• Russian National Charged with Trying to Interfere with Midterms
• Trump May Have Killed FBI Move to Protect His D.C. Hotel
• Today's Voter Suppression News
• Things Might Be Worse for the GOP than Polls Suggest
• Will There Be a Trump 2020?
• How About an O'Rourke 2020?
• Today's Senate Polls
It took just about a week for the Saudi Arabian government to figure out what everyone else has known since last Friday: Journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi is dead, and the Saudis were responsible. The news was broadcast on Saudi state TV, which—since it answers to the royal family—is tantamount to an admission from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the nation's de facto leader, and the man who undoubtedly ordered the hit.
It is clear, at this point, that the Saudis grossly misjudged the situation in thinking that they would get away with their crime. And now, under enormous pressure from other governments and from the royal family's business partners, they are trying to "fix" the situation as best they can. Saudi TV reported that the death occurred during a "fist fight," which presumably is supposed to make it better, along the lines of "Well, the interrogators were just defending themselves!" However, the audio recordings that have been released by the Turkish government don't exactly match up with that story, nor does the fact that Khashoggi's fingers and hands were cut off. As the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof puts it, "It [is] grotesque for the Saudi authorities to claim that a journalist whose fingers they reportedly amputated as part of their torture somehow managed to engage in a fistfight. Jamal had no fists left." On top of that, most folks who think they are about to be killed will try to fight back. So, this narrative, even if it has any truth to it, is hardly exculpatory. The Saudis also arrested 18 mid-level officials in their government, and promised that those individuals will be "investigated."
Donald Trump, who regards this entirely as a PR issue, and one that he would like to put in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible, had a predictably milquetoast response on Friday. He said that...wait for it...he believes the Saudis' explanation for what happened (just as he believed their denials, and the other explanations/conspiracy theories they've tried to spin). The President also described the arrests as "an important first step," and when asked if the United States would be pressing the matter, said only that, "We'll be talking to them. We do have some questions." In short, the Saudis committed a brutal crime against an American resident, lied to Trump's face about it, and now appear to be lying again (while also sweeping the whole thing under the rug).
With any other president, of course, all of these things would be huge problems. For Trump, not so much. Not only does he want to salvage the $20-$100 billion in arms sales to the Saudis, it's also the case that, in the end, they are speaking his language. He understands and respects lying in order to achieve your ends—he does it himself on a daily basis. And he also embraces the idea of using violent force against one's enemies; he publicly celebrated that fact as recently as Thursday night, at his Montana rally. While Trump himself has not ordered anyone killed (beyond the military operations in Syria), he clearly does not have a problem when others do it, particularly if their money's green.
As with every other stance the President takes, the base is quickly rallying behind him. GOP operatives are already conducting a whisper campaign meant to discredit Khashoggi as a secret terrorist and/or Osama bin Laden supporter. For example:
Huh. It's almost like reality is quite different than the evidence-free narratives peddled by media with a long history of cooperating with or getting duped by Iran echo chamber architects. https://t.co/olEV859jxv— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) October 12, 2018
That's actually a retweet from Donald Trump Jr., who is always happy to peddle conspiracy theories on his father's behalf. Needless to say, it is reprehensible to besmirch someone like this, particularly when they suffered such a horrible death, and as a martyr for free speech and freedom of the press.
At the same time, the evangelicals also appear to be falling in line. Pat Robertson, while scornfully noting that the religious beliefs of the Saudi royal family are "obnoxious," declared that the U.S. should probably not make a big deal over one dead person, given that there is $100 billion in cold, hard cash on the line here. His exact words: "[W]e've got an arms deal that everybody wanted a piece of...it'll be a lot of jobs, a lot of money come to our coffers. It's not something you want to blow up willy-nilly." In short, Robertson advises that Christians overlook an individual killing in favor of making large piles of money through the sale of the instruments of mass killing. The electoral-vote.com team of Biblical scholars is searching for the scripture that supports for that position, but somehow haven't quite managed to find it yet.
Democrats in Washington are outraged, of course, and many Republicans are also talking a good game. That includes, among others, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who isn't going to improve his chances of being the next AG with tweets like this one:
To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement. https://t.co/am4fraUL6H— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 19, 2018
That said, talk is cheap, and the next time that the GOP members of Congress actually hold Donald Trump's feet to the fire will be the first time. So, don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen. Of course, if the blue team regains one or both chambers in three weeks, it could be a whole new ballgame. Although since that is enough time for at least two more crises and three more scandals, not to mention about 400 hours of pro-Saudi spin, maybe poor Jamal Khashoggi will have receded from view by then. (Z)
Mohammad bin Salman wasn't the only autocrat whom Donald Trump allows to (literally) get away with murder to be in the news Friday. Russian President Vladimir Putin bubbled back up to the surface, albeit in a supporting role, as the Justice Dept. charged Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova with conspiracy to defraud the United States. The indictments claim that for both the 2016 and 2018 elections, she oversaw the Russian troll operation, including the notorious Internet Research Agency, that unleashed vast amounts of propaganda in the U.S, particularly via social media and other electronic means. The monthly budget she allegedly had at her disposal exceeded $2 million, which is a lot of rubles.
Inasmuch as Khusyaynova is a Russian citizen who lives in St. Petersburg, she's not going to be brought to trial anytime soon (or ever, unless she does something very foolish, like try to visit Disney World). The news, then, really has three implications: (1) Special counsel Robert Mueller is clearly still very busy, since his office was primarily responsible for the indictment; (2) Try as he might, Donald Trump is not able to bend the Justice Dept. to his will; and (3) The evidence becomes more overwhelming on a daily basis that the Russians gave him a major assist in 2016, and are trying hard to do it again this year. At this point, in fact, the only folks who do not believe that are the ones who will never accept it, because they simply do not want to do so, and they've "learned" over the past decade or two (or three) that things like "facts" and "evidence" don't really matter. (Z)
This item is itself a little conspiratorial, actually, although it's supported with a fair bit of evidence, such that it's being reported by all the major media outlets. So, we're going to go with it. Anyhow, the FBI has been planning for nearly a decade to relocate its headquarters from Washington to either Maryland or Virginia. The current building, which has been in service for almost half a century, is in a state of disrepair, is too small for the number of personnel it serves, and is not properly secure. Now, however, it appears they may stay put, with Donald Trump potentially playing a significant role in that decision.
All of the facts in the previous paragraph are not in dispute. The things that are in dispute are: (1) Exactly how much of a role did Trump play?, and (2) What were his motivations? The White House says that Trump played a small role, and that his only goal was to save the government money. The General Services Administration, which has responsibility for building and maintaining government facilities like this, offered some support for the first claim, telling reporters that the decision was primarily made by FBI pooh-bahs. GSA had no comment on the second claim, though.
Congressional Democrats have a very different interpretation. They argue that Trump clearly played a much larger role than he claims, pointing to two meetings on the subject that he attended, after which all participants were ordered to be silent about what was said. That latter detail smells a bit fishy to the members of the blue team. They also believe that his real motivation is to stop the land where the FBI HQ sits from being sold to private companies for development. Indeed, the possibility of doing just that was proposed a decade ago by a prominent real estate developer, when plans to move the facility first got underway. That developer, of course, was one Donald J. Trump. Why should he oppose a plan he once lobbied for, just because he's now president? Well, say the Democrats, any private development on that land would compete with the businesses already in the area. For example, it might take some business from the luxury hotel right across the street from FBI headquarters—Trump International Hotel, Washington, D.C.
Time will tell what happens, and whether or not anything beyond circumstantial evidence can be found to bolster the Democrats' claims. For now, this appears to be just another item for their to do lists if and when they retake the House and/or Senate. (Z)
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) badly wants to be governor, by hook or by crook. And since 'hook' apparently isn't working, he seems to have embraced 'crook.' Georgia state law allows the Secretary's office to reject any absentee ballots where election officials believe that the signature on the ballot does not match the signature on the voter's application paperwork. Laws like this are, to use the scientific term, "stupid." To show why, let's do a little demonstration. The most forged signature of all is that of the King, Elvis Presley. Here is a collection of eight Elvis signatures we put together; take a look and try to determine how many of them are fakes:
In fact, seven of them are his, and the only phony one is the one in the lower-right hand corner. Anyone who claims they figured it out—particularly with the level of certainty needed to justify taking away someone's vote—is, to use the scientific term, "full of it." Separating real signatures from phonies is very hard, even for professionals. Professionals who, by the way, would never reach a conclusion based on only two specimens (five is generally considered the minimum necessary).
In short, then, the Georgia law has no purpose except to provide cover for tossing "unfriendly" ballots. Especially since the law also says that election officials do not need to notify those people whose ballots are rejected, nor does it provide any means of challenging a "non-matching signature" finding. And Kemp's staff have been making rather liberal use of the law, having already tossed 600 ballots in the garbage. The county that is hardest hit is Gwinnett County, which just so happens to be the most diverse county in the Peach State. The ACLU is suing, but with 19 days left until the elections, time is rather short for a lawsuit to be resolved. And even if it is, 600 ballots (and counting) are already gone.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Native American activists are fighting back against a similar kind of chicanery. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court gave its assent to a North Dakota law requiring the state's voters to bring proof of a valid residential address to the polls. Since Natives live on reservations, many of them do not have clear-cut residential addresses that can be "proven" with a gas bill or a driver's license. It would not be unusual, for example, for mail sent to a reservation resident to have an address along the lines of "Route 43, mile marker 17." Since native voters are expected to break heavily in Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's (D-ND) favor, the law absolutely has the potential to cost her a chance at reelection.
To fight the law, and the ruling, North Dakota's natives are being encouraged to contact their local 911 coordinator, who can give them paperwork that will satisfy the new rules. Beyond that, however, tribal leaders are partnering with political scientists at Claremont Graduate University to draw up detailed maps of the state's reservations, along with "address" markers. The plan is to have copies of the maps at each polling station where Natives might vote, along with an on-site tribal representative. The voter can identify their place of residence, the representative can issue confirmation paperwork on the spot, and thus will the law be satisfied. Those involved think this model might be workable, in some fashion, to protect the voting rights of other groups who might be disenfranchised by voter ID laws and other maneuvers that have been used to deprive people of their right to vote since the Supreme Court rolled back the Voting Rights Act in 2013. (Z)
Nate Silver has another interesting piece up today. Yesterday's was about the gubernatorial races, while this one is about fundraising for House races. As everyone who has been following this aspect of the 2018 campaign knows, Democrats are absolutely crushing their Republicans counterparts when it comes to bringing in the bucks. And it's not just the Beto O'Rourkes of the world; the river is as wide as it is deep. A total of 144 Democrats have raised at least $1 million in individual contributions, not counting self-funding or outside money, and 73 of those have raised $2 million. That compares to 84 and 17 Republicans in the two categories.
This kind of fundraising disparity has no precedent; no party has gone into a midterm (at least, not recently) with so many boatloads of cash. And inasmuch as pollsters rely, in part, on past trends to project future results, it introduces some uncertainty into predictions for what is going to happen next month. Or, to use Silver's headline "The Democrats' Unprecedented Fundraising Edge Is Scary For Republicans...And Our Model."
There is also something else that Silver doesn't mention, but that bears pointing out. If a pollster predicts that the Democrats will flip, say, 60 seats and the actual number is 40, then they may be held up for ridicule as a Pollyanna and a partisan hack. If they predict 40 and the actual number is 60, however, then the narrative is much more bland, something along the lines of, "The wave was even bigger than we foresaw." Point is: There is much motivation and much pressure to be a tad bit conservative when making projections. The same, of course, would be true in a potential GOP wave year.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post's right-leaning but Trump-hating Jennifer Rubin has written a piece that might not normally be paired with Silver's, but that is getting at a similar thing in a different way. She points out that we should take note of what the GOP is NOT running on right now. Although hatred for Obamacare was a Republican cornerstone for at least three cycles, there's nary a peep on the subject anymore, and indeed many GOP office-seekers are sounding positively left-wing on the matter. Similarly, the tax cuts proved to be a non-winner, and so are rarely mentioned by Republicans on the stump. And finally, there is virtually no crowing about Brett Kavanaugh, despite that victory being very fresh in citizens' minds. It's almost as if candidates are worried that his name could backfire with, say, women voters. In short, then, three of the GOP's biggest "planks" have landed with a thud this year, and have largely dropped out of view. And if the politicians don't have anything much to run on, that could prove fatal come voting time.
Mind you, none of this is to suggest that a secret blue tsunami is on the horizon. It's more along the lines of what happened in 2016, when a few clues of Donald Trump's surprise upset victory got missed by pollsters and pundits (like, for example, the paucity of Midwestern polls after James Comey's bombshell). These things are the same kind of clues, subtle indicators that just may prove to be very meaningful, indeed. (Z)
As Donald Trump has warmed up to his White House gig, and held Trump 2020 rallies, and raised $100 million plus for his reelection campaign, everyone has taken it as a given that his second run is a go (barring, of course, a disastrous legal setback, or major health problems, or a collapsed economy). Joe Scarborough, who is certainly no Trump fan, but who knows politics, is not so sure. "He didn't want to be elected president," the "Morning Joe" host told late-night host Stephen Colbert. "He didn't think he was going to be elected president. He didn't even think he was going to get the Republican nomination. He's going to cash out."
There is a certain logic here. While Trump apparently does not hate the job as much as he once did, there is no real indication that he likes it (particularly that he likes it more than being a businessman). And the stresses and frustrations of the job are just going to get worse, particularly if the Democrats regain at least one chamber of Congress and/or Robert Mueller comes up with something (or many things) that are damning. He's already down to just two or three trusted associates in the White House, and that number is likely to shrink even further, particularly if the hot water that Jared Kushner is in reaches the boiling point. Plus, Trump will be 74 in 2020, and is not exactly the picture of health. Does he really want to try to hang on to the job until he's almost 80?
The counterargument here is that someone who is going to throw in the towel in 2020 would not be doing all of these rallies, and all of this fundraising. But that actually might not be much of a counterargument. No other president holds rallies and campaign events like this so early in their term (because it's tiring, and a little tacky, and risks burning voters out), and no other president has attempted to raise this kind of money so early in (because that sucks up funds that might otherwise go to midterm candidates who are in need). The fact that Trump has run such a different playbook is a product of the fact that his motivations are different. He does the rallies because they are his favorite part of the job, and he collects the money because he interprets it as a sign of success and popularity. In other words, even if he knows right now, in his heart, that he's actually a one-termer, he would almost certainly still be doing these things.
And speaking of a one-termer, that might be the biggest issue of all for Trump. If he loses in 2020, especially in overwhelming fashion, it will gnaw at him for the rest of his days. On the other hand, if he departs voluntarily, he can declare, "Well, I made America great again, I reinvented the Republican party, I left Mike Pence/Ted Cruz/Paul Ryan/Nikki Haley with a $200 million war chest, and I did it all in one term. I am the greatest GOP president ever. Take that, Lincoln." Much of that will be wild spin, but it's wild spin that he can hug close for the rest of his life. So, Scarborough may be on to something here. (Z)
Meanwhile, as Joe Scarborough speculates that Donald Trump won't be running in 2020, the New Republic's Alex Shephard thinks that Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) is already running. And not merely that O'Rourke is likely to throw his hat in the ring, but that the Congressman has already accepted that he's not going to beat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and so has changed his campaign to make it much more suited to national Democrats than to Texas Democrats.
The argument here essentially has two parts. The first is that, as Cruz has recovered in the polls, O'Rourke has taken a pretty sharp leftward turn. For example, he's defended kneeling football players, and he's said he would vote to impeach Donald Trump. Neither of those things is particularly popular in Texas, but they are exactly what Democrats in blue states want to hear. The second part is that O'Rourke has been spending an increasingly large amount of time on national and international issues, rather than local ones. The obvious example here is global warming, which O'Rourke has hammered on endlessly in the last month. That's not an issue that folks in an oil-producing state put at the top of their wish lists, but it is a crucial one to Democrats in California, New York, Massachusetts, etc.
Shephard doesn't note it, but O'Rourke's fundraising efforts in Q3 would also seem to jibe with this interpretation. He's raised more money than he can really usefully spend, and he's done it by reaching far beyond Texas' borders, and collecting from left-leaning folks across the country. That kind of donor list won't help too much if O'Rourke decides to take another shot at the Senate and challenge John Cornyn (R) in 2020, but it will be quite useful for a national campaign.
The upshot is that if and when O'Rourke loses, it surely won't be the last we hear of him. And if he does somehow claim the nomination in 2020, it will be another example of a presidential candidate who was not even on the radar when the previous election took place (as was the case with Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and John F. Kennedy, among others). So, never put too much stock in it when the members of a losing party say, "But our presidential bench is so thin!" right after an unsuccessful presidential election. (Z)
Today's polls don't tell us much. It's hard to believe that two different pollsters spent time and money on a race that was really over before it started. And as to Nevada, that one yo-yos so much that we're just not going to know until the ballots are counted. (Z)
|State||Democrat||D %||Republican||R %||Start||End||Pollster|
|Maine||Angus King*||41%||Eric Brakey||27%||Oct 08||Oct 16||Critical Insights|
|Maine||Angus King*||57%||Eric Brakey||30%||Oct 01||Oct 07||Pan Atlantic SMS|
|Nevada||Jacky Rosen||48%||Dean Heller*||46%||Oct 15||Oct 16||PPP|
* Denotes incumbent
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct19 November Looks to Be Mueller Time
Oct19 There's Pretty Much Nothing Trump Won't Say
Oct19 There's Not Much That's Off Limits for McConnell, Either
Oct19 Many Bernie 2016 Staffers Not So Sure about 2020
Oct19 Governors' Mansions: The Beacons of Democracy?
Oct19 Double Whammy for Rick Scott
Oct19 Today's Senate Polls
Oct18 Saudi Situation Is Not Improving for Trump
Oct18 McGahn's Officially McGone
Oct18 Republicans Are Starting to Pretend They Are Democrats
Oct18 O'Rourke Attacks Cruz in New Ads
Oct18 Texas Senate Debate Is a Tie, O'Rourke Loses
Oct18 Cruz-Trump Rally Scheduled for Next Week
Oct18 Kamala Harris Jockeys For Position
Oct18 Today's Senate Polls
Oct17 Trends That Excite and Depress Democrats
Oct17 It's Going to Be a Rough Few Weeks for Trump, Americans
Oct17 Democrats and Republicans Are Angry about Warren's DNA Test
Oct17 Julian Castro Pre-Announces 2020 Presidential Run
Oct17 Pat Cipollone Will Soon Replace Don McGahn as White House Counsel
Oct17 Republicans Are Focusing on Mike Espy's Long-Ago Indictments
Oct17 No Court Shenanigans in Florida
Oct17 Today's Senate Polls
Oct16 Trump Stumbles Through Saudi Fiasco
Oct16 Takeaways from Donald Trump's "60 Minutes" Interview
Oct16 Trump Doubles Down on Climate Change Denial
Oct16 Budget Deficit Explodes
Oct16 Judge Dismisses Stormy Daniels Defamation Lawsuit
Oct16 Trump Has $106 Million in the Bank
Oct16 Elizabeth Warren Proves Native Descent
Oct16 Today's Senate Polls
Oct15 Trump, Saudi Arabia Dance
Oct15 Trump Says He Is in the Dark about Mattis' Future
Oct15 Richard Neal Wants Trump's Tax Returns
Oct15 Trump Seems to Be Having a Trickle-Down Effect
Oct15 Democrats Worried about Latino Turnout
Oct15 Overall Democratic Enthusiasm is Up, Up, Up
Oct15 Two More Forecasters Foresee a Democratic House
Oct14 Trump Issues Warning to Saudis
Oct14 Zinke's Official Calendar Is a Work of Fiction
Oct14 Kushner Basically Doesn't Pay Taxes
Oct14 A Week of High-Profile GOP Defections
Oct14 This Week's Senate News
Oct14 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Bernie Sanders
Oct13 Family Separations May Soon Begin Again
Oct13 Today's Voter Suppression News, Part I
Oct13 Today's Voter Suppression News, Part II
Oct13 Trump Kills Blue-Slip Protocol
Oct13 Trump Praises Robert E. Lee