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GOP 51
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Syria Gets Messy
      •  Fire in Trump Tower
      •  Republican Issue for the Midterms: Impeachment
      •  Manafort Might Try to Put the FBI on Trial
      •  Sanders and Harris Make Gaffes
      •  Nearly All Republican Candidates Embrace Trump
      •  GOP Pollster: Republicans Are in "Deep Trouble" in 2018
      •  Race to Succeed Paul Ryan Has Already Begun

Syria Gets Messy

Herbert McMaster's last day as National Security Advisor was Friday. When new NSA John Bolton gets to the office on Monday, he's going to have to hit the ground running. Why? Because on Sunday morning, the Syrian government launched a chemical weapons attack on the city of Douma, killing at least 70 people (with some estimates putting the number as high as 150).

Donald Trump, who just last week signaled that he wants the U.S. to be out of Syria in six months, flew into a rage on Twitter:

You know Trump is angry when he's willing to call out Vlad Putin by name. It would seem he calmed down pretty quickly, however, because not long after these he send a tweet congratulating Masters champion Patrick Reed.

Trump's very characteristic attempt to pass the buck, and to point the finger at others, did not go over too well on Sunday. Not only is blaming Barack Obama getting a little dubious 18 months into the Trump presidency, but Twitter users with a long memory couldn't help but notice that one of the loudest voices calling for Obama not to cross the red line was...Donald Trump:

It's in ALL CAPS, so clearly Trump was serious.

Meanwhile, it seems unlikely that it is a coincidence that the attack came in the same week as Trump's announcement about withdrawal. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who knows a thing or two about geopolitics as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, certainly sees a connection. He issued a statement that read, in part:

President Trump last week signaled to the world that the United States would prematurely withdraw from Syria. Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers have heard him, and emboldened by American inaction, Assad has reportedly launched another chemical attack against innocent men, women and children, this time in Douma.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), McCain's close friend and fellow hawk, seconded the sentiment and declared that the time has come for strong anti-Assad measures.

Trump doesn't particularly care what Graham and McCain think, but he nonetheless might very well decide he has to retaliate. First, because he promised a "big price to pay." Second, because failing to respond might appear "weak," and there are few things Trump hates more than looking weak. And third, because Trump's about to have the ultra-hawkish Bolton filling his head with ideas about the virtues of mass bombings. It may prove to be highly unfortunate that McMaster couldn't hang on for another week or two. (Z)

Fire in Trump Tower

A fire broke out at Trump Tower in New York on Saturday, leaving one man dead and six firefighters injured. And as anyone who has been paying attention for the past two years knows, anything involving Trump is sure to become a political story, sooner or later. So it is with this news.

It was Trump himself who got the ball rolling, with this tweet late Saturday:

It didn't take people long to notice that Trump managed to thank the firefighters (which is entirely apropos), and to brag about how well-built his building is (much less apropos), but to say nothing about the victim. No best wishes to his family, no "thoughts and prayers," nothing.

Meanwhile, by Sunday, quite a few outlets were observing that Trump Tower is not necessarily built all that well. At least, not in one very important way: It lacks sprinklers of the exact sort that would have forestalled Saturday's tragedy. The city of New York considered mandating that such sprinklers be installed in all high-rises, but they were successfully lobbied to exempt older buildings by...Donald Trump. One might wonder if that does not make the building just a little dangerous to live in. Apparently, the President and the Secret Service think so, because when Trump is in residence, they take extra steps to protect him against a possible fire.

Given that Trump was clearly aware of the fire danger, one might also wonder if he's about to get sued (again). The answer is: Bet on it. Beyond the fire hazard, the building staff's response to the blaze was apparently...incompetent:

Assuming the family of the deceased decides to sue, the Trump Organization will presumably be eager to settle.

And finally, while this has nothing to do with liability or with a lack of empathy, there's also plenty of potential embarrassment for Trump here. Particularly if people find out that the deceased had been trying desperately to sell his condo since the President was elected, and that even after several price drops, he could find no takers. It would seem that, at least in New York, the Trump brand is wholly tainted. Perhaps The Donald will have better luck with Trump Tower Moscow. (Z)

Republican Issue for the Midterms: Impeachment

Republicans had hoped to base their midterm case on the new tax law, but in recent special elections the issue didn't get any traction. Even running as if Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were on the ballot didn't work. Now a new idea is bubbling up: Talk about impeachment. The idea is to harp on the idea that if the Democrats win Congress, they will impeach Donald Trump. Actually, unlike stories about Nancy Pelosi being the spawn of Satan, this is probably true. The goal is to scare Trump's supporters and make sure they vote in November. It could also raise grassroots campaign donations.

It won't be hard for Republican candidates to provide "proof" that the Democrats want to impeach Trump. All they have to do is replay some of the ads billionaire Tom Steyer has been running, demanding just that. Most Democratic leaders want to avoid any discussion of impeachment until after the elections, but they can't make Steyer shut up, much as they want to. And with Republicans amplifying his voice, the problem certainly won't go away.

From the Republican perspective, this is a good issue as it unites all wings of the Party, something that immigration and the Wall don't do. On the other hand, there is a wild card here: Robert Mueller. If the Special Counsel issues a report before the midterms laying out a detailed case that Trump has committed one or more impeachable offenses and the public largely believes it, making the midterms about impeachment could backfire. (V)

Manafort Might Try to Put the FBI on Trial

It is sometimes said that the best defense is a good offense, but there are limits. Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, may try to discover where those are. In particular, his lawyers may try to defend him by alleging that the FBI is biased and corrupt and that he is a "political prisoner." One bit of evidence is the case of Peter Strzok, who was part of Mueller's team until Mueller fired him. Strzok sent thousands of text messages to his girlfriend, Lisa Page, many of which were critical of Trump. Manafort's lawyers could subpoena them to show that Mueller's team had it in for Manafort from day one.

However, there are great risks with this strategy. First, when Mueller discovered the texts, he fired Strzok immediately. That is not the action of someone who approved of the messages. Second, the prosecution is likely to bring up the fact that Strzok was one of the leaders of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server and the one who most wanted to nail her to the wall. He also wrote the first draft of the letter former FBI director James Comey sent to Congress in July 2016 saying that although Clinton hadn't technically broken any laws, she was grossly negligent. In addition, he was the driving force behind Comey's announcement 11 days before the election about "New Clinton emails!" That hardly seems like something a die-hard Trump hater would do.

Third, a strategy of trying to put the FBI on trial could anger the judges in Manafort's two cases. They could say to the lawyers: "Please limit yourself to discussing the charges and your client's behavior, not that of an FBI agent who was not on the case when the charges were brought." Judges aren't generally stupid and Manafort's judges could be thinking: "He's obviously guilty, so his lawyers want to talk about something other than the case at hand." Having the judge think you are guilty is never a good thing, even if she doesn't say anything. Worse yet, one of them, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, has already gotten angry at Manafort's lawyers for filing what she considered an irrelevant civil suit claiming that Mueller has run amok. (V)

Sanders and Harris Make Gaffes

Donald Trump can say 100 things that his base hates and they will still love him, but Democrats aren't always as forgiving. In the past week, two of the leading Democratic presidential candidates said things that may come back to haunt them next year when campaigning revs up.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was in Jackson, MS, last week to honor the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Given his problems with black voters, going there was a smart move. In his remarks, he criticized the Democratic Party's business model, which made a bad impression on many of the people in attendance, who see Sanders still focused on economic issues (including the Party's reliance on wealthy donors), almost to the exclusion of the issue of racial justice, which is front and center with many black voters. In short, if Sanders runs in the 2020 primaries, he may be wiped out in the South (again) because about half the Democratic primary voters there are black and he still doesn't "get it" from their point of view.

The other 2020 candidate who stumbled last week is Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). At a town hall in Sacramento, someone asked her if a corporate lobbyist gave her money, would she take it? She said: "It depends." The questioner declared that was the wrong answer, but she didn't back down. One can already envision the ads one or more of her primary opponents' are going to run: "Senator Harris is OK with taking money from corporate lobbyists. I hereby categorically state that I will not take even a single penny from any corporate lobbyist." For much of the Democratic base, that is the right answer. Her statement could hurt Harris next year if she runs. (V)

Nearly All Republican Candidates Embrace Trump

In simple business terms, Donald Trump has completed a successful hostile takeover of the Republican Party. There is simply no viable opposition left. The evidence is the 11 primaries that will be held in May. In just about all races, the Republican candidates are arguing about who loves Trump the most. No one is pushing for a return to the Party's previous ideals (free trade, robust immigration, respect for the rule of law, etc.). It is all about embracing Trump. The big question is simply: "Are you for him or against him?"

The voters' demand for loyalty to Trump above everything else is putting many Republican candidates in a bind. For example, one of the Republican candidates in the Indiana senatorial primary is Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN). He has supported free trade his entire life, but is running as a Trump loyalist. He has to hope the voters aren't smart enough to notice the disconnect here. The same problem is playing out all over the map. Republicans who have always supported a robust immigration policy are tying themselves in knots to explain they haven't flip-flopped as a result of their new support of a strongly anti-immigrant president.

Given how popular Trump remains with the Republican base, tribal loyalty is going to dominate during the primaries, with nearly all candidates swearing undying fealty to the President, no matter what their past policy positions have been. The problem is going to come in November, when Democratic and swing voters also get to vote. But for many Republicans, that problem comes later. Step 1 is winning the primary, even if what they say now jeopardizes them in the general election. (V)

GOP Pollster: Republicans Are in "Deep Trouble" in 2018

Frank Luntz is one of the most famous GOP pollsters and strategists in the land, right at the same level with Karl Rove and Scott Rasmussen. So, Democrats will be very happy to hear that he is predicting doom and gloom for his party in the midterms. "I think the Republicans are in deep trouble in the House, and the Senate as well," he said. "If the election were held today, frankly, I think Republicans would lose both." Luntz laid a sizable share of the blame at the feet of Donald Trump, particularly his tweeting and his constant violations of Reagan's Eleventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."

That's the good news for the blue team. Now the bad news: Luntz is actually a pretty bad prognosticator. In the three presidential elections held since he achieved national prominence, he has predicted victory for John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton. None of those folks became president, as you may have noticed. His real talents lie in push polling, and in telling GOP candidates how to spin their messaging. For example, it was Luntz who came up with "death tax" as a replacement for "estate tax" and who persuaded Republicans that it was better to use the phrase "climate change" than to use "global warming." This is not to say that Luntz is wrong about the midterms, only that it's probably not wise to bet the farm on his predictions. Especially since his real goal might not be to make a prediction, but instead to rally the base. (Z)

Race to Succeed Paul Ryan Has Already Begun

No, you didn't miss the news that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is retiring. He hasn't made any such announcement. Officially, he is running for reelection, but many people believe that his heart isn't in it and he may soon announce that he plans to retire from Congress at the end of his current term. The fact that Ryan hasn't said he is leaving hasn't stopped speaker wannabes from revving up their campaigns though. In particular, the number two and three Republicans in the House, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), respectively, are already gearing up to run for speaker. House rules and tradition do not dictate that the next-in-line member of the majority gets the top job. Ryan wasn't even in the leadership when he got the job. He got it because he was well known and well liked due to his 2012 run for vice president. In fact, the speaker doesn't have to be a member of the House at all, or over 18, or even an American. If the House wanted to beef up British-American relations and elected the four-year-old Prince George of Cambridge as speaker, that would be perfectly legal.

Because Ryan is not officially out, both pre-candidates are running low-profile campaigns so as not to alienate him if he decides to stay on. McCarthy ran for speaker in 2015 and lost, which is probably why Scalise thinks he has a chance. One long-time House Republican told Politico: "Everyone is talking about this." McCarthy probably has the inside track here because he is tight with Donald Trump. If Trump endorses him, that will probably seal the deal.

However, there is someone else who is also running for speaker who could mess up McCarthy's well-laid plans: Nancy Pelosi. If the Democrats capture the House, they will have enough votes to elect a Democrat as speaker, most likely Pelosi. Nevertheless, that is not a sure thing since some Democrats running in conservative districts have said they won't vote for her. If the Democrats end up with, say, 220 seats and five members defect and no Republicans vote for her, she will lose and the Democrats will have to switch to Plan B. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is #2 in the Democratic leadership, but he will be 79 in January, so he is no shoo-in if Pelosi can't get 218 votes. Still, all this is premature. First we have to get past the midterms to see who has the best cards. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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