Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Lashes Out at Sessions
      •  Giuliani Is Already Well-Prepared for Mueller's Report
      •  Kobach to Be Investigated By Grand Jury
      •  New Yorker Tells Steve Bannon to Join, Get Lost
      •  Kavanaugh Hearings Get Underway Today
      •  GOP Candidates Hit Democrats on Tax Votes
      •  Democrats Hit Back on Pre-Existing Conditions

Trump Lashes Out at Sessions

There are multiple situations in Donald Trump's life that are spiraling beyond his control. The House may soon change hands, a development that—if it comes to pass—will bring with it an avalanche of investigations and subpoenas. Most of his inside circle—at least, the members not related to him—have turned against him. The Mueller investigation, writ large, is no longer kill-able. Even if Trump tried to fire all the people he'd need to fire to shut Mueller down, the U.S. attorneys at the Southern District of New York are hot on the President's trail, too. And even if he fires the entire Justice Dept. (which would be a true Saturday Night Massacre), the state AG of New York has an investigation going, too. Plus there are all the folks who have already copped a plea and/or been convicted. Those cannot be undone. Oh, and Trump's approval rating is back down in the 30s, which is to say, it's as low as it's ever been.

Desperate times, of course, call for desperate measures. And so, on Monday, Trump flayed AG Jeff Sessions via Twitter:

Trump's argument here—and admittedly, the word "argument" implies more thought than probably went into the tweet—is an interesting one. Does the President really believe that if the Justice Dept. knows or suspects that someone is crooked, they should keep that a secret from voters? Actually, we know he doesn't believe that, given his calls during the 2016 campaign for Hillary Clinton to be investigated and locked up. What Trump really wants, of course, is for the Attorney General to do whatever suits Trump's political (and especially, personal) needs. And so, when he says "don't prosecute loyal Republicans before an election," what he really means is, "Look the other way when Republicans break the law, and never prosecute them at all." If Trump doesn't realize that he sounds like a totalitarian dictator, then he's just about the only one.

Even some of the President's usual allies quickly pointed out that he had gone too far. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), for example, condemned the tweets, and said the United States is "not some banana republic." Fox News' Brit Hume, who has become increasingly outspoken in the last month or so, wondered:

Sessions himself refused comment on Monday, but everyone already knows what he thinks.

In the end, nothing is going to come of this particular temper tantrum. No attorney general in history, even Robert Bork, would behave in the manner that Trump proposes. Justice, after all, is blind. However, given that Trump is likely headed into one of the worst phases of his presidency, one that is likely to end with a rebuke from voters that cannot be spun or lied away, it is probable that Monday's outburst is just the first salvo in two months of unusually outrageous and erratic behavior by the President. Which, given what's already come before, is really saying something. (Z)

Giuliani Is Already Well-Prepared for Mueller's Report

The New Yorker has a piece in this week's issue entitled "How Rudy Giuliani Turned Into Trump's Clown." Needless to say, it's not too flattering toward America's (former) Mayor. The most interesting part, however, is what Giuliani revealed about his plans for the Mueller report, whenever it comes out. First of all, in answer to a question about whether or not Trump's legal team would try to keep portions of the report from becoming public, he said, "I'm sure we will." He also let slip that Team Trump is hard at work on a counter-report that already runs 45 pages in length.

As seems so often to be the case these days, Giuliani does not seem to have thought through the implications of his words. He does not know what's in the Mueller report, of course, which means that he has already advised us that any redactions and any response from Team Trump are not actually rooted in the substance of the report, and instead are just meant to obfuscate. It's also fair to point out that the optics of censoring the report will not be good. Generally, only people with something to hide would do something like that. At least, that's what much of the general public will conclude. Particularly the 64% who are currently dissatisfied with the President's job performance. (Z)

Kobach to Be Investigated By Grand Jury

Speaking of (allegedly) shady associates of Donald Trump, Kansas is one of half a dozen states that allows citizens to file a petition requesting a grand jury investigation. Steven Davis ran unsuccessfully for the Kansas House in the 2016 and 2018 primaries, and afterward prepared and filed just such a petition, asking whether gubernatorial candidate and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), or his staff, had engaged in "destroying, obstructing, or failing to deliver online voter registration," prevented qualified people from voting, or was guilty of "being grossly neglectful with respect to their election duties." This weekend, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the petition was valid, and that the investigation will be allowed to proceed.

It is improbable, of course, that the grand jury's work will be concluded before Election Day (much less any trial, if indictments were to be issued). However, it is never good for a candidate to be under investigation while running for office. And, in this case, the investigation is centered on Kobach's potential Achilles heel with voters (even GOP voters). When the Democrats drew him as their opponent, as opposed to the more moderate Gov. Jeff Colyer (R), they felt pretty good about their chances. Now, they've got to feel even better. For what it's worth, the latest poll of the race, taken before the grand jury announcement, had Democrat Laura Kelly up by one point. (Z)

New Yorker Tells Steve Bannon to Join, Get Lost

The New Yorker Festival is an annual fall event in which leading lights from the world of letters and arts appear at town hall-style events at venues around the city. There, they are generally interviewed by editor David Remnick or by other members of the magazine's staff. This year, one of the big "gets" was Steve Bannon, who was apparently asked several times to appear, and finally agreed to do so. However, after other featured guests—Jim Carrey, Judd Apatow and Patton Oswalt among them—said they would cancel if Bannon was included, and after much of the magazine's staff rebelled against Bannon's appearance, the onetime Trump advisor was promptly disinvited.

This has, of course, triggered a medium-sized backlash. Conservatives have accused Remnick of being cowardly, narrow-minded, and so forth. Some liberals, like New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell, were also critical of the change in course. "Huh. Call me old-fashioned," he haughtily observed. "But I would have thought that the point of a festival of ideas was to expose the audience to ideas. If you only invite your friends over, it's called a dinner party."

It's remarkable that Remnick fumbled so badly. Bannon should never have been invited in the first place, for three reasons. The first is that he's an unrepentant racist and anti-Semite who pals around with—indeed, encourages—other racists and anti-Semites. Roseanne Barr said far less than Bannon has, and she's disgraced for life. Why should he get treated differently because he's a political/media figure instead a comedian and actor? In the letter announcing the reversal, Remnick said, "to interview Bannon is not to endorse him." But this is mealy-mouthed nonsense. Giving him a platform tacitly endorses his ideas (or, at least, propagates them). The same basic reasoning led to billions in free publicity for then-candidate Donald Trump. And then, once he wasn't a candidate anymore, the media desperately wanted to put the cat back in the bag and could not.

The second argument against Bannon's inclusion is that he doesn't really have many ideas, and the ones he does have aren't his. He is not, to be blunt, a great thinker. Instead, he parrots the thoughts of others, most obviously William Strauss and Neil Howe, with a dash of Ayn Rand thrown in for good measure. Rand is long dead, and Strauss passed in 2007, but Howe is still alive. If the New Yorker really wants to understand "Trumpism's leading creators and organizers," why not invite him? If you're going to explore a highly questionable, reductionist theory of how the world works, why not at least get it straight from the horse's mouth? The answer, of course, is that the name "Neil Howe" doesn't garner headlines or sell tickets.

And that, finally, leads us to the third point. The New Yorker is one of the most liberal publications around (see article on Rudy Giuliani, above, for confirmation). In the end, they are not interested in balance, any more than Fox News, Breitbart, HuffPo, or Salon is. Bannon's invite was right-wing tokenism, pure and simple. You invite one conservative to appear among the two dozen leftists, and then congratulate yourself on how open-minded and willing to consider different ideas you are. It is less insulting, frankly, for the New Yorker to be honest about what they are doing: Gathering a bunch of left-wing urbanites to hear what a bunch of left-wing cultural elites are thinking. There's nothing wrong with this; that's actually a pretty good description of your average academic conference in the humanities. And right-wingers have their own versions—Koch brothers' retreats, for example, or screenings of Dinesh D'Souza films.

In any event, Remnick now has the worst of both worlds. He lost his headliner, and he looks silly and spineless. Odds are good that the New Yorker has a new editor sometime soon. (Z)

Kavanaugh Hearings Get Underway Today

Today, with Congress back from the Labor Day holiday, SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh will commence being examined by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Among the subjects that are certain to come up: Kavanaugh's views on Roe v. Wade, executive power (vis-a-vis criminal behavior, in particular), and Obamacare, as well as his relationship with friend and mentor Judge Alex Kozinski, who has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct.

There may have been a time when this was an important part of the process, but it's hard to think exactly when that was. It used to be that Supreme Court nominees were approved pretty much automatically by a unanimous (or near-unanimous) vote. Indeed, it was not unheard of, before the 1950s, for a justice to be nominated and confirmed on the same day. Now the process takes much longer, but beside the occasional Robert Bork (his second mention today!), it's still pretty much automatic. The only difference is that instead of being near-unanimous, it's usually a party-line vote these days.

In short, this week's hearings are going to be political kabuki. The Democrats, particularly those who are up for reelection this year (Dianne Feinstein, CA) or who have 2020 presidential aspirations (Kamala Harris, CA) will be trying to score brownie points with the base with some hard-hitting questions. They will also be praying that, somehow, Kavanaugh says something really stupid that turns public opinion against him (this is basically what torpedoed Bork). However, the Judge is surely too smart (and has had too much coaching) for that. He will give a bunch of nice, bland, noncommittal answers for as long as is necessary. Then, he will thank the Committee for their time, and will head over to his tailor to get measured for Supreme Court robes. Any outcome other than eventual confirmation, by a vote of something like 56-43 (with the red-state Democrats up for reelection in 2018 joining the Republicans), would be a major surprise. (Z)

GOP Candidates Hit Democrats on Tax Votes

Those GOP candidates who are running this year have been dealt a particularly difficult hand to play. Beyond the fact that midterms generally go badly for the party that controls the White House, the current administration has provided fairly few achievements to run on, and quite a few embarrassments to apologize for. Trying to make lemonade out of lemons, an early theme that has emerged in many Republican challengers' campaigns: "Why didn't you [insert name of Democratic incumbent] vote for the tax bill?"

If this is the best that the GOP has got, then they're going to have a bad day on November 6. Yes, there are places where this line of attack will work, but they are places where the Democrat has no hope of winning anyhow. Anywhere else, and the Democrats can use (and already are using) one of two replies. Either: (1) Because the tax cut went almost entirely to the rich, or (2) Because the tax cut is going to wreck the deficit, explode the national debt, and possibly crash the economy. Given that every poll that has been taken says that the tax cut is underwater, approval-wise (by an average of 42% to 37%), this is an argument that Democratic incumbents should be able to win. (Z)

Democrats Hit Back on Pre-Existing Conditions

On the other hand, a line of attack that Democrats are already using in many races is GOP candidates' position on insurers having to cover pre-existing conditions. Already, GOP Senate candidates Josh Hawley (MO), Martha McSally (AZ), Patrick Morrisey (WV), Mike Braun (IN), and Rick Scott (FL) have been tying themselves into knots on the subject.

The basic problem these candidates face is that forcing insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions is a policy that is very popular with the voting public. However, doing so is expensive, and the GOP's anti-regulation and anti-Obamacare stance runs contrary to the two possible ways of getting there. One option is to force healthy people to buy insurance, so that the cost of the people with pre-existing conditions is spread across many payers. A second option is to subsidize insurance companies who pile up big costs covering pre-existing conditions. Obamacare, of course, did both things. In contrast to the Democrats' responses on the tax bill (see above), thus far GOP candidates have not been able to come up with something plausible to tell voters when this subject comes up. This may be an indication that there is no good answer. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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