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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Guns Under Fire
      •  Trump Midterm Message: I Need Allies
      •  Rep. Ryan Costello Won't Run Again
      •  Today in Voter Suppression...
      •  Stormy Unleashed
      •  Landrieu for President?
      •  Trump Could Cost the U.S. World Cup

Guns Under Fire

An examination of the cable channels, the newspapers, and the websites makes very clear that the story of the day on Saturday was gun control. There were massive anti-gun marches across the nation, including one in Washington, D.C. that attracted 800,000 people, large enough to be visible from outer space, and very possibly the largest demonstration in the history of the nation's capital. (As a reminder, Donald Trump's inauguration attracted 600,000 people. It is not clear whether that event was visible from space, however; reports are that NASA's cameras were thrown out of focus by something bright and orange near the front of the crowd.)

The purpose of the marches—and big ones also took place in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Salt Lake City, and elsewhere—is, of course, to put pressure on the nation's political leaders to do something substantive to reduce gun violence. In case there was any question as to the main target of the Washington march, in particular, the protesters left their signs on the sidewalk outside of the Trump Hotel. The White House offered very faint praise of the protesters, congratulating them for "exercising their First Amendment rights." The President, of course, was not in town, having left for his usual trip to Mar-a-Lago. However, he was at least somewhat aware of the protests, since his motorcade had to change routes to avoid the march taking place near his resort.

The students who are driving this movement, led in particular by survivors of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, have proven to be exceedingly shrewd at both keeping their momentum going, and finding effective ways to make their message impactful. For example, whenever anyone hears "March on Washington," they think of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. And there was King's granddaughter on Saturday, telling the crowd, "I Have a Dream That Enough Is Enough." Similarly, Douglas High School survivor Emma Gonzalez made a point of remaining on stage, in front of the crowd, for 6 minutes and 20 seconds, the exact length of time that it took for the original incident to unfold. In Florida, protesters wore price tags that read $1.05; the amount of money that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has received from the NRA divided by the number of students in Florida. "This is how much we're worth to the Florida government," the marchers explained.

Meanwhile, the NRA—which is generally pretty shrewd on the PR front—continued to do everything it could to lose the battle of public opinion. The organization sent a message to supporters asking them for a donation, and explaining:

Today's protests aren't spontaneous. Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to DESTROY the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.

"Hollywood elites" is a bit more subtle than "globalists" or "moneylenders," but apparently the NRA had to find a way to squeeze in a splash of anti-Semitism somewhere. Meanwhile, one of the hosts on NRA TV (yes, that apparently does exist) declared:

To all the kids from Parkland getting ready to use your First Amendment to attack everyone else's Second Amendment at your march on Saturday, I wish a hero like Blaine Gaskill had been at Marjory Douglas High School last month because your classmates would still be alive and no one would know your names, because the media would have completely and utterly ignored your story, the way they ignored his.

Gaskill, the security officer who recently stopped a school shooting in Maryland, got major coverage from NBC, ABC, CBS, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and CNN. But other than those outlets, and perhaps two or three hundred others, he certainly did get ignored.

The most interesting question, from a political standpoint, is whether or not the Democrats will embrace this issue as a means of focusing anti-GOP and anti-Trump sentiment. Historically, the blue team has been unwilling to speak out too strongly on this subject, because there are quite a few Democrats who place enormous value on the Second Amendment. Now, however, we seem to have reached a tipping point. Further, the Party is always looking for issues that will motivate young voters to get to the polls (legal pot, for example), and this seems like one that could do it. Consequently, a great many Democrats hitched their wagons to the protests on Saturday. Some of them, including Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), actually marched. Notice that a fair number of folks on that list have their eye on a tough reelection campaign (McCaskill, Nelson), or a possible presidential bid (Blumenthal, Warren). If they thought the issue was a loser, they wouldn't have showed up. Many of those who did not march made sure to issue statements. Among them:

In short, for anyone who hadn't noticed, the 2018 and 2020 campaigns are starting to come into focus. (Z)

Trump Midterm Message: I Need Allies

Donald Trump is no great fan of governing, but he does love campaigning. He is champing at the bit as he looks forward to the time he can hit the road and try to bend the midterm elections to his will. Consistent with that, Team Trump is working on its messaging. The current iteration, sent to donors on Saturday:

2018 is our chance to elect TRUMP ALLIES to the House and Senate who will give you the agenda you voted for. No more obstruction! We want what we voted for! But it cannot happen unless we put up GREAT candidates who stand by our values and prove to America that they have the fire to fight to Make America Great Again!

If this is what the GOP goes with, that decision would be...unwise. This is, in effect, a "throw the bums out" pitch. The problem is that if voters decide that throwing the bums out is what they want, it isn't the Democrats who will suffer. After all, last we checked, it is not the Democrats who control both houses of Congress and the White House.

At this point, it would take a near miracle for the GOP to hold on to the seats they've got, much less adding more. And being overly ambitious like this is an excellent way to not only fall flat on your face, but to blow more winnable contests. Think Hillary Clinton campaigning in Georgia and ignoring Wisconsin. Undoubtedly, this excessively-optimistic messaging is coming straight from the President, a man who knows little about political history, who is unwilling to listen to experts, and who always overshoots his mark. With him calling the shots on strategy, the red, red blood that runs on November 6 could be much worse than necessary for the GOP. (Z)

Rep. Ryan Costello Won't Run Again

With the possible exception of Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), who represents a district with a Cook PVI of R+33, every GOP member of Congress is looking at Rick Saccone's defeat at the hands of Democrat Conor Lamb in the R+11 PA-18 and is worrying about their future. Republicans who happen to represent Pennsylvania districts have something additional to be worried about: The state's electoral map has been redrawn, with the result that just about every Republican is a little less safe. Four Pennsylvania Republicans threw in the towel earlier this year and, on Saturday, Rep. Ryan Costello joined the list. His district, PA-06, is currently D+1, but will be D+9 for the next election. Given that the sitting president's party nearly always takes a beating in the midterms, and that the anti-presidential wave looks to be particularly strong this year, Costello's position was effectively untenable.

By our count, that makes 37 GOP members of the House who are retiring, versus 16 Democrats. Open seats are, of course, much easier to flip than those occupied by incumbents. As a reminder, the blue team needs to take 24 seats to regain control of the House. If they can hold their 16 open seats, and take all of the open GOP seats that are R+5 or bluer, then they will be halfway there. Given that "generic Democrat" is currently leading "generic Republican" by about 11 points in polls, that's a very doable task.

With Costello out, it will be a pair of political unknowns competing to succeed him. The Republican candidate is Greg McCauley, a tax attorney, while the Democrat is Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force veteran, former teacher and former business and nonprofit executive. Although the primary is on May 15, the deadline for filing passed earlier this week, so both candidates' paths forward are clear. Houlahan's resumé is rather similar to that of Lamb, and between that and the fundamentals of the race, the odds are very high that the national GOP writes this one off as a lost cause. (Z)

Today in Voter Suppression...

The GOP's position heading into the midterms, as noted above, is grim. And whatever brave face Party leadership may put on publicly, most of them know it privately (with the fellow who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the possible exception). Consequently, they are doing whatever they can to avoid the iceberg and save the Titanic, by hook or by crook. And one of their most potent tools is working the system to minimize the number and impact of Democratic votes.

In Georgia, for example, there is a law passed in the 1970s that allows Atlanta to keep its polling places open an hour later than elsewhere, given the issues posed by traffic, long lines, etc. A separate law allows early voting on weekends. Now, the state legislature is working on a bill that would kill the extended voting in Atlanta and would reduce weekend voting to one day. Atlanta is 54% black, and weekend voting tends to attract a disproportionate number of black voters, particularly due to church-to-polling place buses. Black voters are, of course, overwhelmingly Democratic, so the Georgia bill would have the effect of eliminating many thousands or many tens of thousands of Democratic votes. The ACLU, of course, is already preparing its lawsuit.

In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, some Republicans are not yet giving up on re-gerrymandering their map, despite the fact that the Supreme Court of the U.S. told them to pound sand. Rep. Cris Dush (R) has introduced a measure in the Pennsylvania legislature to impeach all of the state supreme court justices who voted in favor of a new map. It's not impossible that Dush might succeed, since the current (gerrymandered) maps gave the GOP firm control of the state legislature. However, this is also a Hail Mary pass. After all, impeachment is meant to punish misconduct, not political disagreements, so some (or many) Pennsylvania Republicans may get queasy at voting for Dush's measure (and then voting for conviction). Even if Dush succeeds, the matter would almost certainly go to federal court. Then, if the Pennsylvania GOP triumphs there, they would presumably have to pick new justices, bring a new district map suit, and gain a favorable ruling. All of this before the filing deadline passes on May 15. That's about seven weeks—time enough to pass a dozen bills completely overhauling the federal tax code, perhaps, but probably not enough time for that much legal maneuvering. (Z)

Stormy Unleashed

Tonight's the night. This evening, at 7:00 local time (8:00 central), porn star Stormy Daniels (real name: Stephanie Clifford) will chat with the folks at "60 Minutes" in her first national television appearance. She's been pretty circumspect so far, and so she may not say anything other than what we have already heard. On the other hand, she might decide that her nondisclosure agreement is officially dead, and may dish some juicy dirt. Daniels and her lawyer Michael Avenatti are both quite shrewd, and are very nearly Donald Trump's equals when it comes to creating intrigue. On Thursday, for example, Avenatti tweeted this:

If Avenatti and Daniels actually do have footage of her having relations with Trump, as the tweet implies, it could be a killer for the President. First, it would permanently put to rest his already-not-believable story that he has no idea who Daniels is, and that he certainly never slept with her. Further, we have seen numerous cases in the past several years (say, with football player Ray Rice hitting his girlfriend/wife) where video footage proved vastly more damaging than a mere verbal account.

There is little question, according to White House insiders, that despite his public nonchalance, Trump is deeply upset about Daniels, and is worried about what she might say. Depending on how salacious the interview is, and how much evidence she has, we could be headed for the mother of all Twitter tantrums on Monday morning. We will know soon. (Z)

Landrieu for President?

Taking a look at the last six Democrats to win a presidential election (or to win more than one), one cannot help but notice that two-thirds of them—Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Harry S. Truman—are Southern Democrats. Clinton and Johnson, in particular, gave the blue team their most smashing victories of the last half-century. So, folks casting about for the next Democratic star tend to pay close attention when a personable, smooth-talking Southerner appears to be on the rise. Someone like New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, for example.

Officially, Landrieu says he is not planning a run. "The country's in a dark hour. My commitment has always been to do what I can to help," he said. "You never say never. At the moment, I can't see a pathway." Careful readers will notice that his "denial" is pretty far short of the full Sherman. Further, Landrieu is currently on a book tour of the sort that just so happens to provide him with a convenient excuse to visit places like New Hampshire and Iowa. He's also managed to get himself profiled by just about every publication out there, from Politico to the New York Times. Betting sites have also started to offer odds on his presidential hopes. So yes, he's a candidate, at least at the moment.

If and when he officially throws his hat into the ring, Landrieu's main selling points will be as follows: First, he will certainly attract a large number of Southern votes, perhaps even enough to flip some of the purplish states like Georgia and North Carolina, and maybe his home state of Louisiana. If so, he would become the first Democrat since Bill Clinton to win states in the Deep South. Second, Landrieu is also the white politician most likely to attract black votes, thanks to his family's deep roots in Louisiana, his role in toppling Louisiana's Confederate monuments, and his enthusiastic embrace of black culture, particularly jazz music and the films of Spike Lee. Third, and finally, Landrieu is calm, composed, polished, and warm—something close to the polar opposite of Donald Trump, temperamentally. That could be a good look during, for example, the presidential debates.

That said, the Mayor is far from the ideal candidate for the blue team. He's got fairly few tangible achievements to point to from his time in politics. He's also a centrist, about as establishment as it gets, and a member of a dynastic family. In other words, he's something of a Hillary Clinton clone, except with less pre-existing animosity, but also a less impressive resumé. This is not the kind of candidate that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is looking for. Add it all up, and he's certainly worth keeping an eye on, but is probably more of a vice-presidential candidate at this point in his career. Or maybe not; the last time the blue team ran a smooth-talking white Southerner with minority appeal in that slot, we know what happened. (Z)

Trump Could Cost the U.S. World Cup

These days, Donald Trump must feel like he's getting blamed for everything. That comes with the job—after all, as Harry S. Truman observed, "the buck stops here." Sometimes the blame may be a bit misplaced (the president has little control over gas prices, for example), and sometimes it is well deserved. In the latter category is the right to host the 2026 World Cup, which the U.S. seemingly had in the bag, but is now in danger of losing.

The awarding of the last few World Cups was rife with politicking and corruption, culminating in a scandal wherein the 2022 event was awarded to the tiny nation of Qatar over the United States. As a result of all this, the leadership of FIFA (which runs the World Cup) was swept away, and everything was lined up so that the U.S. (in a joint bid with Canada and Mexico) could land the 2026 event. This understanding was clear enough that only one other nation bothered to put in a bid—Morocco, which has put in a desperation bid for each of the last five tournaments. And Morocco's bid was so half-hearted that it didn't even have a website or a budget until early this year.

The ascendancy of Donald Trump, however, has breathed life into Morocco's chances, and might even have elevated them to the status of frontrunner. Part of the reason is that FIFA is an international body and most of its members, put bluntly, do not like Donald Trump. Even more significant, however, is that the World Cup attracts visitors from all over the world. Given the various Muslim bans and anti-immigration policies being pursued by the administration, there is significant uncertainty as to whether the U.S. will be an appropriate venue. There would, of course, be greater clarity in 2021 or 2025, but the decision has to be made now.

In the scheme of things, one soccer tournament is not such a big deal. However, this is an early case of an international organization/business assessing Donald Trump's America and responding in a concrete and negative fashion. If a few major corporations, or some national governments do the same (for example, one that rhymes with 'Jina'), then the United States' economy could really start to feel the pinch. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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