Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Congressional Leaders Are Worried about Trump's Impact on the Midterms

Donald Trump still doesn't get it. He has rejected the consensus of Republican leaders that they face a grave situation in November. Marc Short, the White House legislative liason, has said: "The GOP's House majority is all but doomed." But Trump doesn't believe it. Over dinner recently, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told Trump that everything he does and says could affect the midterms. He underscored that even the Republicans' one-seat majority in the Senate is in danger. But Trump was not moved. His response to congressional leaders telling him that his party will probably lose the House and might even lose the Senate was: "That's not going to happen."

Trump's close advisers are arguing about whether to deploy him, and where. They know very well that historically, the president's party takes a big hit in the midterms, and that this president is far less popular than previous ones. One of the key decisions is where to send him. Should he go help House members who might have to vote on impeachment, or should he abandon the House as a lost cause and try to save the Senate? If Democrats take over the House, there will be endless investigations of his administration and very possibly a bill of impeachment. If they take over the Senate, no more judges or Supreme Court justices will be approved.

The real internal debate has to be how to use him the best. He could hold rallies in deep red districts and states and be cheered, but those candidates don't need him. He is totally toxic in blue districts and states and would only energize the Democrats even more than they are. That leaves swing states and districts, but the very real danger is that he will anger Democrats there more than he improves the morale of Republicans.

One thing he can do and has said he will do is hold a fundraiser once a week. He is still capable of bringing in the big bucks for the RNC, the NRCC, and the NRSC, and the leaders of those groups know where the money can best be spent.

One idiosyncrasy that Trump has that could prove problematical is that he hates to lose and hates to back losers. He recently met Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), a former Democrat who was appointed to Thad Cochran's seat when Cochran resigned from the Senate. White House staff pointedly told Hyde-Smith in advance of the meeting not to request an endorsement from Trump because they know: (1) appointed senators don't have a very good track record, (2) she is running against Mike Espy, Bill Clinton's secretary of agriculture, who is black, and (3) 37% of the Mississippi population is black. In other words, If Espy can win all the black voters and most of the white suburban voters, he could win and if Trump endorsed Hyde-Smith and she lost, they would have to deal with a grumpy Trumpy. (V)

Democrats May Make a Play for Rural Districts

Given all the studies of 2016 that have shown that the election was divided by education more than anything else, with college graduates voting for Democrats and non-college voters going for Republicans, Democrats have been long planning to hit the 'burbs. But five special House elections in rural (i.e., not suburban) districts in Kansas, Montana, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, have begun giving the Democrats new hope. Here are the results of these special elections compared to the 2016 presidential race:

District D - R special Clinton - Trump Shift
AZ-08 -4% -20% +16%
KS-04 -6% -27% +21%
MT-AL -6% -21% +15%
SC-05 -3% -18% +15%
PA-18 +0.4% -20% +20%

The numbers give the net Democratic vote in the elections, so -4% for AZ-08 means the Democrat lost by 4 points in the special election whereas Clinton lost by 20 points, a net shift of 16 points in the direction of the Democrats. In the five special elections, the shifts toward the Democrats were 16, 21, 15, 15, and 20 points, respectively, for an average shift of 17.4 points. And none of these are suburban districts. They are all highly rural.

If deep red rural districts are moving 17 points toward the Democrats, the playing field is much bigger than previously thought. There are 177 House districts with a PVI of R+16 or bluer. Now, it is important to keep in mind that by definition, there is no incumbent in a special election, and there will be incumbents in most of these 177 districts. Incumbency is thought to be worth 3-4 points, so R+16 districts with an incumbent are probably safe. However, there are 136 districts currently held by a Republican that are R+12 or bluer, and if there is a 17-point shift toward the Democrats, many of these could be in play, even the rural districts with no cities or suburbs. That is a thought that is probably keeping Republican strategists awake at night.

Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY) has now written a report pointing all this out. When asked to comment on it, he said: "Every time somebody's had a ballot in front of them, since Donald Trump was elected, we significantly outperformed."

Another way at looking at the House is to see where it was a close election in 2016. There are 70 districts in which the margin was 15 points or less. Here is a map showing these districts.

Swing districts

It is a safe bet all of these will be competitive this year. So depending on whether you look at PVI or the 2016 results, the playing field is somewhere between 70 and 136 districts—call it roughly 100 districts. Control of the House will depend on what happens there. (V)

Jackson Likely Won't Get His Old Job Back

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson was in line to trade one high-profile job, namely personal physician to the president, in for another, namely VA Secretary. Allegations of dubious behavior torpedoed that, and Jackson withdrew his name from consideration late last week. The White House has pushed back against some of the most salacious allegations, particularly the claim that Jackson crashed a government vehicle while drunk. Nonetheless, the New York Times is reporting that Jackson is out as the president's physician.

This news, assuming it proves to be correct, raises two questions. The first: If the allegations against Jackson have no merit, then how come he's going to lose his job? His demotion certainly seems to suggest that, despite what the administration says, they believe there is something to the claims being made against the Admiral. That leads to the second question: If Jackson's ethics and/or competence are in question, then do we really know that Donald Trump is mentally and physically fit? After all, we have only the good doctor's word on it. (Z)

More Fallout From Wolf's Performance at Correspondents' Dinner

There were only two storylines at Saturday's White House Correspondents' Dinner. The first is that Donald Trump skipped the event, yet again. The second is that comedian Michelle Wolf gave a blistering, sometimes R-rated, performance in which she lightly roasted a few Democrats and media members, and she absolutely flambéed Trump and several other high-profile members of his administration.

Trump, of course, was livid when he heard about the performance. He issued forth with this tweet on Sunday morning:

In case there was any doubt, the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) can permanently cross the Donald off the guest list.

Meanwhile, WHCA president Margaret Talev issued a statement in which she also expressed dissatisfaction with "the entertainer," not giving Wolf the courtesy of using her actual name. Talev declared that the performance was "not in the spirit" of the event, which had as its purpose "to offer a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting and scholarship winners, not to divide people."

It is hard to decide who is being more disingenuous here. Trump has built his entire political career on attacking people, often personally, often using cheap shots. From Megyn Kelly to disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to at least two dozen current members of Congress, the list goes on and on. For him to respond to perceived attacks on his staffers by going on the attack himself is the absolute height of hypocrisy. Meanwhile, if the WHCA didn't want an edgy comedian to perform, then one excellent way to avoid that not hire an edgy comedian. And it's not like the organization had no idea what might happen; this exact same dynamic played out the last time they hired an edgy comedian, namely Stephen Colbert in 2006. His roast of George W. Bush was just as pointed (though at least W had the fortitude to show up and take it). And it generated just as much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments afterwards. If the WHCA wanted to keep things "safe," then surely Rich Little or Jeff Dunham or Rob Riggle is available. By putting Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway on the same stage with a performer known for her anti-right wing screeds, the WHCA got exactly what it wanted—some buzz, some attention, some electricity in the room.

In any case, the response to Wolf certainly helps us understand why partisans on one side of the aisle don't like the President, while partisans on the other side don't like the press. In many ways, the duo are more alike than they would like us to believe. (Z)

Trump to Speak at NRA Convention

We are about a month removed from a time when Donald Trump was talking seriously about more restrictive gun control laws, and telling members of Congress that they did not need to worry about the NRA. Then, the President had a meeting with several high-profile NRA types, and that talk disappeared so fast you might have thought it was a White House Communications Director.

Just in case there was any question as to who is wrapped around whose finger, the White House announced Sunday that Trump will be speaking to the NRA's annual convention in Dallas this week. That marks his third consecutive appearance, which is three more times than he's shown up for the White House Correspondents' Dinner or the Kennedy Center Honors or Major League Baseball's opening day or several of the other traditional ceremonial appearances of the president. Vice President Mike Pence will give an address to the organization as well. In short, when the NRA says "jump!" it is clear that the Trump administration asks, "How high?" (Z)

Tenuous Financial Situation May Force Cohen's Hand

One thing is certain about Michael Cohen's future: It is going to involve massive legal bills. And his ability (or lack thereof) to pay those bills may determine whether he flips and cooperates with special counsel Robert Mueller.

Cohen appears rich. He drives a Rolls Royce and wears a $50,000 watch, but his financial picture is not quite as rosy as it once was. For starters, he owns 32 taxi medallions, which are all financed with borrowed money and which are deeply underwater as a result of Uber and Lyft causing the taxi business to become far less profitable than it used to be. At one time, medallions were going for over $1 million. Now they are worth less than $200,000. Unpaid fines have caused half the medallions to be suspended, so they can't generate income. In short, Cohen is losing money hand over fist in the taxi business and that part of his portfolio is deeply in debt.

Another source of Cohen's income is his legal work. However, he told a court last week that he had only three clients. One of them, Sean Hannity, said that although he had asked for legal advice from time to time, Cohen had never sent him an invoice and he had never paid a fee. Cohen did get a one-time fee of $250,000 for negotiating a deal involving a RNC official and a Playboy model. His third client was Donald Trump, who no longer needs his services. Given his legal troubles and notoriety, it is very unlikely that Cohen is going to make any money doing legal work any time soon.

Cohen also owns New York real estate, but most of it is mortgaged, although he does have positive equity in some properties. Nevertheless, when asked by reporters where he got the $130,000 he paid to porn star Stormy Daniels (Stephanie Clifford), he said he borrowed it against his home line of credit. If that is true, it might mean he didn't have $130,000 in his bank account he could use. One resource he does have, however, is wealthy in-laws, Fima and Ania Shusterman, who are immigrants from Ukraine. Still, if Cohen tries to fight all the indictments that are about to come his way, he might end up with legal bills of millions of dollars. One way to avoid them and perhaps salvage his financial situation would be to cooperate with Mueller in return for only one indictment for a minor offense. His finances, rather than his love of Trump, may ultimately force his hand on what to do. (V)

Harris Running the Dean-Obama-Sanders Playbook

There was a time—say, the 1970s—when an aspiring presidential candidate could fly under the radar while visiting Iowa, New Hampshire, and other early primary/caucus states in order to begin networking and shoring up support. Jimmy Carter did it, for example. Not any more, though. These days, if a governor or a senator or a high-profile member of the House so much as sneezes in the direction of Iowa, Politico writes up an overview of their 2020 chances, oppo researchers start digging for dirt, and the Secret Service picks a code name, just in case.

That said, there are still ways to build one's candidacy without putting too big a target on one's back. Kamala Harris is doing just that. It's not a secret, of course, that she's thinking about tossing her hat in the ring in 2020. However, following in the footsteps of Howard Dean, Barack Obama, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), she's not spending most of her time finding excuses to attend fish frys in Iowa. Instead, she's marshaling data and donors. Candidates who can harness the power of the Internet to build a solid grassroots network have three major advantages. The first is that they can turn down corporate money, a choice that is something of a litmus test with progressive voters these days. The second is that big donors often reach their limit ($2,700 for the primary, and then $2,700 again for the general), but small donors can be tapped again and again. The third is that collecting data is much more subtle than campaigning in early primary states, which reduces media scrutiny and also lets them (potentially) sneak up on their eventual opponents.

It should be noted that Harris only recently decided she would not accept corporate money, but after getting embarrassed at a town hall, she's on record now. In any event, she's spending about $200,000 a month on online outreach, and is pulling in around $1 million a month, with an average donation of $18. That's similar to the $27/person figure Sanders totaled, which makes sense, because Harris is using the same firm (Revolution Messaging). If Harris becomes the 2020 version of Sanders, except with a little more polish, a little less skepticism from black voters, and the backing of the nation's largest state, she will be a potent force, indeed. And if the 2020 race does somehow end up as Trump v. Harris, that might be the starkest choice that American voters have ever been given in a presidential election. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr29 Trump Rallies; Correspondents Dine
Apr29 Progress in Korean Talks
Apr29 When it Comes to Trump Interview, the Ball Is in Mueller's Court
Apr29 Pence to Tour "Wall Construction"
Apr29 Trump's EPA May Roll Back Fuel Efficiency Standards
Apr29 Trump Vote Prompted by Cultural, Not Economic, Issues
Apr29 Senate Polls Mostly Coming Up Roses for Democrats
Apr28 Natalia Veselnitskaya Has Worked with Russia's Top Prosecutor
Apr28 House Intelligence Committee Issues a Report on Russiagate
Apr28 Judge Throws Out Manafort's Civil Suit
Apr28 Ryan Fires House Chaplain
Apr28 Montana Senate Race Heats Up
Apr28 Some Republicans Stock Up on Red Meat
Apr28 Meehan Resigns from Congress Immediately
Apr28 Texas Voter ID Law Is Back On
Apr27 Judge Kimba Wood Appoints a Special Master in the Michael Cohen Case
Apr27 Pompeo Confirmed
Apr27 Senate Judiciary Committee Passes a Bill to Protect Mueller
Apr27 Another Bad Day for Pruitt
Apr27 Trump Wants to Get Rid of the Electoral College
Apr27 Democrats Are at Each Other's Throats (Again)
Apr27 Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball Changes 15 House Ratings
Apr26 Macron Delivers État de l'Union Speech to Congress
Apr26 New Allegations about Ronny Jackson Emerge
Apr26 Senate Republicans Want to Smooth the Path for Confirming Trump Nominations
Apr26 Most Voters Haven't Seen Pay Boost from Tax Cut
Apr26 Cohen to Plead the Fifth
Apr26 Republicans Are Running a Pro-Mueller Ad on Fox News
Apr26 A Worrisome Poll for Trump
Apr25 Democrats Get Mostly Good News in Yesterday's Elections
Apr25 Federal Judge: No DACA? No Bueno
Apr25 Supreme Court Appears Split Along Ideological Lines on Texas Gerrymandering Case
Apr25 Trump Pivots 180 Degrees and Praises Little Rocket Man
Apr25 VA Nominee is a Dead Man Walking
Apr25 Pelosi Rejects Litmus Tests
Apr25 The Dow Jones Is Grumpy
Apr24 Pompeo Is Approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Apr24 Jackson Nomination in Trouble
Apr24 Trump Is Using His Cell Phone More to Evade Kelly
Apr24 Two Key Elections Will Take Place Today
Apr24 Six-Term Republican Congressman May Be Kept Off the Ballot
Apr24 GOP Midterm Campaign May Be Built Around Ghosts of Clintons Past
Apr24 Mueller Has Not Contacted Natalia Veselnitskaya
Apr23 Clyburn: If Dems Fail to Take the House, Leadership Should Resign
Apr23 Trump to Get One-Two Punch from Macron, Merkel This Week
Apr23 One Person's Denuclearization Is Not Another Person's Denuclearization
Apr23 Two Cabinet Nominations Hang in the Balance
Apr23 What Is Trump's Favorite TV Network? Hint: It Is Not Fox News
Apr23 Being President for Fun and Profit
Apr23 Senators Are Working on Election Security