it may cause us to forget that sometimes the "news" actually is fake. That's particularly likely in the early days of a terrible disaster like Hurricane Irma, when normal information channels are unavailable, people are desperate for information, and scam artists may be on the prowl. In fact, the Washington Post has a lengthy list of stories, images, and video related to Irma that are: (1) circulating right now, and (2) fake.

Indeed, in something of an ironic twist, the Trump administration has made a distinct contribution to the Irma fake news, with White House social media guru tweeting out video of Miami airport under water, only to learn from airport officials that their runways were actually just fine, thank you very much. He deleted the post which, someone should probably tell him, could be a federal crime, since he's required to keep all records from anything he does in his official capacity.

Among the other things that should not be believed: Downtown Miami is not completely submerged, there are not sharks swimming in freeways-turned-to-rivers, there is no magical app that will allow your phone to communicate when service is out, Irma is not a "Category 6" hurricane (those don't exist), there is no connection between Irma and the 9/11 attacks, and Irma is not a liberal conspiracy. Each of these has been running roughshod on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. Again, don't believe them. On the other hand, if a Nigerian prince wants you to help him get his money out of the country, that one's probably true. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep10 Trump Connects Irma with Taxes
Sep10 Trump Willing to Get Rid of Debt Ceiling
Sep10 DOJ Won't Prosecute Lois Lerner
Sep10 Ryan Being Savaged on All Sides
Sep10 Pastor Declares Trump's Religiosity
Sep10 What Should Hillary Clinton Do Now?
Sep10 Two Congressmen Apparently Like the Gerrymander
Sep09 Three Moderate House Republicans Are Retiring
Sep09 Baucus Comes Out in Favor of Single-Payer Healthcare
Sep09 Mueller Wants to Talk to Six Top Trump Staffers
Sep09 Former DHS Secretary Sues DHS
Sep09 Trump-Schumer-Pelosi Plan Is Now the Law of the Land
Sep09 Trump's Relationship with Congressional Republicans Goes from Bad to Worse
Sep09 Trump Can't Decide How Strong the U.S. Military Is
Sep09 Another Friday, Another White House Departure
Sep08 Trump Raves about the News Coverage of His Deal with the Democrats
Sep08 Conservatives Don't Care about the Coverage, Hate the Deal
Sep08 Hillary Clinton Wants to Continue the 2016 Democratic Primary
Sep08 Steve Bannon Behaving like Steve Bannon
Sep08 Cohn on Thin Ice
Sep08 Donald Trump Jr. Interviewed by Senate Staffers
Sep08 Mueller Leaving No Stone Unturned
Sep07 Trump Takes Democrats' First Offer on Debt Limit
Sep07 Members of Both Parties Want to Know More about Trump Tower Moscow
Sep07 Red-State Democrats Now Support DACA
Sep07 Fifteen States Sue Trump on DACA
Sep07 Gerrymandering Case Gets Some Unlikely Support
Sep07 Irma Visits Donald
Sep07 Menendez's Trial Began Yesterday
Sep07 Protests, By the Numbers
Sep06 Trump Tells Sessions to End DACA in 6 Months
Sep06 Trump Shoots the Hostages
Sep06 Republicans Have Good Reason to Fear 2018
Sep06 Franken Won't Turn in His Blue Slip
Sep06 Trump Kompromat, Pence Obstruction?
Sep06 Manafort Trying to Keep His Testimony Secret
Sep05 Situation in Korea Is Already Escalating
Sep05 If Trump Ends DACA, at Least Two States Will Sue Him
Sep05 Lots of People Will Be Angry if DACA Is Killed
Sep05 For Trump, the Rubber is About to Meet the Road
Sep05 Breitbart Is Putting Trump In a Quandary
Sep05 Harvey and the Debt Limit
Sep05 Clarke Expected to Take a Job in Trump Administration
Sep04 Trump Notes North Korea's Nuclear Test and Attacks South Korea
Sep04 Trump Likely to Announce End of DACA This Week
Sep04 Trump Is Playing Only to His Base
Sep04 Is Donald Trump...Suicidal?
Sep04 Democrats Have a 10-Point Lead on the Generic House Ballot
Sep04 Trump Nominations Could Mean Two More Special Elections
Sep04 States Struggle to Fix Voting Security