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

Trump Demands Justice Dept. Determine if FBI Spied on His Campaign

Yesterday, Donald Trump sent out a tweet demanding that the Justice Dept. investigate whether the FBI spied on his campaign:

It was reported last week that during the campaign, the FBI already had indications Team Trump was working with the Russians and wanted to check that out. The FBI source may have talked to George Papadopoulos and Carter Page. House Republicans are demanding to know who the source was and are threatening to hold Justice Dept. officials in contempt of Congress if they don't supply the information. The Dept. doesn't want to do this for fear the source's life might be in danger if they did.

This isn't the first time that Trump or his allies have made an incendiary claim. None of the previous ones were true. Here are the Russiagate-related ones:

  • Trump Tower wiretaps: Shortly after being inaugurated, Trump claimed that Obama had tapped his phone in Trump Tower and described this as McCarthyism. The allegation shocked the capital. Later, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) made a rare bipartisan statement saying there was no basis to Trump's allegation. Then-FBI Director James Comey said the FBI looked at the matter carefully and there were no wiretaps.

  • The Midnight Run: Once the wiretap story ran out of gas, Nunes went to the White House late one night and saw classified documents. He then claimed that the Obama administration spied on the Trump transition team. After the House Intelligence Committee got the documents Nunes saw, Democrats and Republicans agreed that there was no evidence that the Obama administration did anything improper.

  • The Comey tapes: Just after firing FBI Director James Comey, Trump tweeted that Comey better hope there were no tapes of the conversations that the two had in the oval office. Comey said he hoped there were tapes. Finally, Trump admitted there are no tapes.

  • A secret FBI society: When it came out that two FBI agents were having an affair and they exchanged some text messages critical of Trump, Republicans claimed that there was a secret society within the FBI determined to undermine Trump. Later, it turned out that one of the lovers was the person who drafted the "MORE EMAILS!" letter that Comey released 11 days before the election, not exactly something a Clinton diehard would do. And further, two people does not a "society" make, anyhow. In short, there never was any secret society.

  • The Steele Dossier: Trump allies have often said that the Christopher Steele dossier, which was initially sponsored by a right-wing website, the Washington Free Beacon, and then taken over by the Democrats, was the reason the Russia probe was started. Leaving aside the fact that it was a Republican organization that first hired Steele, the suggestion that the dossier was the reason the probe started in the first place is completely false. The FBI got interested in possible collusion between the campaign and the Russians when a Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, bragged to an Australian diplomat that he knew about the Russians having Hillary Clinton's emails. The diplomat tipped off the FBI and that is what got the G-men interested in the first place, not the Steele dossier.

The point is that we have seen this pattern a number of times. Trump, or an ally, makes an incendiary claim with little or no evidence. It is investigated and turns out to be completely false. But the approach may be effective, because many more people hear about the claim than hear the final result that it had no basis at all. Further, there are a large number of folks out there who badly want to believe in some sort of conspiracy against Trump, and for them it doesn't even matter if the claims are later disproven. They just latch on to the claim and run with it, facts be damned. For evidence of this, one need only read the comments section on any of the right-wing websites, or even some of the more centrist ones, like The Hill or Quora. (V)

Stone to Be Indicted

It seemed very likely that this shoe would drop, sooner or later, and now the time has arrived. Reportedly, Trump confidant and GOP insider Roger Stone will soon be indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This according to Sam Nunberg, friend of Stone and former Trump adviser, who has himself been called before the grand jury to account for his conduct during the campaign.

It's not entirely clear if we're talking hours, days, or weeks here, but Stone is too close to too many shady corners of the Russiagate situation to have avoided getting caught up in Mueller's probe. In particular, Stone had just a little too much knowledge of stolen DNC/Hillary Clinton e-mails before anyone else did, and there is overwhelming evidence of a close connection to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. That Mueller should arrive at Stone now is pretty consistent with his MO; start with the small fish, move on to the medium fish, and then try to land the big fish. Nunberg thinks that his friend will beat the rap, but given that just about everyone who has been indicted by Mueller so far has been caught so dead-to-rights that they decided to turn state's evidence, that may be a tad optimistic. (Z)

Three (or Four) States Will Hold Primaries This Week

Arkansas, Kentucky, and Georgia will hold their primaries this week. Of these, only Georgia is really interesting. Two Democratic women named Stacey are running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and the contrast couldn't be greater. The battle also reflects a nationwide split among Democrats. The $64,000 question is whether Democrats should move to the left and try to energize young people, women, and minorities, or run to the right and try to get former Democrats who voted for Donald Trump back into the fold. Stacey Abrams, who is black, is testing the hypothesis that a black woman can win an election in the deep South without appealing to conservative white voters. Stacey Evans, who is white, thinks that is political suicide, and is actively courting moderate white votes. Tomorrow evening we will know what Georgia Democrats think of these respective plans.

Abrams notes that 62% of the voting-age population of Georgia consists of people of color, people under 30, and single women. However, these groups make up only 53% of registered voters. Her efforts since 2014 consist of trying to get the missing voters registered. If 62% of the electorate skewed highly Democratic, it wouldn't be necessary to get many white men to support you in order to win. Basically, Abrams is trying to reproduce Doug Jones' win in the Alabama Senate race last year. Of course, Jones had a deeply flawed opponent, and in most races this year that will not be the case.

If Abrams wins the primary outright and then wins in November, it will cause an earthquake in the politics of the South. It will mean that moving far to the left and ignoring the Trump blue-collar voters is a winning strategy. On the other hand, if she gets the Democratic nomination and is wiped out in November, a lot of centrist Democrats are going to be screaming: "I TOLD YOU SO."

The "fourth" primary, meanwhile, is in Texas. The reason that it's not clearly on or off the list is that it's primary round two, meant to winnow down a final list of candidates from the folks who made it past round one. The Lone Star State is going to have a handful of Democratic contests that will be of interest. These are:

  • TX-07: Lizzie Fletcher has the backing of the establishment over Laura Moser. They don't differ much on policy, but Fletcher has spent far less time slamming Donald Trump than Moser, and the Party has made a conscious decision to tone down the anti-Trump rhetoric. Plus, Moser has a few liabilities, including some questionable campaign payments to her husband's law firm, and the fact that she only recently moved back to Texas from D.C.

  • TX-23: Here, it's Gina Ortiz Jones against Rick Treviño. Jones has the backing of the DCCC and the endorsement of pretty much everyone who has made an endorsement. She is the more centrist candidate, and she would be the first Asian (her mother is Filipina) and the first LGBT person to represent Texas in Congress. Treviño is a big underdog, and is counting on huge Latino turnout. His platform reads like Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT): $15/hour minimum wage, free college for everyone, single-payer healthcare. Not a great fit for the Lone Star State.

  • TX-32: Colin Allred is the establishment's candidate against Lilian Salerno. Salerno is slightly to the left of Allred, particularly on health care, but the key factor here appears to be that Allred got twice as many votes in the first round of voting. So, the Party is taking its cue from that.

  • TX-21 and TX-31: Donald Trump is not the only one who doesn't want to back a loser. These two districts are longshots for the blue team, and so the DCCC hasn't officially gotten involved in either of them. That said, the Party pooh-bahs have made clear they think that Joseph Kopser is more electable than Mary Wilson in TX-21 and M.J. Hegar is more viable than Christine Mann in TX-31.

The Party thinks that if it can get the candidates it wants in TX-07 (PVI of R+7), TX-23 (R+1), and TX-32 (R+5), it has an excellent chance to flip those three seats. So, if Fletcher, Jones, and/or Allred wins, they can expect lots of DCCC money and other support. If their opponents win, well, the DCCC will cross that bridge when they get to it. (V & Z)

The Trade War Is on Hold

Yesterday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said: "We're putting the trade war on hold." Donald Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on as much as $150 billion worth of Chinese exports to the U.S., but for the moment that won't happen because talks between Mnuchin and the Chinese are going well. What that means is that China issued a statement saying it will "significantly increase purchases" of U.S. products, without giving any details. Few economists believe China would actually do that, even if the U.S. could ramp up production enough to produce a lot more products, which it can't.

Many Republicans in Congress want to know what the administration has given China in the talks so far. In particular, last week Trump made nice to the Chinese telecom firm ZTE, which was sanctioned for selling critical chips to North Korea and Iran and whose telecommunications equipment sold in the U.S. is suspected of spying on Americans and relaying the information to China. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said yesterday that if the administration gives ZTE a break, it will face a backlash in Congress.

What is perhaps the most surprising aspect of the China negotiations is that one of the few things Trump has been completely consistent about for decades is how the U.S. is a sucker and China is walking all over it. To suddenly accept a vague promise of China importing more American products and then saying all is well would be a huge break with Trump's own past and would anger many Republicans who want to hit China hard on the trade front. (V)

Europe Thinks the Current State of the U.S. Might Be the New Normal

As we have pointed out a number of times, including yesterday, the people of Europe largely do not like Donald Trump (by an 80-20 margin in most countries). In part, this is because he represents a worldview—jingoism, disdain for science and the arts, xenophobia, conspicuous display of wealth, lack of empathy for the poor—that does not square all that well with European culture. In part, it is because he has done things—withdraw from the Paris Accord and the Iran nuclear deal, threaten tariffs—that are specifically harmful to European interests.

At the moment, leaders on the continent are taking a "just hold on until someone more normal replaces Trump" approach. However, as Griff Witte and Michael Birnbaum write in a piece for the Washington Post, there is increasing concern that Trump is the new normal. That is to say, the Europeans think it is possible that Americans' worldview has shifted dramatically since World War II, and that much of the populace no longer places much value on international cooperation. The Europeans are also quite certain that the elements of the American system that are supposed to protect against rash leaders who take rash actions—the Electoral College, Congressional oversight, etc.—do not seem to work all that well.

Certainly, the Theresa Mays and Angela Merkels of the world are going to keep trying to work with Trump—for now. But their new way of thinking—and their willingness to share it openly—makes it clear that the Donald is doing damage to America's foreign relations that cannot be easily repaired. It is also the case that the more it seems the U.S. is a lost cause, the more that Europe (and Asia, and the rest of the world) will make trade agreements and military alliances and other such pacts on their own, denying the United States a seat at the table. That would be bad news for both the world and the country—a statement that would have been uncontroversial among members of both parties as recently as three years ago. (Z)

Young Voters Might Actually Show Up This Year

Voters in the 18-29 age group are notorious for being no-shows in midterms elections, but this year might be different on account of the shootings in Florida and Texas schools (more below). When it is not safe to go to school, thoughts and prayers don't cut it, so many students are getting involved in politics and are registering to vote in much larger numbers than usual. In Florida, the site of the Parkland school shooting, the percentage of new registrants under 26 jumped from less than 20% in January to almost 30% by March. In North Carolina, voters under 25 were 30% of new registrants in January; in March and April the number jumped to 40%. Similar effects were seen in Pennsylvania.

The young voters are skewing Democratic. In Florida, a third of the young registrants are Democrats and 21% are Republicans. The rest are independents or belong to a minor party. Among older voters, 27% are Democrats and 29% are Republicans. If the new voters show up on Election Day, it could make a difference in many close races. However, registering is one thing; voting is something else. Historically, only 20% of voters under 30 vote in the midterms. And some of the gains in registration may reflect changes in the registration process, rather than newfound enthusiasm. For example, if a registrar comes to a local high school and signs up all the 17-year-olds who will be old enough to vote on Election Day, there will be more registrations of young people. That may or may not translate into more votes in the end. (V)

GOP Appears to Be Foundering on Key Issues for Young People

Get ready for a huge non sequitur: Speaking of younger voters, here is a list of living people who have become lasting symbols of scandal for the presidential administrations in which they served (don't worry, we will get back to the young voters later):

  • Nixon: G. Gordon Liddy, John W. Dean
  • Reagan: Oliver North
  • Clinton: Webb Hubbell, Susan McDougal
  • Bush Jr.: Scooter Libby, Jack Abramoff
  • Trump: Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen

The list excludes the Ford, Carter, Bush Sr., and Obama administrations because those were all pretty clean. On the other hand, the Trump list is both long and incomplete because this administration appears to be unusually corrupt, and yet at the same time the story is still being written. Also excluded above are folks for whom "scandal" was just one part of their resumés, and who have legitimate claims to competence and/or significance based on their actual service. That is to say, folks like Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Henry Kissinger, and John Kelly. Finally, for our purposes here, we are only interested in bad actors, not merely people who were famously involved in one scandalous storyline or another. So, no Carl Woodward and Bob Bernstein, or Monica Lewinsky, or Serge Kovaleski.

What is the point of all this? To draft a rough "do not hire" list. The current population of the United States is about 325.7 million people. Listed above is a baker's dozen of dubious folks. If you want to avoid hiring someone who is really only known as the face of a major political scandal, you have approximately 99.999996% of the population to choose from. And yet, when the NRA decided that it needed a new leader, it selected from the .0000004%, and went with North.

There is only one job description that produces Oliver North as your final hire. Clearly, the NRA executive board was looking for someone who: (1) Is associated with the beloved Ronald Reagan (Ronnie actually disdained North, but that's been forgotten), (2) Is good on TV, (3) Is very right-wing, and (4) Is low on integrity, and so is willing to say anything. It's a hire that speaks plainly to the NRA's strategy of trying to rally older, highly-conservative Americans who remember the Gipper fondly, and are desperate to hear any excuses for why guns have nothing to do with school shootings. What it is not is a hire that has anything to do with appealing to younger Americans, most of whom have no idea who Oliver North is (and who may even be a little fuzzy on who Reagan was).

North hasn't even assumed his new post, and yet he's already paying dividends of the sort that the NRA was looking for. He went on Fox News (naturally) to talk about the Santa Fe High School shootings. And, running play #1A from the NRA playbook, he tried to pin the blame on anything but guns:

The problem that we've got is we're trying like the dickens to treat the symptom without treating the disease. And the disease in this case isn't the Second Amendment. The disease is youngsters who are steeped in a culture of violence. Nearly all of these perpetrators are male, and they're young teenagers in most cases, and they've come through a culture where violence is commonplace. All we need to do is turn on a TV, go to a movie.

Even if we accept this thesis, one wonders if the Colonel has seen a violent video game or movie lately. He might want to take note of the most common tool used to inflict violence. Here's a hint: In "Call of Duty," or "Grand Theft Auto," or "Fortnite," you don't kill people with kindness. And just in case one is skeptical about the "culture of violence" argument, North also had another bugaboo to blame: Ritalin. His exact words: "many of these young boys have been on Ritalin since they were in kindergarten." It's a wonder he didn't blame fluoridated water, too.

It is true that the NRA and the GOP are not exactly the same thing. But, particularly in the era of Trump, the NRA is dangerously close to becoming a branch office of the Republican Party. And Republican politicians are, on the whole, more than happy to tote the organization's water and to run its playbook. For example, Texas's lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, had this to say about the shootings:

The video games issue, we have got to address in this country. Based on all the research we have done, 97%, according to psychologists and psychiatrists ... of teenagers view video games, and 85% of those video games are violent ... And what are these games showing you how to do? Kill people ... The vast majority [of psychologists and psychiatrists] will tell you it leads them to become numb to violence, to have less empathy to their victims and be more aggressive. Does that impact everyone who views them? No, but it obviously is part of the problem.

Sounds familiar, right? As if the NRA circulated "talking points" among those public figures most likely to comment on the shootings? It's worth noting that the scholarship on this matter is far from settled, and that there are three schools of thought: (1) Violent entertainment encourages violence by desensitizing watchers/players, (2) Violent entertainment reduces violence by providing an outlet for blowing off steam, and (3) Violent entertainment has no real impact on anything. The first school of thought is actually the minority, and not "the vast majority," regardless of what Patrick might claim. And in any case, blaming those confounded video games is clearly a strategy aimed at older folks (who don't generally play video games) and not at younger folks (who generally do). Of course, like North, Patrick was at the ready with other excuses that deflect the blame from guns. In his first press conference (presumably before he got his marching orders from the NRA), he said that if only Santa Fe High School had fewer doorways, the gunman might have been neutralized, and the tragedy avoided. This had people all over social media mocking him for advocating "door control." Patrick also blamed legalized abortion, unarmed teachers (despite the fact that Santa Fe High School employed two armed guards), and the fact that "We threw God out of school." Again, none of these arguments is going to be wildly effective with younger voters. This is clearly a "rally the older voters" script.

Gun control is not the only issue where the GOP appears to be ignoring younger voters, and doing whatever it can to keep the older folks happy. There's also climate change. Broadly speaking, most younger Americans are worried that by the time they reach retirement age, the planet will be wrecked and Las Vegas will be oceanfront property. Many older folks are doing the ostrich routine and trying to deny that there's a problem. For years, climate-deniers—a faction that the GOP has an even greater monopoly on than gun zealots—have insisted that there is no warming. That fiction is getting harder to maintain; just this month the planet had its 400th consecutive month of warmer-than-average temperatures. That's a staggering 33 straight years; the odds of that happening by random chance are 3.87259 X 10E121. To put that large a number in some sort of context, 2E64 grains of rice would be enough to bury New York City to a depth of 20 feet, and 10E121 is considerably more than 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 times larger than 2E64. To put it another way, there's no way that 400 straight months could possibly be random chance.

Anyhow, now that global warming is all-but-undeniable, Republican partisans have moved on to excusing the phenomenon's effects as beyond the control of man. Sunspot activity is one popular explanation, another is "Earth's natural cycles." Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) proposed an interesting one this week: That ocean levels are rising because of all the rocks falling into them, particularly from the Cliffs of Dover. The Cliffs are 15 km and the coastline of the UK alone is 12,429 km, so that math doesn't quite add up. Of course, Brooks also insisted this week that the size of the Antarctic ice shelf is currently growing. That is 100% correct, if by "growing" you mean "shrinking." Clearly, facts are not Brooks' strong suit. And not only is he a duly-elected member of Congress, he's Vice-Chair of the Committee on Space, Science, and Technology.

In any case, polling strongly suggests that global warming denialism is a loser, long-term. Maybe even short-term. Among the members of the "silent" generation (born approx. 1925-45), only 40% think that humans cause global warming. With baby boomers (1945-65), that number jumps to 47%, with Generation X (1965-85) it's 53%, and with the Millennials (1985-2000s) it's 65%. And in all cases, the trendline is against the GOP—all of those percentages have been growing in recent years.

The only real question, then, is: When do we reach a tipping point? When does the GOP's older-voter-leaning stance on guns and on the environment harm them more than it helps them? In 2018, we may well get an answer to that question. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) has identified 10 swing districts where there are a large number of young voters (in most cases because the districts are home to one or more large universities). The 10 districts CIRCLE has highlighted are IA-01, MN-01, MN-03, MI-11, CO-06, MN-08, IL-06, NE-02, MN-02, and CA-39; their reasoning is explained at the link. If the GOP goes, say, 2-8 in those 10, then it suggests their messaging is going to need a major update, at risk of losing a generation of voters. And even if the Republicans manage to bat .500, that would not be a vindication of loving guns and denying climate change as much as it would be a "we bought a little time" result. Whether it's in 2018, or 2020, or 2022, the GOP is eventually going to have to evolve on these issues, or risk becoming a regional party like the Democrats of the late 19th century. (Z)

Tax-Law Supporters Are Helping Republicans

While the Democrats are counting on young people, minorities, and single women, the Republicans have some things going for them as well. In particular, business groups that benefited from the new tax law are going to bat for vulnerable Republicans who voted for it. Nearly all of them did, while not a single Democrat voted for it.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is already running ads in four congressional districts to help incumbent Republicans Barbara Comstock (VA), Erik Paulsen (MN), Don Bacon (NE), and Martha Roby (AL) for starters. The National Association of Manufacturers is highlighting testimonials from manufacturers who made investments or hired more workers after the law was passed. The Job Creators Network is running a bus tour focusing on how the law is helping small businesses. The group claims to be nonpartisan, but is thanking only House members who voted for the bill, and it just happens that all of them are Republicans.

These are smart moves on the part of these and other business groups because if the Democrats retake the House, they will almost certainly start tinkering with the tax law and attach the changes to some must-pass bill.

Not all business groups support the law, though. The Main Street Alliance, for example, represents progressive small business owners who think the law was skewed way too much in favor of large corporations rather than small companies. Frank Knapp Jr., the co-chair of the group also said that workers aren't seeing much of a benefit from it. (V)

Help Wanted--But Not if You Worked for the Trump Administration

18 months into Donald Trump's tenure, a pattern has become clear: Most of the people who have quit the Trump Administration (or have been fired) have had trouble landing the plum jobs that normally follow a stint in the White House. A few of them (Reince Priebus, Omarosa Manigault-Newman) have gone back to their old jobs in the private sector, and others have landed a book deal or TV gig (Sean Spicer, Sebastian Gorka). Few, however, have been propelled into the employment stratosphere—corporate executives/boards, high-profile lobbyists, partnerships at major law firms, etc.

What's the problem? A number of explanations present themselves:

  • Toxicity: This is the explanation that many candidates are hearing: Trump is so unpopular that firms don't want to risk a hit to their reputations. The case of George Sifakis, a former assistant to the President and director of the office of public liaison, is the exception that proves the rule. He did get a good job after exiting the White House (albeit with his wife's firm), and in the press release announcing his hiring, his employment with Trump was not mentioned (while his work with George W. Bush was).

  • Legality: A fair number of the folks who have left the White House have done so with serious legal issues in tow. Under the right (wrong?) circumstances, a new employer could find themselves enmeshed as well. There's also a risk that someone gets hired, only to have to leave to spend some time in the big house. And finally, someone who was willing to do illegal or unethical things once is very possibly willing to do them again. Yes, we are looking at you, Michael Flynn.

  • Supply and Demand: Generally, the number of former White House staffers available for hire is fairly limited, and so there's some prestige in landing them. With the Trump administration, however, there has been 49% turnover in the upper echelons, and a similar rate in the second- and third- tier positions. So, there is a large supply of former Trump employees, and at the same time less prestige in hiring any one of them.

  • Not Connected: One of the main reasons that former White House staffers tend to land plum jobs is that they are well-connected within Washington. That makes them excellent candidates for lobbying, either as an actual lobbyist, or as a lawyer who can call up his buddy Chief Justice Roberts to discuss an important case before the Court, or possibly a corporate VP who can chat about her company's needs over lunch with her good friend Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Trump ran an outsider campaign and hired a bunch of (mostly) outsider staffers. So, they don't have the connections that high-end employers covet.

  • Not Very Good: This is the explanation favored by Business Insider's Josh Barro. Generally, presidential administrations recruit, and land, candidates who were great before they ever set foot in the executive mansion. Trump promised that he, too, would have "the best people." However, his campaign repelled many of the most promising candidates, and his unwillingness to hire those who were critical of him during the campaign reduced the pool even more. Add in Trump's propensity for hiring friends, family members, and sycophants, and his team has been something considerably short of "the best people." If you start with a less-than-stellar person, and add in one or two of the liabilities listed above, then it's not surprising that employers have not come running with offers. It's worth mentioning that the folks who came to the administration with an actual record of accomplishment, and then departed, have been among the minority of ex-Trumpers to receive multiple offers of employment. Former economic adviser Gary Cohn, for example, has generated a lot of interest.

The administration has already had enormous difficulty hiring people, which is why more than 200 Senate-approved positions have no nominee, and many more hundreds of non-approved positions remain vacant. If potential candidates get wind of what is going to happen to their job prospects once "Trump White House" is on their resumé, it's going to get that much harder to fill all those vacant jobs. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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