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GOP 52
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American Politics Almost Turns Explosive

On Monday, a bomb was sent to billionaire and Democratic benefactor George Soros. It turns out that was just the amuse bouche, though, because on Tuesday a bomb was sent to Hillary Clinton. And it turns out that was just the appetizer, because on Wednesday bombs were sent to Barack Obama, CNN's New York offices, Reps. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Eric Holder, and former CIA Director John Brennan. Fortunately, the perpetrator was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, because some of the packages were mis-addressed, and the rest had little chance of reaching their intended targets. In the end, all were intercepted, and none actually blew up.

Perhaps you will notice that the folks in the list above have something in common. Just in case you don't see it, though, we'll give you some hints, in the order listed:

In short, it's pretty much a "greatest hits" of Donald Trump's favorite targets at rallies, in interviews, and on Twitter. In fact, other than Soros and Holder, each of these has been on the receiving end of at least a dozen nasty tweets. On top of that, of course, the President has regularly spoken of how much he approves of violence against his opponents, including as recently as last week, at his rally in Montana. So, even though he had nothing to do with the bombs themselves, Trump bears a substantial amount of culpability here. This is an entirely foreseeable outcome when someone who has the bully pulpit of the presidency at their disposal utilizes it so carelessly and so negatively. It becomes even more inevitable when the president who crosses that line inspires near-cultlike devotion in some of his followers.

So, how did the President—who was already scheduled to make a public appearance on Wednesday, at a rally in Wisconsin—respond to the day's developments? He called for unity:

We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony. We can do it. We can do it. It'll happen. Those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as being morally defective. The language of moral condemnation and destructive routines, these are arguments and disagreements that have to stop.

It is exactly the right response, but from exactly the wrong guy. Were those words uttered by Barack Obama, or George W. Bush, or any of the dozen fellows who held the presidency before them, they would have carried some weight. But with Trump saying them, without in any way acknowledging his own responsibility here, they are rather empty. Certainly, that is how Democratic leadership felt after hearing what he had to say. For example, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a joint statement that read, in part: "Time and time again, the President has condoned physical violence and divided Americans with his words and his actions. President Trump's words ring hollow until he reverses his statements that condone acts of violence." CNN president Jeff Zucker was also unimpressed, and he also issued a statement, one that said: "The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that."

So, Trump's response was to refuse to accept blame. That, as we pointed out just yesterday, might be his most fundamental principle of them all. Still, it was better that the numerous folks who tried to excuse the president by pointing the finger guessed it, the Democrats. One "theory" is that the bombs were the work of a rogue Democrat. That is the favored explanation of Rush Limbaugh, who said, "Republicans just don't do this kind of thing." Perhaps someone should tell him about Timothy McVeigh. The other "theory" is that this whole thing was a false flag, that there were never any bombs, and this was a giant plot to engender sympathy for the blue team before the elections. That's the preferred explanation for Wayne Allyn Root, Ann Coulter, Michael Flynn Jr., the Brietbart crowd, and many others.

In the end, with this many un-exploded bombs, the FBI will have many clues to work with, and are likely to find the culprit. So, we shall presumably learn what their politics are. Meanwhile, if Trump doesn't get serious about the sentiments he expressed on Wednesday night, then this is sure to happen again, and maybe the next time someone actually gets hurt. (Z)

When Trump Calls His Friends, the Phone Rings in Russia and China, Too

Everybody knows that Donald Trump loves his cell phone, and his chit-chats with friendly folks in the media (Sean Hannity, etc.), and supportive senators (Lindsey Graham, etc.), and billionaires who now have to genuflect before him (Robert Kraft, etc.). Meanwhile those who follow things a little more closely know that he does not adhere to proper procedure when it comes to keeping his phones secure (Barack Obama turned his over to the FBI once a month to be looked over; Trump does it every four or five or six months). These things being the case, Wednesday's news is hardly a surprise: According to the New York Times, the Russian and Chinese governments regularly listen in to the President's cell phone calls.

It is remarkable that Trump does not seem to care about this. In terms of his official duties, it's entirely possible that one of those nations or the other might lay hands on valuable intel that he happens to share while they are listening. Further, they could use (and, in fact, the Chinese already are using) their "insider" information to gain the upper hand in trade and diplomatic negotiations. And on a personal level, surely Trump must occasionally say impolitic things to Hannity or Kraft or Don Jr. or whomever about pu**y grabbing, or how "uppity" Barack Obama is, or the like. If Russia and China can listen, they can also record, and the Donald could be gift-wrapping them some juicy kompromat (on top of whatever they might already have). Those two nations might literally be the best in the world at blackmail, and allowing oneself to fall into their clutches seems like madness. On the other hand, maybe that ship has already sailed, which would certainly explain a lot. (Z)

Takeaways from the Georgia Gubernatorial Debate

Georgia gubernatorial hopefuls Stacey Abrams (D), Brian Kemp (R), and Ted Metz (L) faced off in a nasty televised debate on Tuesday. It was so heated that a fire alarm went off in the middle and the debate had to be paused to let the candidates and the venue cool off. Ok, maybe that was just a coincidence, because part two was as heated as part one, and the alarm did not go off again.

The Hill has put together a list of five takeways about the debate, as follows:

  • Abrams really lit into Secretary of State Kemp for his full-bore voter suppression aimed at blacks
  • Kemp falsely accused Abrams of wanting to allow undocumented immigrants to vote
  • The candidates battled furiously over Abrams' proposed expansion of Medicaid in Georgia
  • Kemp hit Abrams for deferring her tax payments when she needed the money for her father's cancer treatment
  • Abrams emphasized bipartisanship; Kemp played only to his base

In general, Kemp acted like a mini-Trump and accused Abrams of being more liberal than a Californian. The goal, of course, is not to sway any undecided voters (assuming there are any left), but to scare his base into showing up at the polls. Republicans all over the country are trying this strategy. We will know in two weeks if it works.

Abrams would like to become the nation's first black female governor, and polls show that she has a shot at it. It would take a massive turnout by black voters and affluent suburban Democrats for her to pull it off, but although the odds are against her in still-red Georgia, she could pull off an upset win if a blue tsunami emerges on Nov. 6. It is also worth noting that if the race is very, very close, and the Libertarian Metz somehow grabs enough votes to keep either candidate from crossing the 50% threshold, then it would head to a runoff on Dec. 4. In any case, because Georgia is in the east and polls close at 7:00 p.m. ET, this will be one of the first contests (along with the four Virginia House races we mentioned yesterday) that everyone looks to on election night for clues as to which way the wind is blowing. (V)

Rick Scott against the Pollsters

While hurricanes are a disaster for the people affected, they can sometimes be a blessing in disguise to governors who are seen as take-charge guys and are all over the place coordinating relief efforts. When Hurricane Michael hit Florida, Gov. Rick Scott suspended his campaign and spent 24/7 going for photo-ops showing how he was trying to help the affected region. It didn't fool anyone, and Scott is mad as hell. Three consecutive nonpartisan polls have shown him trailing Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). First, CNN had him down by 5 points. Then, Quinnipiac University had him down by 6. Finally, SurveyUSA had him 8 points under water. All three are experienced and respected pollsters.

Scott immediately swung into action and announced he was 5 points ahead. His memo said of the pollsters: "So after the election, will they release an apology or retraction of some sort?" That's not exactly a denial, but suggests that Scott is running scared because the hurricane didn't work to his advantage, as he had hoped. On the other hand, Florida elections are normally won by razor-thin margins, so these three polls have to be considered unusual. Maybe Scott will get the last laugh, though. After these three polls were out, a Democratic firm, SEA, had him ahead by 2 points. Our view, as usual, is that the three key factors are turnout, turnout, and turnout. If everyone in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties votes, Nelson wins, but if everyone in Republican-leaning The Villages development does, Scott wins. If both groups do, anything is possible. (V)

The Races That Will Determine The Democrats' 2020 Strategy

We have pointed out many times that the Democrats face a fork in the road in 2020. They can try to win back the angry, resentful white working-class men in the Midwest who used to be their base or they can forget them and bet the farm on suburban college graduates, minorities, single women, and millennials. Politico has compiled a list of 2018 races that could tell the Democrats which way to go. Here is a summary:

  • Florida, Georgia, and Texas: Probably the three most important contests are those pitting Andrew Gillum, Stacey Abrams, and Beto O'Rourke against Republicans in the red(dish) states of Florida, Georgia, and Texas, respectively. The former two are running for governor while O'Rourke is running for the Senate. All are outspoken liberals running in places where liberals always lose. If one or more win, it is going to upset the applecart and give momentum to progressive presidential candidates in 2020 who are willing to abandon the Midwest and focus on rebuilding the Obama coalition in order to win Florida, North Carolina, and maybe even Georgia. If the trio all go down to defeat, however, the Blue Dogs will say: "Forget the pipe dreams and let's win back the Midwest on bread-and-butter issues like jobs and wages.

  • Single-payer health insurance: Progressive Democrats are increasingly flocking to the idea of scrapping the entire U.S. health-care system as beyond repair and moving to Canada's single-payer system. It would cover everyone and eliminate a vast amount of useless bureaucracy and red tape. It would also require raising taxes to pay for it. No one doubts that this idea will be a big hit in Berkeley, Cambridge, and Ann Arbor. But will it play in Peoria? House races in red districts could provide the answer, as there are Democrats in three Republican districts who are pushing single payer very hard. They are Kara Eastman (NE-02, PVI R+4), Randy Bryce (WI-01, PVI R+5), and Joe Radinovich (MN-08, PVI R+4). If these three can pull it off, expect to see Democrats run on single payer in 2020 and expect candidates who support it to get a leg up on their more conservative primary opponents.

  • Parkland and Guns: There hasn't been a mass shooting at a school in over 8 months now, allowing our thoughts and prayers to be stockpiled for the next one. Consequently, gun control has moved to the back burner in most races. One exception is Lucy McBath, whose teenage son was murdered by a white man who didn't like the rap music coming from his car. She decided to turn her grief into activism and is running for Congress as a Democrat in GA-06, an R+8 district that Jon Ossoff lost despite pulling in more money than any House candidate in history. McBath, not surprisingly, is putting gun control front and center. If she wins in a fairly red district, it is going to make 2020 Democrats much less afraid to take on the NRA in 2020.

  • Trumping the racist card: Never before have so many people of color run in white districts. The Republican response in many of them has been to run racist ads, some subtle, some not so subtle, trying to instill fear in the Republican base (more below). In CA-50, Ammar Campa-Najjar has been attacked as the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood. In NJ-03, Andy Kim, a Korean American has seen printed ads against him with his name in a font called "Chop Suey," which has been used to attack Asians since the days of the "Yellow Peril." Probably the Democrat who has been hit the hardest with a racist barrage is Antonio Delgado, who is black, in NY-19. The attack ads show a liquor store with a sign reading: "We accept food stamps." If these candidates win, it will show the limits of racism and will encourage minority candidates in 2020.

  • The Hippie Puncher: Some Democrats are running as Republican-lite. One of these is Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN). Guess who ran an ad saying: "Socialists want health care to be taken over by the government!"? If you guessed Donnelly, you nailed it. The rest of his ads have a similar tone and message. In a state as red as Indiana, it might work. But if it doesn't, a lot of progressive Democrats are going to be saying: "Pretending you are a Republican never works. Forget it and run as an actual Democrat."

  • The Trump Voter In WV-03, a district Trump won by almost 50 points, Richard Ojeda (D) is running even, despite being a fiery populist, supporting unions, and encouraging the state's teachers to strike for better wages. He once said: "Trump hasn't done sh*t." In other words, he is going after Trump for failing to improve people's lives. The message here is: "Forget the ideology and pesonality. Is your life any better under Trump?" If that line works, it will be adopted elsewhere.

So, these are the races to watch to get an idea of how the 2020 Democratic primaries might go. (V)

Oprah Is Running for President...on Facebook

Although some Democrats are very interested in Oprah Winfrey as their 2020 candidate, seeing her as sort of the yin to Donald Trump's yang, she has said she is not interested. And her non-interest was not the sort of mealy-mouthed stuff we hear from people who actually want to run, and just don't want to say it yet. No, it was definitely the full Sherman.

Still, there are corners of Facebook where, if you didn't know better, you would think she is not only interested, but she's already thrown her hat into the ring. The NRCC is running this ad on the pages frequented by right-leaning voters, particularly men, and particularly people from Texas and Florida:

Trump or Oprah

Undoubtedly, the NRCC knows that Oprah gets conservatives' blood boiling, trailing only Beyoncé, Lena Dunham, and Eva Longoria in terms of her unpopularity. That's four women, three of them women of color, that modern Republicans really despise. Perhaps that's just a coincidence. In any case, the NRCC has spent six figures making sure the above ad was seen by more than 7 million people. Its purpose does not appear to be to influence the midterms, though, as much as it is to collect e-mail addresses and other contact info from Trump supporters in preparation for the 2020 campaign. (Z)

Thursday Q & A

Time for the second round of our new feature:

Though I understand that each and every U.S. Senate seat comes up for election every 6 years, I've often wondered why some Senate seats come up in certain years while others come up in other years. More to the point, why do we have this particular bunch of Senate seats in Republican-friendly areas coming up this year? It seems so random/arbitrary, so I wonder if there's any inherent logic to the sequencing of Senate elections, or whether it's just dumb luck? J.T.B, New York, NY

There's actually quite a bit of dumb luck to it. The Constitution decrees, of course, that the Senate seats have to rotate in this fashion, but the first group of senators was elected all at the same time. In order to create the proper rotation, the 20 Senators who were there for the first day of business under the Constitution (NC and RI had not signed on yet, and NY had not yet chosen its senators) drew lots. The men who drew I's all of a sudden found their terms reduced to two years (as the members of Class I). The II's got a four-year term, and the III's got to serve their full term. The only rule, as lots were drawn, was that each state's Senate seats had to be in two different classes. And since then, every time a new state joins the union (and Congress), they do a coin flip to determine which class each of the two new senators will each be placed in.

That said, the situation we see this year is not entirely random. Any seat that is up in a midterm year was, by definition, last up in a presidential year (and vice-versa). That means the last time this class (which happens to be Class I) was up was during Barack Obama's reelection year, in 2012. He had a pretty good run that year, as you will recall, which means he had some pretty long coattails. That means that the Senators elected that year tended to be (1) solid Republicans who are impervious to the presidential vote, (2) solid Democrats who are impervious to the presidential vote, and (3) Democrats who barely got pulled across the finish line by Obama's coattails. And so that somewhat sets up the dynamic we see this year: A bunch of Democrats who are safe, a bunch of Republicans who couldn't even be knocked off with Obama's coattails (much less without them), and a bunch of Democrats who are praying that incumbency will be enough to make up for the lack of Barack.

You compared Joe Biden to LBJ, Webster and Clay in Sunday's post, and I think that's fair, but why has Biden never been the Democratic Majority/Minority Leader in the Upper Chamber? He's been around for 36 years, and that's quite a lot of seniority (but not as much as the late Robert Byrd, of course), so was it a matter of personality, a lack of influence inside the caucus, or something else? E.K., France

Well, there isn't a lot of correlation between seniority and serving in one of the positions of party leadership. Plenty of long-serving senators never followed that path, including Daniel Inouye (49 years), Pat Leahy (43 years and counting), Carl Hayden (41 years), and Ernest Hollings (38 years). Among the reasons that leadership isn't for everyone: It's a lot of politicking and bootlicking, (today) it involves a lot of fundraising, and often there is more power in being chair of a powerful committee (say, Judiciary) than there is in being in the #2 position or #3 position in the leadership (whip, and chair of the party's conference, respectively) with no guarantee of getting the top spot. Only Biden knows for sure, but he was both popular and influential with his colleagues, so it wasn't anything personal.

Kavanaugh was sworn in, and there was nothing SCOTUS could do about it. But now, can the other members of SCOTUS give him the cold shoulder? Refuse to participate with him while fulfilling the letter of the law by allowing him to vote? J.C., China

Is this legal? Yes, it is. 100 years ago, this kind of behavior was actually pretty commonplace, as some of the justices absolutely despised each other, and did everything they could to act on that instinct. We noted recently, for example, that James Clark McReynolds was such a vicious anti-Semite that he wouldn't even speak to his fellow justices who were Jewish. Similarly, when Confederate veteran L. Q. C. Lamar was appointed by Grover Cleveland, quite a few of his colleagues were none too friendly. That particularly included John Marshall Harlan, who had a half-black brother, and who is famous as the only justice to dissent from Plessy v. Ferguson. In other words, they didn't quite see eye-to-eye on matters related to race.

But while the cold shoulder is possible, it's not probable. First, because Chief Justice John Roberts would likely step in and try to mediate. Second, because the current justices pride themselves on being collegial. So, Kavanaugh will likely be welcomed, even if some of the justices have unspoken reservations about him.

Could you explain the reasoning behind the "Justice Dept. guidelines that instruct employees not to make major announcements in the 60 days before an election."? Assuming the announcement was not speculation (Comey notwithstanding) wouldn't that information be important to voters before they cast a ballot? R.G., Spring Branch, TX

To start, the federal government in general is very restrictive about letting members of the bureaucracy use their official positions to help politicians get elected. And rather than create a situation where each individual act has to be evaluated and reviewed, they just ban it all, so there's no need for judgment calls. The Justice Dept. ban is, in part, a product of that general tendency.

On top of that however, the Department also has a special need and desire to protect their reputation as being "above politics." As we saw with Comey, what one side sees as relevant and non-speculative is often perceived by the other side as unnecessary and unethical to share. There are certainly some things the Bureau would announce within the 60 days (say, if a candidate was charged with murder), and Comey felt he was dealing with one of those exceptions. But he probably made the wrong call, and the Justice Dept.'s reputation suffered as a result. That means that, in the future, directors will be even more cautious than they already are.

If gerrymandering creates few blue districts with Democrats packed inside and many red districts with a thin majority of Republicans, doesn't that work against the Republicans this year? It should be possible to flip a lot of those districts. S.E., Hartsdale, NY

You've basically got the right of it. Given the ebbs and flows of politics, gerrymanderers usually give their party a little breathing room (but not a lot). This is a big part of the reason why an extra 2% or 3% of Democratic turnout could be the difference between the GOP keeping the house and the Democrats flipping it with room to spare.

What's with the "DFL" for Minnesota Democrats? D.S., Seattle, WA

You might not think it today, but there was a time when the states of the upper midwest were hotbeds of left-wing politics. And not just Barack Obama left-wing or even Elizabeth Warren left-wing, but some pretty serious radicalism, including dabbling with socialism, communism, and anarchism. Milwaukee, WI remains the largest American city ever to elect a socialist mayor, and they did it three times.

Anyhow, the most successful left-wing party in Minnesota was the Farmer-Laborer Party, which elected a gaggle of senators, representatives, and governors in the 1920s and 1930s. However, with the advent of World War II, the state's appetite for leftist politics faded a bit, and both they and the Democrats started losing winnable elections to Republicans. Under the leadership of up-and-coming young politician Hubert H. Humphrey, the two factions united in 1944 as a single party. However, the Farmer-Laborers still had enough clout to insist that it be a merger, rather than a hostile takeover. Hence the official name of the Democratic organ in the North Star State is the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. You didn't ask, but the only other state where it's not just called the "Democratic Party," is North Dakota. There, the official name is the North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party. The GOP has no equivalents, all of their state organs are (STATE) Republican Party or (STATE) Republican State Committee.

Is George Washington overrated? O.V.B., Los Angeles, CA

That's somewhat non-specific, making it a bit hard to know what aspect of his career you're asking about. But, let's give it a go. Washington's fame primarily rests on three things: (1) He risked his life and his fortune (as, very probably, the richest man in America) to support independence; (2) He led the Colonial Army to victory in the Revolutionary War; and (3) He was the first president. We will go one by one.

As to #1, there is no question that he took a great risk in throwing his lot in with the rebels (and he was fairly late in being won over to the cause). He could have lost all of his considerable wealth (and, indeed, a few of his compatriots did). Further, as the commander of the rebel army, he most certainly would have been executed if captured. So, he gambled heavily and, since the U.S. achieved independence, came out a winner. Not much to criticize here.

As to #2, it is his career as military officer and general that people generally refer to when they say Washington was overrated. It is true that Washington's skills as a tactical commander (that is to say, using troops to win battles) were never better than fair, and were much worse than that for much of his career. However, when one is general-in-chief, one's real job is strategy (that is to say, using battles to win wars). And Washington was an exceptional strategic commander. He understood that, beyond the occasional morale-boosting victory (like his post-Christmas sneak attack on Trenton), it was far more important to keep his army in the field than it was to triumph over the British in any particular engagement. So, that was always his priority, even if it meant things like giving up New York to the enemy (which did not make the New Yorkers happy). Put another way, he won the war through skill and guile, and not through dumb luck. Nothing overrated here.

As to #3, Washington took the barest outlines for the executive branch and turned those into a functioning and effective bureaucracy, setting all manner of customs and precedents, large and small, that linger to the present day (from having a cabinet, to calling the chief executive "Mr. President," to leaving office after two terms). He also used his considerable prestige to give Americans confidence in their new government when otherwise such confidence might have been wanting. George was not a perfect president, of course, and we will never know how another man might have fared under the same circumstances, since none of his successors faced a challenge anything like the one he faced. Nonetheless, his high ranking among presidents is surely well deserved.

In conclusion, then, no, he is not overrated. If anything, given the tendency to pooh-pooh his military talents, he might actually be a little underrated.

If you have a question you'd like to ask, please send it to For more explanation, and an archive of Q & As, click here.

Today's Senate Polls

That poll in Florida certainly helps us understand why Rick Scott is very cranky about the trendline (see above). (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
California Dianne Feinstein* 43% Kevin de Leon (D) 27% Oct 12 Oct 21 Public Policy Inst. of Calif.
Florida Bill Nelson* 51% Rick Scott 42% Oct 23 Oct 24 Siena Coll.
Michigan Debbie Stabenow* 53% John James 37% Oct 14 Oct 18 Marketing Resource Grp.
New Jersey Bob Menendez* 51% Bob Hugin 46% Oct 12 Oct 19 Rutgers-Eagleton
Nevada Jacky Rosen 41% Dean Heller* 47% Oct 12 Oct 19 Ipsos
Texas Beto O`Rourke 44% Ted Cruz* 49% Oct 12 Oct 18 Ipsos
Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin* 54% Leah Vukmir 39% Oct 12 Oct 18 Ipsos

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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