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

Illinois Voters Go to the Polls Today

Illinois has several bitterly contested primaries today. The most expensive is the Democratic gubernatorial primary for the right to challenge Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL). J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, is the establishment choice. The big attraction for the pooh-bahs is not so much his politics (he is fairly liberal), but that he can match billionaire Rauner dollar for dollar and then some. If Pritzker wins the primary, the Illinois gubernatorial general election will be the most expensive race in the country.

Pritzker's main Democratic opponent is Chris Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy's son. He's no slouch when it comes to spending on the primary either, but he is not in Pritzker's league. Also, he has a tendency to antagonize people. If he wins the primary, the Republicans will have more money to spend on the general election, but the Kennedy name is still potent in very blue Illinois. The family may be more associated with Massachusetts in public consciousness, but Illinois is where they made their money. There are several minor candidates in the Democratic primary, as well. The best known is state senator Daniel Biss, who is the favorite of progressives, but up against a billionaire and a multimillionaire, a Biss win would be a huge upset. The other candidates are down in the weeds.

On the Republican side, Rauner also has a primary fight against Jeanne Ives, a far-right candidate who has the backing of billionaire Richard Uihlein. Rauner is expected to dispatch her easily.

The Democratic primary for state attorney general is a free-for all with eight candidates. None of them are campaigning on issues like law enforcement, consumer protection, or anything like that. The only real issue is who hates Donald Trump the most and who will be best at standing up to him and suing him the most. For example, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti's theme is stopping Donald Trump in his tracks. Sharon Fairley, in one of her ads says: "Sharon Fairley's been taking on bullies and bigots her whole life." Nancy Rotering is blasting Trump on guns and immigration. No matter who wins, the new state AG will spend most of his or her time suing Trump.

The Republicans also have a primary for AG, but it has fewer candidates, just Erika Harold, a former Miss America and Harvard Law graduate, and Gary Grasso, a county board member. The GOP establishment wants Harold to win.

Finally, one congressional race is hotly contested. In IL-03, a D+6 district, Blue Dog Dan Lipinski, who is against abortion, may have finally met his match in progressive Marie Newman, who has been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and other progressives. Newman's pitch is that Lipinski is actually a Republican in Democrat's clothing. The race has all the bitterness of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary with those who see abortion as a litmus test vs. those who think any Democrat is better than any Republican. With that said, Lipinski is actually somewhat out of step with his constituency, politically—the great majority of them are pro-choice, for example. He has benefited enormously from inertia; the seat has been held by him or by his father for 35 years. If he does go down to defeat, Democrats should be careful about drawing conclusions along the lines of "progressives can win anywhere." Whether that is true or not, Lipiniski is not a great test case. (V)

Trump Will Campaign in Senate Races

Although Donald Trump's approval rating is underwater nationally, in some states he is still pretty popular. Fortunately for the Republicans, those include almost a dozen states in which a Democratic senator is running for reelection. Trump has promised to campaign for the Republican candidate in those states, and is largely being welcomed.

Five states where he expects to do lots of campaigning are Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Montana, and West Virginia, but there are others as well. In addition to campaigning for the challengers in these states, he can help raise boatloads of money for the GOP candidates. Josh Holmes, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said: "Base mobilization is absolutely essential for victory, and there is absolutely no one better at energizing the GOP base than President Donald Trump."

That said, in his last four outings Trump didn't do so well. He campaigned for Luther Strange in the Alabama Republican senatorial primary and Strange lost. Then he campaigned for Roy Moore in the general election and Moore lost. He campaigned for Ed Gillespie in Virginia—another loser. Most recently, he campaigned for Rick Saccone in the PA-18 special election last week, and Saccone lost as well. Thus, it doesn't appear that the Trump magic transfers easily to other candidates. What many of his supporters love about him is not so much his policies, but his ability to get Democrats' blood boiling with a single tweet. Candidates he supports generally don't have that skill. It probably does not help matters that when Trump holds one of his signature rallies in support of these folks, he spends most of his time talking about Donald Trump, and very little talking about the actual candidate.

There are also a few complications here. Trump actually likes Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) a lot, so it is far from clear what it will mean for him to campaign against them. He is particularly likely to go to rallies in their states and mostly talk about how wonderful he is, rather than how wonderful the Republican candidate is or how bad the Democrat is. Furthermore, some of the Democrats, especially Manchin, are very popular in their states and some have won multiple statewide elections, so they may not be so easy to dislodge. The states where Trump might be the most helpful are Indiana and Missouri. (V)

Supreme Court Makes Two Decisions Favorable to the Democrats

Yesterday, the Supreme Court made two decisions that help the Democrats. The more important one is that the Court turned down a petition from the Pennsylvania Republican Party to block the new congressional map. In 2010, the Republicans drew a highly-gerrymandered congressional map that gave them 13 House seats to the Democrats' 5, even though there are over 800,000 more Democrats than Republicans in the state. Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the legislature to draw up a new map. It complied, but the new map was just as gerrymandered as the old one, so the Court hired a Stanford professor who is an expert on election maps to draw up a fair map. The new map will probably give the Democrats 4-6 additional seats in the U.S. House. The Pennsylvania Republican Party appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but yesterday the High Court refused to overturn or even stay the state court ruling. So unless something very strange happens, the Democrats will probably pick up almost half a dozen seats in Pennsylvania.

The other Supreme Court decision yesterday that is a victory for the Democrats, albeit of a different kind, relates to the dreamers. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that Arizona could not forbid dreamers from getting driver's licenses. The state wanted to bar them. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, meaning that the state is now required to issue driver's licenses any dreamer who passes the tests and is otherwise qualified.

The political consequence of this whole matter is that the Republicans are now clearly on record as being hostile to dreamers. They can't vote, so that doesn't matter, but many of them have friends and family who are U.S. citizens and who clearly know now how the parties feel about them. Given the large Latino population in Arizona, the issue of the dreamers could become a potent issue for the Democrats to wield in the Senate election in November. (V)

Dozens of Business Groups Oppose Trump's Proposed Tariffs on Chinese Goods

Donald Trump has said he intends to impose tariffs on billions of dollars worth of imports from China. The tariff package will result in an additional $60 billion in costs to American importers. The package is expected to be unveiled by Friday.

This plan does not sit well with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which is about as Republican as any group can be) and 44 other industry groups. Their argument is that many companies buy parts from China, and tariffs on them would make their own products more expensive and less competitive. The tariffs might also disrupt complex supply chains.

Another problem for Trump on the tariffs is that one of the pillars of Republican foreign policy for decades has been free trade. Trump's tariffs stomp all over that. Consequently, if Trump goes through with the tariffs, he will be fighting much of American industry and a large number of Republicans in Congress. This is not a good place for him to be, especially if he tries to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. The Republicans in the House might just decide that they would prefer a President Pence, who is more orthodox on trade. But Trump rarely listens to any outsiders, not even steadfast Republican groups like the Chamber of Commerce, so we may yet get tariffs. (V)

Shutdown Looms; No Deal on Dreamers

Stop us if you have heard this story before. On Friday night, the latest deal to keep the government funded will expire. If an agreement to keep paying the bills cannot be worked out, the government will shut down for the third time this year. The Republicans in Congress have one set of priorities, the Democrats in Congress have another set, and the President has a third set. Given how poisonous the atmosphere in Washington is these days, and how this has once again been left to the last minute, an actual budget for FY 2017-18 is unlikely to pass. And if it somehow does, it may not get Donald Trump's signature. That will mean the passage of yet another stopgap spending bill, either right before the government shuts down, or perhaps hours or days after. The members are grumbling about yet another short-term fix, but it may be their only choice. If so, then it will mean the Republican-controlled Congress will not pass a full year spending bill until, at the bare minimum, half that year has passed (FY 2017-18 ends in September). Expect the Democrats to point that out during the midterms.

Meanwhile, another attempt to reach an agreement on DACA has failed. The Democrats have offered to support $25 billion for Trump's border wall in exchange for giving the 1.8 million dreamers a path to citizenship. The world's greatest dealmaker rejected this proposal out of hand, and took to Twitter to point fingers:

Obviously, Trump's idea of "a deal" is "you give me everything I want and we're done." Perhaps this approach worked for him in his business career—who knows?—but it's rarely viable in politics. What he wants is $25 billion in exchange for extending DACA protections until 2020. The Democrats are never, ever going to agree to this, and if he thinks otherwise, then he's delusional. Thanks to the several court injunctions that are in place, the dreamers are already effectively protected until 2020. And the blue team is never going to give the President all the money he needs and at the same time set him up to revisit the issue just as the 2020 campaign is getting underway. There is no question he would spend the entire campaign season letting the dreamers twist in the wind, because that would please the base.

In short, The Donald's proposal is entirely unreasonable, as it favors him far too much. The "author" of The Art of the Deal seems to have overlooked the first lesson in Negotiation 101, which is that both sides need to get something they value (the term that pros generally use is "mutual satisfaction"). On Monday, some very prominent political donors spoke up and told the President he was being unreasonable, and that he should accept the Democrats' deal. If those donors were, say, Tom Steyer, Donald Sussman, and George Soros, perhaps we could dismiss their protestations. But, in fact, it was the Koch brothers (and several other members of their donor network). If there is anyone who has never been accused of being a Democratic mouthpiece, it's the Kochtopus. Who, it might be added, themselves have a tad bit of experience with negotiating. (Z)

GOP Members of Congress Talk Out of Both Sides of Their Mouths

Clearly, it is not an easy time to be a Republican member of Congress. Most of them are, on some level, institutionalists who place some value on democratic norms, the Constitution, the rule of law, etc., and who recognize that Donald Trump is trampling all over those things. The President is also unpopular (or worse) with a large swath of the voting public, including the independent voters who swing elections. On the other hand, he's still very well liked by much of the GOP base, and he has the nasty habit of publicly attacking anyone who raises his ire.

Consequently, it is not terribly surprising that the GOP members of Congress are sometimes willing to speak out against what Trump does or says, but they never seem willing to do anything about it. Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), John McCain (R-AZ), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), as well as Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) have been among the prominent Republicans to express disapproval with Trump at one point or another. And yet, Congress has taken no step to rein in Trump's powers, or his bad behavior, whether that means withdrawing his power to impose tariffs, or imposing additional barriers on his ability to launch a nuclear strike, or telling him the Mexican wall is a waste of money, or rejecting one or more of his clearly unqualified cabinet nominees. The latest situation of this sort, of course, involves Trump's recent war against special counsel Robert Mueller. A great many GOP members—Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ryan, Flake—were willing to go on the Sunday news shows and declare how unacceptable the President's words were. On Monday, however, they made clear that they are not going to pass legislation to protect Mueller, and said they can't imagine why it would be needed. How's this for a justification: Beyond the fact that Trump might fire Mueller, his words and his actions are undermining the investigation and, indeed, the entire FBI, which is not good for the democracy.

Needless to say, politicians have been talking out of both sides of their mouths for as long as there has been politics. However, most leaders of generations past had a limit to how far they would go, whereas the current members show no indication that there is...well, anything that might prompt them to take a stand. Particularly mysterious are folks like Corker and Flake, both of whom are not standing for reelection, both of whom have lambasted the President, and both of whom consistently continue to support the President with their votes and their inaction. If the two of them announced they were going to caucus with the Democrats for the remainder of their terms, that would be a powerful move indeed, but the duo seems to lack the courage of their convictions. Time will tell how this all plays out, and whether the GOP members are successfully able to walk on both sides of the street, but they might want to remember Dante's view on the matter: "The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality." (Z)

Trump Hires Fox News Analyst for Legal Team

Donald Trump has a new member of his legal team: It's Joseph E. diGenova, a frequent guest on Fox News. That means he checks the oh-so-important "telegenic" box. More significantly, however, is that when it comes to the Mueller investigation, he takes "yes man" to a new level. In his Fox appearances, he has consistently denounced the whole thing as a fraud, and a contrivance of the Deep State, and a gross indecency against the President. For example, he had this to say during a January appearance on Tucker Carlson's show:

There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn't win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime. Everything we have seen from these texts, and from all the facts developing, shows that the FBI and senior DOJ officials conspired to violate the law, and deny Donald Trump his civil rights.

This is conspiracy thinking of the highest order. It is utterly at odds with the evidence, and at the same time is exactly what the President wants to hear. So, diGenova is hired. Needless to say, this is not the kind of person who is going to rein The Donald in as he goes on Twitter rampages. And presumably, diGenova is going to replace Ty Cobb, the main moderating force on the President's legal team. So, we appear to be swapping someone who acts as a restraint on Trump with someone who will egg him on. It should be pretty obvious how that is going to play out. (Z)

Cambridge Analytica Used Bribes and Sex Workers to Influence Elections

A British data firm, Cambridge Analytica, with deep ties to Republican megadonor Robert Mercer and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, has used unethical and probably illegal techniques to sway elections around the world. The company was already in the news for harvesting information about 50 million Facebook users—without their knowledge, and under false pretenses—and using it to help the Trump campaign microtarget ads to specific people. The new report features a video of Cambridge Analytica's CEO, Alexander Nix, saying that the company could arrange to send Ukrainian prostitutes to the homes of politicians in the hopes of getting some dirt on them. They also bribed candidates, recorded the transactions, and then had instant evidence of corruption. (V)

Americans Oppose the Deep State, but Don't Know What It Is

A new Monmouth University poll found that 74% of Americans believe that the "deep state" determines U.S. policy while 21% do not. This view holds for Democrats, Republicans and independents. However, 63% also said that they were not familiar with the term "deep state."

It is hard to make a lot of sense of this. Conceivably, people are trying to say something like "high-ranking civil servants influence policy making." This, of course, is true, and to a large extent is a feature, not a bug. Before civil service reforms were instituted in the late 19th century, when a new president was elected he fired everyone working for the government and installed his own supporters in their place. This led to incompetent and corrupt administrations. By making most civil servants, including most people working for the FBI and CIA, immune to firing without cause, the government became more stable and competent. But of course, these people can drag their feet when a new administration tries to upend decades of policy without good reason. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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