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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump's Wall Collapses
      •  Washington Decides to Do Something Different, Passes Bipartisan Crime Bill
      •  Trump Foundation to Dissolve
      •  Flynn Sentencing Postponed
      •  Trump Launches Reelection Machine
      •  Will Trump Cooperate with His Campaign?
      •  McSally Wins by Losing
      •  Republicans Want to Create an ActRed
      •  Could Kansas Be a Senate Battleground in 2020?

PW logo Putin Praises Trump’s Decision on Syria
Trump Ignored Defense Secretary on Syria
Trump Will Lift Sanctions on Russian Oligarch
Vilsack Won’t Say If He’ll Run for Senate
Merkely Mulls White House Bid
Trump Snubs Corker By Canceling Meeting

Trump's Wall Collapses

Well, the wall didn't physically collapse. It hasn't even been built yet. And it is not going to be built, probably not ever. What collapsed were the talks between Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Trump's response was basically to cave and concede that he wasn't going to get the $5 billion he wanted for his wall project.

Trump's next ploy was to claim he could take the money out of the military budget. That was immediately shot down when multiple senators pointed out that moving money from one department's budget to another's is illegal. Then, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered a new plan: Give Trump a billion-dollar slush fund to use as he pleased. The Democrats instantly rejected this idea. So, are we back where we started with a shutdown looming?

No. Very likely Congress will pass a bill, either now or in January, to fund the government without any wall funding and Trump will sign it and claim victory. But things really changed in a significant way today. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) undoubtedly noticed that when the Democrats stand up to Trump and simply say "no," he caves. That's a lesson she is not likely to forget any time soon, and it will color her entire relationship with Trump for the next 2 years. (V)

Washington Decides to Do Something Different, Passes Bipartisan Crime Bill

For the last decade or so, bipartisanship has been somewhere on the spectrum between the giant panda and the dodo bird in terms of its long-term prospects. On Tuesday, however, it showed that it's not quite extinct yet, as the Senate passed the First Step Act by a huge margin, 87-12. The Act already passed the House, and will now head to the White House for Donald Trump's signature.

The bill is being described as the most significant overhaul of the criminal justice system in a generation. That may be true, but it's primarily because there aren't a lot of other bills it's competing against. The Act makes a number of moderate adjustments in the handling of federal prisoners (of which there are about 180,000). It makes sentencing guidelines more consistent (for example, cocaine and crack are now treated as the same drug, since they are), gives judges more leeway when dealing with repeat offenders (since "three strikes" has proven a bust), and increases the amount of early-release time earned by prisoners for good behavior or for taking coursework while incarcerated.

The passage of the Act is being presented as a win for Trump, as well it should be. Acting like a normal, everyday president (for a change), he invested some of his political capital in the bill, vocally supporting it. He also sent some of his people to the Hill to whip up votes. That includes, in particular, Jared Kushner, who apparently had some executive time in between solving the opioid crisis, bringing peace to the Middle East, and reorganizing the federal government.

Does this portend a 2019 where a Trump-led Washington actually gets stuff done? Well, it's certainly interesting timing that, right on the precipice of facing a divided Congress, the President suddenly developed an interest in bipartisan legislation. On Tuesday, he also jumped ship on his wall again (see above), and his administration formally banned bump stocks for guns. That's three things, in one day, that are more attuned to the political center, and to reaching across the aisle, than they are to pleasing the base.

On the other hand, Trump has behaved in a conventional fashion in the past, lulled everyone into a false sense of security, and then gone right back to being Donald Trump. So, we'll hold off on predicting the dawn of a new era until presented with a fair bit more evidence. (Z)

Trump Foundation to Dissolve

Ever since Donald Trump made the transition from businessman and reality TV star to high-profile politician, people have been taking a long look at his "charitable" foundation. We put charitable in quotation marks, of course, because the foundation has given very little money to charity, and has spent quite a lot on things of interest to Donald Trump, like full-length paintings of him, and "gifts" to political figures who happen to be investigating him (like Florida's AG Pam Bondi).

On Tuesday, it was announced that the foundation will likely be dissolved, under supervision from the court system in the state of New York. A judge has to approve the request, but it is expected that will happen very soon. This will stop the foundation from taking in any more money, and will also freeze the $1.7 million in assets that it has remaining, until the state can go through its books with a fine-toothed comb.

This is most certainly not the end of this story. Attorney General Barbara Underwood issued a statement on Tuesday, in which she advised that, "We'll continue to move our suit forward to ensure that the Trump Foundation and its directors are held to account for their clear and repeated violations of state and federal law." Underwood is about to be replaced by AG-elect Letitia James, who on Monday made it clear that she plans to look into everything Trump-related once she takes office, including the Trump Organization, Trump Tower, the Trump Foundation, and anything else she can find. It's just another reason that firing Robert Mueller is not the panacea that the President might think. (Z)

Flynn Sentencing Postponed

Speaking of Donald Trump and the court system, former Trump advisor and NSA Michael Flynn was supposed to be sentenced on Tuesday, but it didn't happen. Although special counsel Robert Mueller requested no prison time, Judge Emmet Sullivan was nonplussed by Flynn's cooperation, opining that it did not go far enough to mitigate the wrongs that he did. "I want to be frank with you, this crime is very serious," the judge said. "Not only did you lie to the FBI, you lied to senior officials in the incoming administration."

The hearing lasted roughly two hours, and eventually Flynn and his lawyers realized that things were not going their way. So, they requested that he be given three months to cooperate some more, in hopes of earning the Judge's approval. Sullivan agreed, so the sentencing is now scheduled for March. Who knows how much more there is for Flynn to tell, after 19 interviews? But if Flynn does give more dirt up, that is not good for Team Trump. And even if he doesn't, it means the matter will remain in the news for three more months, which is also not good for Team Trump. (Z)

Trump Launches Reelection Machine

In what might be termed a "hostile takeover," the Republican National Committee will be merged into Donald Trump's reelection campaign. That will de facto make Trump the head of the RNC. Such a move is unprecedented. Normally the presidential candidate's campaign and the national committee work closely together, yes, but the campaign doesn't subsume the committee as part of its operation. The goal of this merger is to make the operation more efficient and minimize opposition to what the campaign wants to do.

It also carries some risks, though. By tying itself to an unpopular president, the RNC may be endangering other Republicans. John Weaver, an adviser to Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), who is pondering a primary challenge to Trump, put it this way: "There are some people who choose for whatever reason to handcuff themselves to the Titanic. Why, I have no idea."

Another potential risk is resource allocation. If, for example, it looks like Trump is in trouble in Colorado, the campaign manager might order the RNC to pull money from the reelection campaign of Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and funnel it to Trump's Colorado effort. In other words, the Trump campaign might end up starving other Republicans of funds in order to put more money into Trump's campaign. An independent RNC might make very different calls, especially if late in the game it were to conclude that Trump was a lost cause so all of its efforts should go into saving the Senate. (V)

Will Trump Cooperate with His Campaign?

Restructuring the campaign apparatus (see above) is one thing, but the message the candidate has also plays a role, and that worries many Republican strategists. They see no sign that Trump has expanded his base beyond the 46% of the people who voted for him in 2016. And that 46% may be optimistic, because some of the people who voted for him actually hated him; they just hated Hillary Clinton even more. Unless Nancy Pelosi throws her hat in the ring, Trump won't have a bête noire to run against next time, making in harder to hang onto even 46%.

Republican strategists understand this, of course, and are already analyzing the 2018 midterms and planning how to run the 2020 campaign accordingly. What they have discovered is not much of a secret: College-educated women have left the GOP in droves and to win in 2020, Trump has to get them back. The strategists want Trump to emphasize controlling the cost of prescription drugs, dealing with student loans, and tackling the opioid crisis. They would also like less bluster and fewer trade wars.

The problem is how to make the candidate adhere to their strategy. Getting Trump to tone it down is going to be nearly impossible, and he regards trade wars as good and winnable. The strategists also see a hard-line immigration policy, including separating children from their parents, as toxic in the suburbs they need to win. However, convincing Trump to abandon one of the few policies he really, truly, genuinely supports won't be easy.

Trump's 2020 campaign will be run by Brad Parscale, who ran his 2016 digital operation. The political effort will be managed by Bill Stepien, who used to work for former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Both of them are experienced hands and know what to do, but they are going to have their experienced hands full trying to get the candidate to stay on message and not go off on rants, something that works well with Trump's base of older white men without college degrees, but doesn't work at all on suburban women who do have college degrees.

From a historical perspective, all is not lost for the GOP. Bill Clinton had a tough midterm in 1994 but bounced back to win in 1996. Barack Obama also had a rough midterm in 2010 but came back to win in 2012. Whether Trump can bounce back may be largely in Trump's own inexperienced hands, but he may have to change his policies and style to pull it off, and so far there are few signs that he intends to change either one (although see above). (V)

McSally Wins by Losing

Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) will get to be a U.S. senator after all, despite losing a campaign for the office. Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) has picked her to fill the seat of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who temporarily scooted in to keep John McCain's seat warm, before going back to his real job of being a high-priced lobbyist.

Despite McSally's getting a Senate seat for losing an election, losing is not nearly as good as winning. The winner, Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema (D), won't have to face the voters again until 2024. McSally, in contrast, will have a special election in 2020 (because she is an appointed senator), and then again in 2022 because that is when McCain's term is up.

Arizona Republicans are not entirely happy with Ducey's choice. They are fully aware that McSally lost an election in a midterm year, when the electorate is favorable to the Republicans. In a presidential year, she will be in for an even tougher race, especially if the Democrats can find a strong candidate. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), a telegenic young Latino Marine Corps veteran, is definitely interested in getting a promotion. But he may not be alone. Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods is also interested, although he has a major problem: He is a Republican and in a Democratic primary, that isn't a big plus. And while McSally was a flygirl (Air Force colonel), she may ultimately have to battle even higher up in the sky, as Mark Kelly, a former NASA astronaut (and husband of former representative Gabrielle Giffords), may also jump into the race. (V)

Republicans Want to Create an ActRed

Republicans have plenty of megadonors who think nothing of writing multimillion dollar checks, but the GOP is way behind the Democrats on harvesting small donations, which collectively can add up to a lot of money. In particular, Republicans are jealous of the success of ActBlue, a one-stop shopping site for Democrats who want to make small donations. This graph of how much money ActBlue has raised shows the nature of the problem quite clearly. All amounts are in billions of dollars.

ActBlue fundraising

The group raised $1.2 billion for Democrats in 2018. It takes a lot of megadonors to match that. The reason that ActBlue is so potent is that small donors who have heard that some special election in some distant state is important can just go to ActBlue's website and with a few clicks, donate money to the Democrat in that election, without having to first figure out where the candidate's website is. It's as easy as using PayPal or Venmo. Republicans don't have anything comparable and are thinking about starting an ActRed, whatever it might end up being called.

Nevertheless, catching up won't be so easy. First of all, ActBlue has a 14-year head start and has learned a lot about important details, like the best size and position of the "Donate" button. Also a problem is the differing cultures of small Democratic donors and small Republican donors. When Democrat Jon Ossoff ran in a special election in Georgia last year, he raised $23 million, mostly from out-of-state donors who knew next to nothing about him except that he was a Democrat (and not even an especially progressive one at that). He could do that because Democratic donors often give to the "cause," with the actual candidate being secondary. Republicans who make small donations aren't like that. They donate because they like the specific candidate and want that candidate to win. When presented with a list of other ideologically compatible candidates, they are much less likely to throw a few dollars in their directions as well, as Democrats do. It is a cultural phenomenon and won't be easy to fix.

Another problem is trust. After 14 years of operation, Democratic donors have come to trust ActBlue and know that nearly all the money will end up in the candidates' bank accounts. If the Republicans set up a similar site, their instincts are going to tell them to make it a for-profit corporation, since they believe that corporations are far more efficient than hippie-run non-profits. But such a structure may leave small donors wondering how much of their money is being siphoned off to pay management large salaries and bonuses. Still, if the Republicans can create an ActRed organization, they will have at least solved the mechanics of donating. (V)

Could Kansas Be a Senate Battleground in 2020?

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) would be 90 years old at the end of a new term if he runs again and wins. Further, he barely survived a primary challenge in 2014 from a complete unknown, Milton Wolf (a distant cousin of Barack Obama, though the two men don't particularly see eye-to-eye). Finally, a Democrat, Laura Kelly, was just elected governor of Kansas, so maybe Kansas is more red with a tinge of purple than deep, ruby red. All these things considered, Roberts is no shoo-in for a fifth term in 2020.

Former U.S. Attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom has noticed this and is considering a run against Roberts as a Democrat. It is not official yet, but Grissom has taken all the steps one would expect from a candidate, and there are probably not a lot of other Democrats who might challenge him, so it is unlikely he will have a nasty primary. He will have history against him, however: The last time Kansas sent a Democrat to the Senate was 1932, aided by the coattails of a charismatic fellow from New York named Roosevelt, who promised a New Deal for America.

On the other hand, at 84, Roberts might just decide to call it a career rather than get into a nasty fight that he might not win. If he does announce his retirement, there will certainly be a brutal primary on the GOP side. Outgoing Gov. Jeff Colyer (R-KS) and Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS) are likely candidates, and there might well be more. In the event of Roberts' departure, though, the Democrats will lose one of their strongest arguments—Roberts is too old for the job. And no matter what Roberts does, Republicans are certainly favored to hang onto the seat. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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