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

White House Unveils Gun Control Proposal

It was less than two weeks ago that Donald Trump held a high-profile, televised meeting with prominent members of both parties on the matter of gun control. During that meeting, the President puffed up his chest and declared that he would be able to make progress on that issue where his fellow Republicans had not. "You know why?" he asked his fellow red teamers. "Because you're afraid of the NRA." On Sunday, the White House presented its new gun control proposal, and we learned a fair bit about exactly who is afraid of whom.

The most notable thing about the proposal is what was missing from it, namely a call to raise the gun-buying age from 18 to 21. In the televised meeting, Trump suggested he would insist upon that. But then, he met with high-ranking NRA muckety-mucks, and apparently decided that raising the age limit would not be a good idea after all.

The White House proposal does call for four other things, however. The first is improvements in the NICS background check system, specifically docking the pay of federal employees who do not update the database properly. That's all good and well, and might have stopped the recent Texas shootings from taking place, but it would have had no impact on all the other high-profile incidents, from Las Vegas to Sandy Hook. The second element of Trump's proposal is that he definitely wants to move forward with arming teachers, despite the fact that teachers and teachers' unions across the country are almost uniformly opposed. You really have to give the NRA credit; only they could persuade politicians that the solution to school shootings is to put more guns in schools.

The other two parts of the administration's proposal are more amorphous. Trump wants to examine "mental health programs," and also to create a Federal Commission on School Safety in order to make recommendations on, well, school safety. Just this weekend, a very prominent Republican pooh-poohed these kinds of efforts as empty gestures, declaring that, "We can't just keep setting up blue ribbon committees." It his highly unlikely that Trump will be sending out nasty tweets about the individual who said this, however, since the speaker was Donald Trump. It would seem, then, that one of the following is true: (1) Trump changed his opinion on blue ribbon committees in the span of 24 hours, or (2) As of Saturday night, he had no idea what was in "his" Sunday-afternoon gun-control proposal, or (3) He doesn't really believe in the proposal that bears his name, and recognizes that it's mostly composed of mealy-mouthed non-measures.

In any event, Trump was the only politician at the federal level who might plausibly have achieved some lasting change to America's gun laws. Now that he has effectively decided to punt, it will be up to the state legislatures if anything is to change. (Z)

Trump Brags about 5-0 Record in Special Elections

Yesterday, Donald Trump tweeted that the Republicans have been 5-0 in recent Congressional elections:

That's only true if you ignore the ones the GOP lost. These include a special election to fill the seat of Xavier Becerra in California, and of course, the big one, the Alabama Senate race won by Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL). While Trump's statement that Republicans have won five special elections (all in deep red House districts) is true, he failed to mention that in special elections for seats in the state legislatures in 2017 and 2018, Democrats have flipped 39 seats and Republicans have flipped only four seats.

The whole point of the tweet, of course, is to bolster Rick Saccone (R) in tomorrow's special election in a Trump-heavy district in southwestern Pennsylvania. It has been a bitter fight there, and one more tweet is unlikely to make much difference. Especially when it is easy for voters to learn, thanks to Trump's loose lips, that he thinks Saccone is a terrible, "weak" candidate. This may be part of the reason that the President said virtually nothing about Saccone at Saturday's rally, and spent most of the time bragging about himself and trashing his enemies (the other part of the reason, of course, is that Trump just loves to brag about himself and trash his enemies). (V)

Democrats Are Still Fighting about Superdelegates

Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were furious in 2016 that the DNC members and elected officials who get to vote at the national convention were all in the tank for Hillary Clinton. Clinton actually won more delegates than Sanders in the primaries and caucuses and absent the superdelegates she still would have gotten the nomination, but the bitter taste of 2016 remains. Now the Party is fighting over what to do about superdelegates in 2020. A 21-member panel of Clinton and Sanders supporters has been wrestling with a compromise for months, but a full resolution is not likely to happen until the summer.

One proposal that seems to have gotten traction is to reduce the number of superdelegates by 60% and bind members of the DNC by the results of their states' primaries or caucuses. Office holders, however, would be unbound. Basically, the fight is a replay of the 2016 primaries. Few of the people involved can look at the idea in the abstract: Should the leaders of a political party have any say in who their nominee is? The superdelegates represented about 15% of the delegates, so the party leadership had a small say in the choice. If the Republicans had had unbound superdelegates, probably Jeb Bush would have been the GOP nominee, not Donald Trump. The idea of having party officials have some say in the process is to make it harder for rogue candidates to win. In most European democracies, the party leaders pick their candidates internally, without any input from the voters at all. That is to say, there are no primary elections. In that light, giving the people 85% of the power and the party 15% of the power in selecting candidates is a massive outlier.

If the superdelegates are abolished, could that backfire? Consider a hypothetical scenario. Kanye West is considering a run for president in 2020. Suppose his wife, Kim Kardashian West, decides she wants to run, too, so they flip a coin and she wins. She promises to campaign and govern in the skimpiest red-white-and-blue bikini allowed by law, and posts some photos that give her 59 million Twitter followers a preview of what that might look like. In a 30-candidate field, she gets 5% of the vote, making her the biggest vote getter and the nominee. At that point many of the people who helped rid the party of the superdelegates might be wanting them back. Of course, it is highly unlikely that a reality television star could become their party's presidential nominee. Oh wait ... (V)

Polling Numbers Are Grim for Trump

POLITICO/Morning Consult does polls of Donald Trump's approval rating every month, and now we have just over a year's worth of data. The trendlines, in short, are not good for the President. First of all, here is a map of his net approval in January of 2017, and his net approval in February of 2018:

Trump approval, Jan 2017 Trump approval, Feb 2018

As is clear at a glance, Trump is losing ground everywhere. There is not a single state where his net approval has gotten better over the past year. In many cases, that is not because his "approve" numbers have gone down, however. It is because his "disapprove" numbers have gone up, as people moved from the "no opinion" column to the "disapprove" column.

Now let's parse the data a bit:

  • States where Trump's net approval has dropped by 25% or more in the past year: 7; Massachusetts and Washington (-25%); Utah (-29%); Illinois, New York, and New Mexico (-30%); and Vermont (-34%).

  • States Trump won where his net approval has dropped by more than 15% in the past year: 8; North Carolina (-16%); Arizona (-17%); Arkansas and Michigan (-18%); Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Indiana (-19%); Florida (-20%); and Utah (-29%). There are also another half-dozen states he won where he's dropped exactly 15%

  • States Trump won where he now has a negative net approval rating: 5; Utah and Iowa (-2% net); Pennsylvania (-4% net), Wisconsin (-9% net), Michigan (-10% net)

  • States where Trump's net approval remains at 20% or higher: 5; Mississippi (21% net); West Virginia (22% net); Louisiana (23% net); Alabama (26% net); and Wyoming (32% net)

  • To win the Electoral College, Trump would need every state where his net approval is above water plus: 3 states; Iowa and Utah (-2% net); along with Pennsylvania (-4% net), or Wisconsin (-9%), or Michigan (-10%)

Now having taken a look at the big picture, let's zoom in on a particular segment of the voting public that matters a lot to Trump's re-election chances: white evangelical women. His support there has dropped from 73% a year ago to 60% now, a statistically significant decline. This is even greater than the 8-point drop among all women. When Bill Clinton was president, many white evangelical women said that character mattered, and Clinton was lacking in that department. Now the shoe is on the other foot and many of these women have noticed it. Carmen Fowler LaBerge, who has a radio show focused on evangelicals, said of Donald Trump: "I don't know any evangelical woman who is going to defend the character of the president." The reason that so many evangelical women still support Trump is that they hate the Democrats and like Trump's right-wing politics more than they dislike his personality. There is also evidence that many of them didn't really vote for Trump in 2016; they voted against Hillary Clinton.

So, what does it all mean? With the usual caveat that the 2018 midterms are still far away, and the 2020 election is further than that, the data suggest the following conclusions:

  • Trump clearly retains a solid base, particularly the Deep South and the mountain states

  • However, enthusiasm in those places is waning. That does not likely result in Republican votes being transformed into Democratic votes, but it could mean Republicans who stay home on Election Day or vote for a third party candidate.

  • Meanwhile, the upper-Midwestern states—which Trump won by the barest of margins—appear to be in serious jeopardy. So too do a handful of other purple states, most obviously Florida and North Carolina.

  • Anti-Trump sentiment in anti-Trump states appears to be stronger than pro-Trump sentiment is in pro-Trump states. That is to say, there is a clear enthusiasm gap, one that is particularly likely to be relevant in the midterm elections, when getting one's voters to the polls is more than half the battle.

Not all the numbers are bad for Trump, but most of them are. And given that he's always worked with a razor-thin margin of error, even the smallest amount of slippage is very concerning news for him, indeed. (Z & V)

Flake Wants Primary Challenger for Trump in 2020

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a noted critic of Donald Trump (who nonetheless votes with the President almost 100% of the time), was on "Meet the Press" on Sunday. There, the Senator told host Chuck Todd that he remains hopeful that someone will challenge Donald Trump in the 2020 Republican primaries. "I do think the president will have a challenge from the Republican Party, I think there should be," Flake said. "I also think that there will be an independent challenge, particularly if the Democrats insist on putting somebody up from the far left of the party."

It is remarkable that someone who has achieved so much in politics would display such apparent naiveté. Making a run for president is a serious, years-long job that involves networking, and fundraising, and traveling to every county in Iowa to hold fish frys, and so on and so forth. If Flake is not willing to put in all that hard work, and clearly he is not, then why would he imagine that someone else is going to do so?

Further, history is against a would-be challenger. Since 1900, a sitting president has been successfully dispatched by a member of his own party only one time—when Eugene McCarthy effectively compelled Lyndon B. Johnson to drop out. That required the wildly unpopular ongoing Vietnam War to happen. However unpopular Trump may get, it's hard to see how his circumstances could get worse than LBJ's were in January 1968 (Note: Johnson had a Trump-like approval rating of 38% at that time). Meanwhile, it's not hard for an aspiring president to do the math and see that his or her chances are considerably less than 5% of getting the nomination. And even if someone did pull it off, the candidate would be assuming the leadership of a party that would be fractured, and whose brand would be badly damaged. Think of the Bernie-Hillary kerfuffle and then multiply by about 10. So even if a Trump challenger worked his or her tail off, and then defied all odds, a loss would be all but certain.

Beyond that, what exactly would a successful primary challenger look like? An establishment Republican like Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) or Jeb Bush? An evangelical like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)? A charismatic young Republican with minority appeal like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)? A brash urban brawler like Chris Christie? A libertarian like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)? Donald Trump ate folks like those for breakfast in 2016, and that was when he was a cheesy reality TV star that nobody took seriously as a candidate. Now he's the sitting president with the bully pulpit and all the other powers of the presidency and the RNC behind him.

Or, we can look at this in a slightly more scientific way. The sports book bet365 offers an extensive list of bets on who will win the presidential election in 2020. Trump is at 7/4, which implies a 36% chance of victory. Beyond him, the only other Republicans in the Top 20 are Mike Pence at 12/1 (7%), and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) at 40/1 (2.4%). Since the Mike Pence bet undoubtedly is based on the presumption that he somehow succeeds to the presidency and would be running for re-election, it means that the book thinks there are at least 18 Democrats more likely to knock off Trump than a Republican, including Michelle Obama, Joe Kennedy III, Mark Zuckerberg, and Oprah Winfrey.

Add it all up and the inevitable conclusion is this: If Trump is still president in 2020, and he decides to run for reelection, he will be the Republicans' nominee, whether Jeff Flake likes it or not. As the Senator himself was compelled to admit, "The Republican Party is the Trump party right now."

We can see only one situation that might change this analysis: Special counsel Robert Mueller writes a 500-page report with 1,000 pages of supporting documents in an appendix, clearly stating that Trump has committed multiple felonies. If Trump is impeached but not convicted or not even impeached, public sentiment might turn enough against him that some Republican with nothing to lose could decide to challenge him. (Z)

Trump Wants Secret Service Agents to Monitor Elections

A provision of the bill to reauthorize the Dept. of Homeland Security would authorize the president to send Secret Service officers to polling places anywhere in the country during a federal election. The provision has outraged election officials from all over the country, because they believe that federal officers in polling places would intimidate some voters, especially in largely Latino areas. Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin said: "This is worthy of a Third World Country." He also said there is no basis of giving the president this authority and that the potential for mischief is enormous. Traditionally, states and local governments run all elections and the federal government plays no role in administering them. (V)

Trump's Parade Won't Have Any Tanks

Big military parades generally feature lots of tanks and other heavy military vehicles. Donald Trump's parade on Veterans Day won't. The Pentagon has announced that tanks will not take part in the parade to avoid damaging D.C.'s streets. Instead, the "parade" will be heavy on aircraft, since they don't inflict much damage on the streets. The aircraft that will take part will include many older planes, not exactly the overwhelming show of force Trump had intended. In fact, it's pretty clear that the plan that Sec. of Defense James Mattis, et al., have come up with is more of a "history of the United States armed forces" demonstration than a display of pure military strength. The route will run from the White House to the Capitol. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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