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

Doug Ducey Has a Tough Call to Make about McCain's Replacement

In a certain sense, replacing John McCain will be impossible. He was one of a kind and they don't make them like that anymore. Nevertheless, Arizona law requires Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) to pick someone (from McCain's party) to replace him until the 2020 election. At that time, the voters will choose someone to fill out the rest of McCain's term, which ends in Jan. 2023. Ducey is going to have to consider many factors in making the call, including these.

  • Conservative vs. Trumpist: McCain was a traditional conservative and never a fan of Donald Trump. Ducey has praised McCain repeatedly, but would he replace him with someone who is a strong supporter of Donald Trump, that is, someone McCain would hate?

  • Ducey's own campaign: Ducey himself is up for reelection in November, so the voters will get to judge his pick. In fact, it is likely his choice will dominate the campaign. Arizona Republicans tend to be very right wing, so a hard-right candidate would please them immensely. But Ducey is facing a general election in November, not a primary (that's today), so Democrats and independents also have a say. A hard-right candidate won't please them.

  • Cindy McCain: McCain's wife, Cindy McCain, has hinted that she would be interested in taking her husband's seat. However, she is more moderate than her husband, which might please Democrats but not Republicans. While picking her would not be criticized as inappropriate, it would disappoint hard liners.

  • A placeholder vs. a permanent replacement: One argument for a placeholder is that it would create a level playing field in 2020, when any interested Republican could run and not have to face an appointed incumbent. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL-MN) made this choice when appointing Sen. Tina Smith (DFL-MN) to Al Franken's seat. Assuming she wins the special election in November, Smith has said she won't run after her term is up in 2020. But a placeholder probably means a free-for-all in Arizona in 2020, and that could hurt the GOP. Also, picking a young, permanent replacement will make one Arizona Republican happy and a whole lot of ambitious Arizona Republicans unhappy.

Some of the names that are being bandied about now include state Treasurer Eileen Klein, McCain's chief of staff Kirk Adams, Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, and former ambassador to Finland Barbara Barrett. And, of course, the state's congressional representatives and the leaders of the state legislature are always potential candidates for a Senate vacancy. Ducey has said that he won't make any announcement until after McCain's funeral is over. (V)

White House Flag Does Gymnastics: Up, Down, Up, Down

Anyone who is still persuaded that Donald Trump is a Zen Master who is playing the long game (or running a long con) need only examine the administration's handling of the death of John McCain to know that it is not true.

Responding to the Senator's passing should have been trivially simple, and with any other president, it would have been. When a nationally famous political figure dies, the White House issues a flowery statement about their service to their country written by a grunt staffer, drops the flags to half mast until the person is in the ground, and pretty much terminates all political and personal animosities since the dead can no longer defend themselves. (Although McCain sure tried; his final public statement was delivered on his behalf on Monday by spokesman Rick Davis, and criticized those who encourage "resentment and hatred and violence," while declaring that it is wrong to "hide behind walls, rather than tear them down." Perhaps the Senator had someone specific in mind when he chose those particular words.)

Anyhow, for Trump, few things are simple, particularly when it comes to taking the high road. Not only does the President have an extremely thin skin and an extremely long memory (not a good combination), he's also smarting from being pointedly not invited to McCain's funeral (and this on the heels of being snubbed for Barbara Bush's funeral and the royal wedding). So, against his staff's advice, Trump decided to remind everyone of his disdain for McCain. He spiked the flowery statement, and issued only a brief tweet that alluded only to the Senator's family (and not to McCain himself). Then, he ordered the White House flags to be raised to full staff on Monday afternoon, after only half a day of being lowered.

Presumably, Trump was counting on the fact that much of his base also dislikes McCain, and that they would therefore have his back. Largely speaking, they did not. On top of that, a sizable number of GOP movers and shakers in Washington (including some in the White House, led by VP Mike Pence) continued to twist the President's arm, telling him he was blowing it big-time. Eventually, Trump changed course, ordering the flags back down to half-mast, and issuing the previously-spiked statement praising McCain (albeit pretty faintly).

In short—to use measurements familiar to him—the Donald has managed to take a two-inch putt and somehow turn it into a triple bogey. Responding to McCain's death should have been as easy as it gets, and instead the President has managed to wangle the worst of both worlds for himself: He's not going to come away from this with brownie points for having shown class and dignity, nor is he going to get the satisfaction of having stuck it to the Senator.

On top of that, there is also the possible collateral damage. Trump would love the headlines to be dominated by the new trade deal with Mexico (see below), but that story is getting pushed off the front pages by the much juicier reality show playing out at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Meanwhile, Sen. James Inhofe is angling to replace McCain as chair of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee. And so, in a transparent attempt to curry presidential favor and maybe get a little assistance moving up the ladder, he decided to leap to the President's defense and to declare that McCain was "partially to blame" for Trump's response. Inhofe is getting absolutely shredded on Twitter (his ratios on all of his McCain-related tweets, even the fawning ones, are ghastly). Further, Inhofe's Senate colleagues, many of whom were fond of their deceased former fellow, are none too pleased, either. So, Inhofe might not get that plum assignment after all, and Trump might have helped cost himself the chance to have a loyalist in charge of one of the most important committees in the Senate. (Z)

U.S. Strikes Deal on Tentative NAFTA Replacement with Mexico

Undoubtedly, Donald Trump hoped that this announcement would be one of the triumphant moments of his presidency, but (as noted above) it's getting much less attention than it otherwise would thanks to the McCain flag-raising fiasco. In any case, the administration has reached tentative agreement on a 16-year deal that, if ratified, would replace NAFTA. Among the key elements of the new pact are provisions that would make it harder for Mexico to undersell the U.S. by ignoring environmental impact, harsher rules about what percentage of a car has to be constructed in the U.S. to avoid import taxes, and limitations on the amount of Chinese goods that could pass through Mexico on the way to the U.S.

With that said, the deal is very tentative. There are quite a few issues between the U.S. and Mexico that have yet to be resolved, like whether or not the new tariffs on steel and aluminum will remain in place. Beyond that, however, is that Canada is not currently a signatory to the new deal. If they don't jump on board, it raises all kinds of questions. For example, is it legal for two NAFTA participants to renegotiate and exclude the third by fiat? And what would happen to companies that have built large, complex supply chains that span all three nations?

There are also significant questions about the domestic impact of the deal. It is all but certain, for example, that automobiles would be considerably more expensive, as would some other consumer goods, which will make many people (and lobbyists) unhappy. And then there is the question of jobs. The administration says the new deal will be a job creator, since it will be less attractive for American companies to move operations to Mexico. Maybe so, but disrupted and destroyed supply chains are not good for employment, which could cancel the effect. Further, corporations choosing between Mexico (with increased manufacturing costs) and the United States may choose the latter, but with automated production lines rather than human labor.

Assuming all these issues are clarified or ironed out, the pact still has to be approved by the legislatures of both nations (and of Canada, if they sign up). In Mexico, approval is unlikely if Canada doesn't join. And even if the Great White North does come on board, passage will still be an uphill battle in both nations, given the unpopularity of Trump. Meanwhile, in the United States, the vote won't be held until after the midterms, which could put the matter in the hands of the Democrats. And they might not go for the new pact, given—well—the unpopularity of Trump. So, again, this is still very tentative. (Z)

WSJ: Manafort Tried to Negotiate Plea Deal

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that, following his convictions in Virginia, Paul Manafort attempted to negotiate a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller in advance of trial No. 2 (in Washington). The negotiations apparently fell apart, for reasons that neither side has revealed.

Assuming this is true—and there's no reason to think the Journal is making it up—it would seem to suggest two things. The first is that Manafort is not keeping (or, has stopped keeping) the secrets of Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch who was rumored to be thinking about sending some nice polonium-flavored tea to Manfort's jail cell. The second is that Manafort apparently does not have a wink-wink pardon agreement in hand, and he presumably doesn't see one coming down the pike. Indeed, if there was any meaningful chance of that, the former Trump campaign chair presumably would not have opened talks with Mueller, since doing so is likely to anger the President.

Inasmuch as we don't know what the issue was that caused talks to break down, it's tough to guess what happens next. If Manafort and Mueller were bickering over exactly how much prison time or how big a fine is on the table, then they might resume talks and reach an agreement. On the other hand, if Mueller thinks that he already knows everything Manafort has to offer, then this might just be your average white-collar criminal prosecution, and there may be nothing Manafort can do to save his neck. (Z)

Is Giuliani a Plus or a Minus for Trump?

Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump's television lawyer, is controversial, to put it mildly. Some people see him as a serious defender of the President. Others see him as a buffoon who is way past his prime. Which is it?

To start with, one has to realize what Giuliani's and Trump's goals are. They are not about defending Trump in a court of law. They are about keeping his base happy and to some extent preventing 67 senators from voting for his conviction if the Democrats retake the House and impeach Trump. Also, both of them want to inflict as much damage as possible on special counsel Robert Mueller so his report, when it comes out, can be labeled as fake news.

Trump and Giuliani go back a long way. They often crossed paths in the 1980s and 1990s, when Trump was an ambitious real estate developer and Giuliani was an ambitious prosecutor and then an ambitious mayor. Both men had multiple high-profile divorces that played out in the tabloids for weeks, which gave each one some sympathy for the other one.

Giuliani's bullying style grates on many people, which can't help his client much. Daniel Richman, a former prosecutor under Giuliani, recently said: "Now I feel embarrassed to be connected to him." John Martin, a former U.S. attorney, said: "He's not doing his client any good vis-à-vis the one person he should be concerned about—which is the special prosecutor."

On the other hand, Marc Mukasey, a prominent defense lawyer, had this to say of Giuliani: "Rudy is trying the case in the only viable forum, which is the media." Alan Dershowitz noted that Giuliani is trying to take the case out of the legal system and inject it into the political system (where Trump may have better odds). Probably the best analysis came from a friend of Giuliani, who said: "Look, he survived prostate cancer and just got out of a tough marriage. I think he's feeling a little emboldened now." But whether he is helping or hurting his client is tough to measure. (V)

Bill Nelson Is an Old-Style Senator in a New-Style World

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is up to his neck in gators, with mosquitoes swarming and vultures circling, and he barely realizes it. He is a senator in the mold of the late John McCain. He does his work carefully, reaches across the aisle, and tries to do what is right. That used to work, but no more. He is in big trouble in the nation's biggest swing state and doesn't seem to know what to do.

In past elections, he had relatively easy opponents, but this time he is running against Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL), who has close to 100% name recognition, can spend unlimited money (his own), and is an incredible workaholic. Scott is everywhere in Florida, wolfing down ethnic food and meeting as many Floridians as possible, except when he is in Puerto Rico to show the 300,000 Puerto Ricans in Florida that he cares about their island (he's been there six times already).

Part of Nelson's problem is that he is a genial, laid-back kind of guy facing a take-no-prisoners opponent who really hustles. For example, Nelson has raised $6 million, not a small sum, but Scott has already poured $27 million of his own money into the race. In Florida, $3 million buys you one week's worth of TV ads. If Nelson loses, the Democrats' chances of retaking the Senate drop to approximately zero. Here are the nonpartisan polls from decent pollsters so far:

Nelson Scott Start End Pollster
39% 45% Aug 16 Aug 20 Florida Atlantic U.
44% 47% Jul 24 Jul 25 Mason Dixon
40% 44% Jul 20 Jul 21 Florida Atlantic U.
41% 46% Jun 19 Jun 22 YouGov
49% 45% Jun 17 Jun 21 Marist Coll.
40% 44% May 04 May 05 Florida Atlantic U.
41% 43% Mar 01 Mar 07 Clearview Research
46% 42% Feb 23 Feb 26 Quinnipiac U.
48% 42% Jan 29 Feb 04 U. of North Florida
45% 44% Jan 30 Feb 01 Mason Dixon

As you can see, in the last four polls, Scott is leading by a few points. November is not quite upon us, but clearly Scott is doing something right. (V)

Cruz's Lead over O'Rourke Keeps Dwindling

A new poll from Emerson College has Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) ahead of Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), 38% to 37%. That's well within the margin of error. The poll shows that O'Rourke, who has been compared to Bobby Kennedy, leads among all voters under 55 while Cruz leads with the seniors. One poll doesn't mean so much, especially when conducted by an outfit that doesn't have a long track record. Nevertheless, Cruz is not going to coast to an easy win this time. Here are this year's polls of the race:

O'Rourke Cruz Start End Pollster
37 38 Aug 20 Aug 22 Emerson Coll.
45 49 Aug 12 Aug 16 Marist Coll.
42 46 Aug 01 Aug 02 PPP
43 49 Jul 26 Jul 31 Quinnipiac U.
39 41 Jul 09 Jul 26 Texas Lyceum
40 50 Jun 19 Jun 22 YouGov
36 41 Jun 08 Jun 17 U. of Texas
38 49 May 23 May 29 Quinnipiac U.
42 48 May 21 May 22 PPP
40 47 May 19 May 21 JMC Enterprises
44 47 Apr 12 Apr 17 Quinnipiac U.
30 30 Apr 03 Apr 09 Texas Lyceum
37 45 Jan 17 Jan 18 PPP

Even Cruz understands his problem. He has swallowed his pride and asked Donald Trump, whom he despises, to come campaign for him. Trump despises Cruz just as much, but really wants to keep the Senate Republican. So, most likely, Trump will show up in Texas sooner or later, ignore Cruz, and tell Texans that he is the biggest and greatest president ever. Will it help? It could. Texas is moving slowly leftward, but for the time being, it remains a red state. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug27 Republicans Are Preparing for Tough Times if Democrats Capture the House
Aug27 Dershowitz: New York Probe Is More Dangerous to Trump than Mueller's
Aug27 Two Big Primaries This Week
Aug27 Kelli Ward Thinks McCain Conspired Against Her
Aug27 Trump Personally Spiked White House Statement on McCain
Aug27 Trade War with China Is about to Heat Up
Aug27 The Problem with the Emperor's Clothes
Aug26 John McCain, 1936-2018
Aug26 DNC Changes Superdelegate Rules
Aug26 Federal Labor Unions 1, Trump 0
Aug26 What Happens After Trump?
Aug26 This Week's Senate News
Aug26 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: William S. McRaven
Aug25 Weisselberg Gets Immunized
Aug25 Could Trump Be Al Caponed?
Aug25 Aides Expect a Manafort Pardon
Aug25 Dino Sajudin Is Going to Tell His Trump Story
Aug25 Pompeo Cancels North Korea Trump
Aug25 Democratic Donors Are Fed Up with the DNC
Aug25 The End Is Near for Senator John McCain
Aug24 Trump Can No Longer Control Pecker
Aug24 Weeks Ago, Trump Asked Lawyers about Pardoning Manafort
Aug24 Sessions Pushes Back
Aug24 Trump Wants to Criminalize "Flipping"
Aug24 Collins Says Kavanaugh Described Roe as "Settled Law"
Aug24 Casey Has a 15-Point Lead in Pennsylvania Senate Race
Aug24 The Duncan Hunter Story Just Keeps Chugging Along
Aug23 Takeaways about Cohen and Manafort
Aug23 Manafort Juror Dishes on Deliberations
Aug23 Cohen Will Refuse a Pardon
Aug23 Trump Loves Manafort, Dings Cohen
Aug23 Pardons are No Panacea
Aug23 Trump's Next Problem: Michael Avenatti
Aug23 Maybe Trump Should Resign
Aug23 Untrained Teenager Shows How to Wipe Out a Voting Machine in 5 Minutes
Aug23 New Tariffs Kick in Today
Aug22 A Bad Day for Trump, Part I: Manafort Guilty on 8 Charges
Aug22 A Bad Day for Trump, Part II: Cohen Cops a Plea
Aug22 A Bad Day for Trump, Part III: Rep. Duncan Hunter Indicted
Aug22 A Bad Day for Trump, Part IV: Mueller Delays Flynn's Sentence Again
Aug22 Wyomingites, Alaskans Go to the Polls
Aug22 Trump Will Spend 40 Days on the Campaign Trail
Aug22 Trump Rallies in West Virginia
Aug22 Former Top NRCC Officials Blast the Group's Midterm Strategy
Aug22 Elizabeth Warren Releases Her Platform
Aug21 Trump Is Worried by McGahn's 30 Hours with Mueller
Aug21 Wyoming, Alaska Have Primaries Today
Aug21 Russians Tried to Hack Senate, Conservative Think Tanks
Aug21 Giuliani: OK, the Truth Is the Truth
Aug21 No Verdict in Manafort Trial Yet