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

Republicans Are Preparing for Tough Times if Democrats Capture the House

In public, Republicans are putting on a brave face about the midterms, but in private they are sweating bullets about what will happen if Democrats flip the House. Axios has obtained a spreadsheet listing all the probes they expect the Democrats to launch if they get subpoena power. It's pretty long and includes these items:

  • President Trump's tax returns
  • Trump family businesses and the emoluments clause
  • Trump's dealings with Russia, including the president's preparation for his meeting with Vladimir Putin
  • The payment to Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford)
  • James Comey's firing
  • Trump's firing of U.S. attorneys
  • Trump's proposed transgender ban for the military
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's business dealings
  • White House staff's personal email use
  • Cabinet secretary travel, office expenses, and other misused perks
  • Discussion of classified information at Mar-a-Lago
  • Jared Kushner's ethics law compliance
  • Dismissal of members of the EPA board of scientific counselors
  • The Muslim travel ban
  • Family separation policy
  • Hurricane response in Puerto Rico
  • Election security and hacking attempts
  • White House security clearances

The spreadsheet originated in the office of a senior House Republican and lists over 100 formal requests that the Democrats are certain to make if they get the authority to do so. The requests will come from just about every House committee. If the Democrats take control, the White House will become a 24/7 legal defense operation. Which, in truth, won't be that much of a change from right now. (V)

Dershowitz: New York Probe Is More Dangerous to Trump than Mueller's

Harvard professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, once the most famous civil liberties lawyer in America, and now a big fan of Donald Trump, said on ABC's "This Week" that Donald Trump's biggest problem could come from what the Southern District of New York is looking at, not from special counsel Robert Mueller. Dershowitz said that the SDNY probe has already flipped Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen and Trump's CFO Allen Weisselberg, and they know a lot about Trump's finances.

Dershowitz believes that Trump did not collude with the Russians—a belief rooted more in the Professor's reading of the law, rather than in the notion that Trump had no interactions with Russia—so he has nothing to worry about from Mueller. Besides, he can raise constitutional defenses in the Russiagate probe—for example, claiming that when the president exercises a power granted by the Constitution it cannot be obstruction of justice. However, New York is looking at plain old garden-variety white-collar crime, for which there is no constitutional defense.

Dershowitz offered Trump some advice, which can be summarized as the four don'ts: Don't fire, don't pardon, don't tweet, and don't testify. He added that if Trump listens to him, he will be in less trouble than if he does any of these things. Of course, Trump has already ridden roughshod over at least two of those. So, the odds he takes the advice of someone who's not even his attorney is roughly as good as the odds he takes the advice of, well, someone who is his attorney. Which is to say, very low. (V)

Two Big Primaries This Week

Only two primaries are scheduled this week, but they are biggies: Arizona and Florida. First Arizona. The race to replace Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), whom Donald Trump almost single-handedly pushed out of the Senate, is very nasty. It features one establishment candidate, Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), and two tea party insurgents, Kelli Ward and pardoned felon Joe Arpaio, who was once the sheriff of Maricopa County. Both of them are trying to claim they are the Trumpiest candidate in town. Arizona has a lot of right-wing Republicans, but because two of them are running, they could split the far-right vote and let McSally win, which would result in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell breathing a gigantic sigh of relief. The Democratic nominee is virtually certain to be Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who has a compelling life story (her single mother was so poor, they lived in an abandoned gas station), but worked her way up to law school and then to Congress through sheer determination. If McSally wins, it will be a very competitive race; if Ward or Arpaio pull off an upset, Sinema will coast to victory in November.

Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) is up for reelection and will get his party's nomination easily over former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett. On the Democratic side, it is state senator Steve Farley, activist Kelly Fryer, and Arizona State University professor David Garcia. None of them are well known. Garcia is leading in the polls, but Ducey will probably be reelected in November, no matter who the Democrat is.

If McSally and Sinema win their respective races (which in Sinema's case is a virtual certainty), both will leave behind competitive open House seats, as follows:

District Incumbent PVI Location
AZ-02 Martha McSally (R) R+1 Southeast part of the state, including most of Tucson
AZ-09 Kyrsten Sinema (D) D+4 Eastern Maricopa county centered around Tempe

In Florida, the top race is the one for governor. The main Republican candidates to succeed the term-limited Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) are Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). Putnam was long the favorite, and had the backing of the Florida Republican establishment. He raised the millions of dollars needed to run in this expensive state. Then, in December, Donald Trump tweeted that he wanted DeSantis to get into the race, so he obediently did. Putnam is traveling all over the state, with breakfasts and barbecues all the time, while DeSantis is basically holed up in a Fox News studio praising Trump day and night. If DeSantis wins this one, Trump will truly have made a difference. If he loses, Trump will have egg on his face. Polls are all over the place; in just the last week, one of them gave DeSantis a 12-point lead, and another had it even. The establishment is still rooting for Putnam, albeit quietly, as he is the stronger general election candidate in this purple state.

The Democratic gubernatorial race is a free-for-all, with seven candidates running, five of them serious (meaning they either already hold high office or have a lot of money). Florida being Florida, it is an ethnically diverse group with a woman, two Jews, a black man, and one white Christian man among the top five. Here is the list of the major candidates.

  • Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum would be the first black governor of the Sunshine State
  • Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL), daughter of former senator Bob Graham, would be Florida's first female governor
  • Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine would be the second Jewish governor
  • Billionaire Jeff Greene would also be the second Jewish governor
  • Orlando businessman Chris King is the token white Christian man but in spite of that he is running far behind

If the Republicans pick DeSantis, it will be a brutal general election, with Trump being the main issue, maybe the only one.

The attorney general race has been very nasty. State representative Sean Shaw (D) is the establishment pick, but still felt it necessary to go to court to get his Democratic opponent, Tampa attorney Ryan Torrens, tossed off the ballot for using tainted money to pay the filing fee. On the Republican side, state representative Frank White is a big supporter of Donald Trump, while former prosecutor and judge Ashley Moody is running on her experience in court, which includes suing Trump.

The senatorial primary is a foregone conclusion. The Democrats will renominate Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and the Republicans will nominate Rick Scott. Although there will be no drama this week, that will be the mother of all Senate races in the general election, and will certainly be the most expensive Senate race of all time.

Four open Republican House seats have drawn a lot of candidates and attention. These are as follows:

District Incumbent PVI Location
FL-06 Ron DeSantis (R) R+7 Coastal area northeast of Orlando
FL-15 Dennis Ross (R) R+6 Eastern suburbs of Tampa
FL-17 Tom Rooney (R) R+13 Large area from eastern Tampa Bay to Lake Okeechobee
FL-27 Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) D+5 Miami and the surrounding communities

Rooney's old district is probably safe, but the Democrats have excellent chances in the other three. With the right candidates, Democrats have a shot at flipping four House seats in Arizona and Florida alone. (V)

Kelli Ward Thinks McCain Conspired Against Her

We generally try to avoid using the word "kooky" around here, because it's pretty judgmental, but we feel we're on firm ground in this case because even the conservative Weekly Standard says that Kelli Ward is "trying to consolidate the kook vote." Ward is a birther, of course, and she believes in chemtrails, and she's currently campaigning with Mike Cernovich, who essentially created the "pizzagate" conspiracy theory.

This weekend, Ward uncorked a particularly wild one. On Friday, she launched a statewide bus tour as part of her final pre-primary push. That was the same day, of course, that John McCain announced he was ceasing treatment for brain cancer. Ward and McCain were not exactly friendly, and one of her campaign staffers wondered on Facebook if the timing of the McCain announcement was meant to take attention away from the Ward bus tour. Ward herself quickly jumped on the social media platform and gave her assent to that theory, writing that "I think they wanted to have a particular narrative that they hope is negative to me."

Needless to say, Ward has gotten a lot of blowback for this, with some wondering exactly how important she thinks she really was to the Senator, and others asking if she thinks his death was also timed to take attention away from her. Generally speaking, this is not the kind of controversy a candidate wants to get involved with just days before an election. It's improbable that Ward voters will defect to Martha McSally, but they could jump to Joe Arpaio (the other "kook" candidate), who has zero chance of winning. That, in turn would work to McSally's advantage, since Ward's only (slim) hope of victory is to suck up all of Arpaio's oxygen, and then to somehow pick up another 5% (or so) of the GOP electorate beyond just the far-right-wingers. (Z)

Trump Personally Spiked White House Statement on McCain

Speaking of John McCain, yesterday we surmised that Donald Trump didn't have much to do with the tweet and the Instagram post that were sent out in his name after the passing of the Senator. It turns out we were right about that. What we did not know, however, was that the White House staff sent those only because Trump killed the statement his staff had drafted.

While the tweet that went out said nothing about McCain himself, the canceled statement was much more laudatory, and made the expected reference to McCain's war service. The President's aides, led by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, pressed hard for him to sign off, but Trump rarely misses a chance to demonstrate he's the smaller man. The fact that this story leaked so quickly suggests that discontent inside the White House is reaching the boiling point again, which is to be expected given the last two weeks' worth of revelations. One wonders, in particular, if this won't prove to be a breaking point for Sanders, who is reportedly a short-timer anyhow. (Z)

Trade War with China Is about to Heat Up

Donald Trump is notoriously mercurial, frequently changing policy on a dime. But there are two policy areas where he is solid as a rock: trade and immigration. He is about to demonstrate this on the first one, with potentially disastrous consequences. In short, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made a deal with China in which China would buy more soybeans from the U.S. (guess what all the soy sauce in Chinese food is made from) and also more liquified natural gas (which is not used in soy sauce). That would reduce the trade deficit, something Trump has been fanatical about for years. So the trade war is off? Well, no.

A long-standing Trump negotiating tactic is to painfully arrive at a deal with the other party, and when it is ready to be signed, suddenly come up with more conditions the other side has to meet. That's exactly what happened here. Now Trump—egged on by trade hawks like U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his adviser Peter Navarro—wants more. He wants China to change its policies, such as ending its theft of intellectual property and terminating industrial subsidies. China will be loath to stop stealing U.S. intellectual property, but even the Chinese leaders know that theft is wrong and with some (major) concessions on the U.S. side, might at least dial it back a bit temporarily. But China will never change its subsidies to favored industries and companies. That's the core of the Chinese economic program. It would be like China asking the U.S. to forget all this "free market" stuff and have the federal government determine all the winners and losers from now on. Trump is basically demanding that China abandon Communism, with its centralized economic planning. It's not going to happen.

The ball is now in Trump's court. He could follow through with tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese products, as he has promised/threatened. Then China is certain to reply in kind, although maybe not entirely with tariffs. It could get ugly. (V)

The Problem with the Emperor's Clothes

Brace yourself—Donald Trump ruffled a lot of feathers with his tweets on Sunday. Once you've had a chance to take a breath and recover from the shock, we can explain that part of the problem is what he did not say. He made absolutely no reference to the shootings in Jacksonville, Fla., which left three people dead (one of them the perpetrator). Of course, that's pretty much par for the course for the President when the shooter is white.

The other part of the problem is what Trump did say, namely this:

Yes, it is a curious blend of crass and sad (sorry, "SAD!") for the most powerful man in the world to plaintively hope that he is people's favorite president. However, the real problem is that Trump is either wrong or lying about his approval ratings. The poll he is referring to actually has him with a 52% disapproval; his approval is 44%.

In and of themselves, neither of these things is particularly interesting or unusual. Trump has long made a habit of being selective about which things are tragedies (hurricanes in Texas, the NYC attack by Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, the murder of Mollie Tibbetts by an undocumented immigrant) and which things are not (hurricanes in Puerto Rico, the Las Vegas shooting, any murder committed by a U.S. citizen). And, of course, he's easily the lying-est president in history. However, the tweet does raise an interesting issue pointed out by Eric Levitz in New York Magazine: By creating an "alternate reality," he may be setting himself and his party up for a bigger beating in the midterms than would otherwise be the case.

Most readers are familiar with the Hans Christian Andersen story "The Emperor's New Clothes," wherein a vain monarch is fooled into believing that he's bought some fancy new garments, because—his tailors advise—anyone who cannot see the (non-existent) clothes is stupid. The emperor's subjects buy into the lie, because they don't want to be seen as stupid, either. It is ultimately left to a child to shout, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!"

For close to two years now, Trump has been selling the notion that he is a wildly successful president, that his approval ratings are amazing, and so forth. More recently, he has been peddling the notion that a "red wave" is coming in the midterms. These things are, by all evidences, an illusion, just like the emperor's clothes. And among the base, nobody particularly wants to challenge Trump's narrative, either because they desperately want to believe it themselves, or because they fear censure from their friends and neighbors.

The problem for the President and the GOP is that complacency is the enemy of turnout. Consider what happened just two years ago, when many Hillary Clinton voters were so convinced she had the election won they either stayed home or decided to vote third party. If some percentage of Trump voters fall victim to the same hubris, that could easily prove decisive in some elections, and could even determine which party controls the House.

Though Trump and that poor emperor have much in common, the odds are pretty good that their stories end differently. The emperor was embarrassed that everyone got to see the size of his...hands, but he accepted that the wool had been pulled over his eyes, and he turned over a new leaf. In Trump's case, the damage figures to be far greater than a momentary embarrassment (see above for a list of things that will happen if the Democrats retake Congress). Meanwhile, it is not in Trump's nature to learn from his mistakes. Assuming he and the GOP do take a beating, the only real question will be who gets blamed by the President. Other GOP politicians? The media? Millions of illegal immigrants? The deep state? Crooked Hillary? Maybe all of the above. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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