Dem 50
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Ties 1
GOP 49
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New polls: FL IN
Dem pickups vs. 2012: AZ NV TN
GOP pickups vs. 2012: ND
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Anonymous, Insider New York Times Op-Ed Slams Trump
      •  Witch Hunt Becomes Mole Hunt
      •  Delaware Votes Today
      •  How Are the Endangered Senate Democrats Doing?
      •  Politico Predicts Every House and Senate Race
      •  The Republicans' New Weapon: Football
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Anonymous, Insider New York Times Op-Ed Slams Trump

Well, this is different. On Wednesday, the New York Times published an op-ed piece from "a senior official in the Trump administration." Given the content of the piece, and that the author would presumably lose his job—or possibly her job, though we will use "him" from here on out for ease of reading—if his identity became known, the Times (which actually dealt with the author through an intermediary) granted him anonymity. While that concession sometimes happens with sources (particularly these days), it's extremely unusual for op-eds.

To a large extent, the headline and subhead of the piece tell you everything you need to know: "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration: I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations." That said, the more eye-opening passages include:

  • "[M]any Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office."

  • "The root of the problem is the president's amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making."

  • "Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back. 'There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,' a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he'd made only a week earlier."

  • "Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until—one way or another—it's over."

The author also describes a "two-track presidency" in which the president pursues one set of initiatives (say, cozying up with Russia) while his staff does something entirely different (like expelling Russian spies).

The op-ed, particularly coming right after the revelations from Bob Woodward's book, is devastating. This is no left-winger blasting the President, it's one of his insiders, and a person who makes very clear that he embraces conservative principles and actually likes some of the things that have happened since Trump took office (like the tax cut and the military spending).

At risk of sounding hyperbolic, this op-ed is absolutely unprecedented. There's never been anything like it in the annals of American history. The obvious parallel that people will draw is "Deep Throat," aka W. Mark Felt, who revealed many of Richard Nixon's deepest and darkest secrets to Woodward and Carl Bernstein. However, there are three pretty sizable differences between Felt and the author of the op-ed. First, Felt was a high-ranking member of the FBI, and not a Nixon intimate or a member of his White House staff. Second, Felt just talked, he didn't write. Third, and most importantly, Felt was a whistleblower, but he never claimed to be actively subverting the administration. And so, as deadly poisonous as Felt was for Nixon, he was nowhere near as bad as whoever this person is for Trump.

At the moment, quite a few folks (among them John Kerry) think the U.S. is now in the midst of a full-blown constitutional crisis. That is hard to argue at this point, since there are only two ways to look at this. Possibility one: Donald Trump is incompetent and incapable, and because Congress and his cabinet refuse to take the constitutionally-mandated steps for dealing with that (impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment), a group of unelected folks who effectively answer to nobody are ignoring both the law and the structure of the executive branch in a desperate attempt to minimize the damage done. Possibility two: Trump is presently not properly subject to impeachment and/or invocation of the 25th Amendment, but has so fully lost control of his staff that a group of unelected folks who effectively answer to nobody are utterly flaunting his constitutionally-delegated authority, and so are effectively in the midst of waging a coup-d-état. To put the two possibilities more simply, either the rebels are justified in what they are doing, which would mean Trump needs to go, or the rebels are not justified, which would mean they need to go. Until one (or possibly both) of those two things happens, the executive branch is dangerously dysfunctional.

Before Democrats start cheering about this situation, they should stop to consider how they would feel if senior staffers in President Hillary Clinton's administration were doing everything in their power to secretly block her attempts to help poor children.

Not surprisingly, every political junkie's favorite sport right now is trying to guess who the author might be. Let us start by noting that the Times is unquestionably telling the truth about the person's identity—that is, that he is a current, senior member of the administration. Beyond the fact that the Grey Lady is America's most distinguished newspaper, and has earned the benefit of the doubt, there's also the fact that if this was revealed to be the work of a faker (say, Al Franken) or a disgruntled ex-employee (say, Omarosa Manigault Newman), the Times' reputation would be destroyed, and the careers of everyone involved with this piece would be permanently ended. It is 100% certain that this was reviewed all the way up the power structure of the paper, from op-ed editor Jim Dao to executive editor Dean Baquet, with at least a few other muckety-mucks in between.

So, in what direction do the clues point? A good starting question is often: "Who has the most to gain?" That would surely be VP Mike Pence, but this is not particularly his style. Further, the Times' assertion that the author would be terminated if his identity is revealed rules him out, since of course he can't be fired. It's possible that the Times fudged its explainer text a bit, but not likely, given the credibility issues they already need to be worried about. If it was Pence, they could easily have massaged the text to be accurate; something like, "If the author's name were to be published, it would interfere with his ability to do his job." Also, the author says he is in a position to interfere with executive actions. Pence, by all indications, is not insider enough to have that kind of access.

There is nobody else in the White House who particularly stands to benefit from the downfall of Trump, so maybe the motivation isn't gain at all. Maybe the person really is motivated by a sense of duty and patriotism (with some resentment or spite as icing on the cake). The op-ed does give a few other clues that appear to eliminate many candidates (unless the author has thrown up some false flags to distract people):

  • That the person appears to have high-level access argues against not only Pence, but also several other high-profile members of the administration who don't really have the means to subvert presidential actions—Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for example, or Stephen Miller, or Melania Trump. Most members of the Cabinet would also seem to be disqualified here; it's not like Elaine Chao can do an end-run around Trump when he refuses to expel Russian spies.

  • Beyond apparently having high-level access, the author also seems to have knowledge of, and involvement with, foreign policy. That also rules out many members of the Cabinet, like Ben Carson, Rick Perry, and Betsy DeVos. Outgoing White House counsel Don McGahn is a popular guess, given the recent decline of his relationship with Trump, but he's not a foreign policy guy either.

  • As noted above, the author makes clear that he is ready to continue maneuvering against the president until "it's over." That argues against folks who know or suspect they are short-timers, including McGahn, AG Jeff Sessions, and possibly Chief of Staff John Kelly.

  • Also as noted above, the author is a self-identified conservative who actually agrees with some of the administration's initiatives (and who made a point of singling out John McCain for praise). That would seem to eliminate Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, among others.

  • The "resistance" to Trump appears to be something that has developed over time, and out of desperation. That argues against more recent additions to the administration, like John Bolton and Larry Kudlow.

  • The author is clearly more loyal to the government and the Constitution than he or she is to Trump. This would also seem to rule out Javanka, as well as hard-core loyalists like Kellyanne Conway.

Eliminating possible candidates is a little easier than zooming in on an actual author. That said, the writer not only speaks approvingly of military spending and of war hero John McCain, he also refers to Trump as the "commander-in-chief," and says "our first duty is to this country," which is reminiscent of the first part of the oath that soldiers must take. Add it all up, and it certainly reads like the words of a military man. And there is at least one military man in the White House who would have the gravitas and the respect among members of the administration to defy Trump (and to encourage others to do the same) without people crying "boo": Secretary of Defense James Mattis. He has access, knowledge of and involvement with foreign policy, job security (as much as that is possible in this White House), conservative principles (but not necessarily an overabundance of partisan loyalty), has been around since the beginning, and is not a Trump loyalist. It may not be him, but he certainly seems to check the boxes better than anyone else.

If the author does not out himself, there are still ways in which his identity might be revealed. As noted above, he mentions a specific statement recently made to him by another member of the administration. There is a good chance that the speaker, whoever he is, recognizes himself, and he could potentially spill the beans. Alternatively, there are going to be a thousand people running Flesch-Kincaid and similar tests on the op-ed text itself in search of quirks that identify the author by the writing style, grammar, and vocabulary. Forensic document analysts are very good at what they do; that is how Joe Klein was outed as the author of the Bill Clinton exposé Primary Colors, for example.

In any event, this is big, big news, and it's going to dominate the news cycle for days, or even weeks. Meanwhile, every time the administration suffers another high-profile setback, everyone wonders if a tipping point has been reached. Maybe this will be it. It could be that the fall of Trump is not caused by the Mueller report or Russiagate at all, but instead by dysfunction so evident and so out of control that Congress simply has no choice but to take action. They can't impeach without a high crime or misdemeanor, but maybe the Cabinet votes to invoke the 25th Amendment, Trump insists he's not incapacitated, and Congress (who would then have to vote) decides that he is. Presumably, this outcome would be prearranged, and if both the Cabinet and Congress participate, they would each be giving the other cover. True, the base would still rebel, but that bitter medicine is probably coming for the GOP, anyhow, and it may be better to swallow it sooner rather than later. This is, of course, very speculative, but it's also far from impossible. In fact, it's not even particularly outlandish anymore. (Z)

Witch Hunt Becomes Mole Hunt

Donald Trump has so many weeks that are bad, and in so many different ways, that it's hard to compare them. Was botching the Putin summit better or worse than having a former campaign manager be convicted and a former fixer turn state's evidence on the same day? Was firing James Comey and then fumbling the reasons for the firing, thus opening up a possible obstruction charge, better or worse than cruelly separating families at the border? It's like comparing rotten apples and rotten oranges. Meanwhile, the current week is only three days old, and between the upcoming Bob Woodward book and the New York Times op-ed, it's already zooming up the "bad weeks" list.

Trump, of course, is reacting as he always does, by hitting back hard. He was apparently caught flat-footed by the Woodward book initially, but yesterday the push-back began in earnest. He said it was released to interfere with the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh. That is not true, however, because it hasn't gone on sale yet and the hearings will be over by Tuesday, when it will be in stores. Eventually, Trump began to deny the content:

Did anyone expect otherwise? Of course Trump said it was all lies. Anything that is critical of him is by definition a lie. However, this is the third book about the Trump White House, the first being from Michael Wolff and the second from Omarosa Manigault Newman. The three books all had different sources and angles, but the story lines agree very well. The White House is chaotic and undisciplined and Trump's staff tries to protect the country from him in various ways, up to and including stealing papers from his desk to prevent him from doing stupid things. Another big problem for Trump is that Woodward knows how to dot his i's and cross his t's, and he learned something back in the 1970s about how useful sound recordings can be for a reporter. So, his book is backed by hundreds of hours of tapes. Trump can obfuscate all he wants, but if push comes to shove, Woodward can prove that he didn't make the whole book up.

Trump's third line of attack, after claiming a conspiracy, and then deciding the book was all lies, followed in a hallowed tradition: If you don't like the message, go after the messenger:

That might have worked against Wolff, who is sometimes sloppy in his reporting, and against Manigault Newman, who wrote her book for revenge and the money, but it's not going to work against Woodward, arguably the best political reporter in the country, with decades of prize-winning journalism behind him.

Trump's fourth line of attack was to implictly argue that Woodward had libeled him and that the libel laws should be changed. He has used this line before. Basically, every time someone says something he doesn't like, he wants to change the libel laws so he can sue them. Of course, if Congress were to do that, Trump would promptly be on the receiving end of hundreds of lawsuits on account of false accusations in his tweets.

All of this happened, of course, before the Times op-ed dropped. Thereafter, the President's focus shifted from the Woodward book to the Times piece, and his reaction was arguably even more unhinged. There was a return of the "it's all a lie" and "attack the messenger" strategies, yes, but with a much sharper edge:

Trump also tweeted this:

Needless to say, there is no chance the Times will betray its source, so this is just so much posturing and/or venting.

But while the public response was to deny and deflect, the response within the White House speaks to the fact that the administration has a serious problem and that Trump & Co. know it. Early in the day, the President made clear that he was turning to that traditional standby: a witch hunt. Except, in this case, Trump is the hunter, not the huntee, and there's actually a witch (or 10) to be discovered. He said he was on a mission to find out who talked to Woodward so they can be punished. One suspect is former NSA Herbert McMaster. Another is Gary Cohn. But since neither of them work for Trump any more, he can't fire them, much as he would like to. And besides, even if they did leak, they were surely not the only ones. The entire White House leaks like a sieve.

Needless to say, and as his tweets make clear, Trump is now even more interested in discovering the name of the poison-pen author responsible for molegate. But given that his administration is apparently riddled with traitors, he may have a difficult time of it. The people he can really trust (Kellyanne Conway, for example, or Ivanka) probably aren't capable of unraveling the mystery. And any of the folks capable of unraveling the mystery (say, FBI Director Christopher Wray or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or DNI Dan Coats) could very well be the mole, or at least a part of the "resistance" network. Ironically, it is probable that the President's best hope of learning the perpetrator's name is if one of the enterprising journalists he so dislikes manages to unearth the secret.

It is hard to say what impact this whole mess will have on the GOP and on the midterm elections, but it surely can't be good for them. There is probably nothing that can shake Trump's core supporters, but there is also a group of soft supporters around the core group that might be influenced by the stream of books and stories saying Trump is fundamentally incompetent. And this is a president and a party, of course, with very little margin for error.

Meanwhile, things are certainly going to get worse in Washington before they get better. Trump does not deal well with adversity, and so he's going to keep lashing out as this story lingers in the headlines. If he can't find the mole, he may even start cashiering staffers en masse, just in hopes of excising the responsible party. And then, once the midterms are over, Trump will be in prime position to go hog wild. There will never be a better time for him to do controversial stuff (Fire Mueller? Bomb Syria?) than November 7. That is as far away from an election (and punishment by voters) as he will get for the rest of his first term (and possibly for the rest of his presidency), and it will likely also be the window in which his party has the most seats in Congress, before November's victors are seated on January 3. So fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride. (V & Z)

Delaware Votes Today

In an unusual Thursday primary, Delaware voters will go to the polls today. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) was expecting to coast to renomination, but after the surprise victories of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, anything is possible. Carper, who is universally known in Delaware, is facing Kerri Evelyn Harris, a 38-year-old black community activist. Carper is keenly aware that not long ago, after Joe Biden was elected vice president, the favorite to get the Republican nomination for his Senate seat was governor Mike Castle. Much to everyone's surprise, Castle was beaten by Christine "I-am-not-a-witch" O'Donnell, a tea party Republican, who went on to be crushed in the general election by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).

Carper is not going to be caught by surprise, as Castle was. He is driving all over his tiny state in his minivan, campaigning hard. Nevertheless, he is an old white man with many corporate ties and is facing a strong progressive minority woman, the same situation that led to wins by Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley. And by the way, the Republicans are going to pick somebody to lose in November to whichever Democrat wins today. (V)

How Are the Endangered Senate Democrats Doing?

Since the beginning of 2017, Democrats have been crying in their beer (or latte) about what a tough Senate map they face, what with 10 incumbent Demcrats running in states Donald Trump won. It looked like the blue team was not only going to fail to capture the Senate, but the Republicans had a shot at a filibuster-proof majority. Now that we have some polling numbers, how are these 10 vulnerable Democrats doing? All the numbers are from our averaging scheme except for Montana, which hasn't had any nonpartisan polls, so we have used Real Clear Politics' average of two partisan Republican polls (*).

State Incumbent (D) Challenger (R) Polls Notes
Pennsylvania Bob Casey Lou Barletta D+19 It's all over but the shoutin'; Barletta is a dead man walking
Michigan Debbie Stabenow John James D+18 Nominating an unknown black man isn't going to help the GOP at all
Ohio Sherrod Brown Jim Renacci D+13 Renacci is a big disappointment
West Virginia Joe Manchin Patrick Morrisey D+7 The state is red but the people like Manchin
Montana Jon Tester Matt Rosendale D+6* Tester is authentic and that counts here
Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin Leah Vukmir D+5 Vukmir is not well known, so this leans toward Baldwin
Missouri Claire McCaskill Josh Hawley D+4 A true toss-up
Indiana Joe Donnelly Mike Braun D+3 The GOP blew this one by nominating the wrong guy
Florida Bill Nelson Rick Scott EVEN Nelson's toughest race ever; he could lose
North Dakota Heidi Heitkamp Kevin Cramer R+4 Heitkamp is popular, but the state is very red

So do we have 10 Democrats lying in the gutter bleeding to death? Not exactly. Three of them are leading by double digits and will cruise to easy victories without the DSCC having to spend a penny for them. Joe Manchin is from a very red state, but that didn't stop him from winning five statewide races over his career and this will probably be his sixth. Candidates matter. Likewise, Jon Tester is authentic and fits Montana well. He is an actual Montana farmer whose family has been in the state for generations, unlike his opponent, who grew up in Maryland and has a pronounced accent to prove it.

Joe Donnelly lucked out. The Republicans had a fierce three-way primary and they nominated the only candidate whom Donnelly can probably beat. Also in Wisconsin, the Republicans had a nasty primary and the weakest candidate came out on top.

The Missouri, Florida, and North Dakota races are true toss-ups, despite the current polls. All three of the Democrats could lose. Claire McCaskill is a decent campaigner and can always throw in a few million dollars of her own money if it is needed, but Missouri is a red state and her opponent, Missouri AG Josh Hawley, hasn't made any mistakes. Florida is probably going to be the most expensive Senate race of all time. Rick Scott really hustles and could pour in $100 million of his own fortune if need be. Bill Nelson has only recently discovered that this race is not like all the easy ones he had in the past, but it could be too late. Finally, while Heidi Heitkamp is well known and reasonably popular, North Dakota is a very red state and as the state's lone representative, Kevin Cramer is probably as well known as she is.

So for the moment, the bottom line is that the Democrats are likely to win seven of the 10 races, with three being toss-ups. The worst case looks like a net Democratic loss of 3 seats. On the other hand, the Democrats have a decent shot at picking off Republican seats in Nevada, Arizona, and Tennessee. Currently they lead in all of them. So if they lose the three toss-ups and knock off three Republicans, the Senate will remain (barely) under Republican control. But the campaigns have barely begun, so a lot could change. (V)

Politico Predicts Every House and Senate Race

Politico has just published an article rating every House and Senate race as "solid," "likely," or "lean" for a party or "toss-up." In the House, for the Democrats, 172 seats are solid, 20 are likely, and 14 lean their way. For the Republicans, 138 are solid, 40 are likely, and 27 lean their way. Adding these up, the Democrats look good in 206 seats and the Republicans look good in 205 seats, almost an exact tie. The other 24 seats are too close to call. The toss-ups are located in Arizona (1), California (4), Colorado (1), Iowa (1), Kansas (2), Michigan (2), Minnesota (3), New Jersey (2), New York (2), Ohio (1), Texas (2), Virginia (2), and West Virginia (1). The bad news for the GOP is that 23 of them are Republican-held seats and only one (MN-01) has a Democratic sitting there now. If the toss-ups split down the middle, the Democrats could pick up 11 or 12 seats right there, not to mention possibly picking off some of the 27 seats that lean Republican. In all, Politico sees 60 GOP seats that are threatened.

On the Senate side, the Democrats have 14 solid, 5 likely, and 3 lean seats to the Republicans' 4 solid, 1 likely, and 3 lean seats. The remaining five seats are toss-ups, namely Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, and Nevada. In their view, North Dakota leans Republican, but we see it as a toss-up. Also, Politico rates Tennessee as leans Republican, but the polling data shows Phil Bredesen with a consistent lead over Marsha Blackburn: TN

As an aside, you can click on any state on the map to get a graph of its polls or click on "Senate polling data" and then use the second choice to see all the graphs on one page. (V)

The Republicans' New Weapon: Football

Republican strategists have a new strategy for the midterms: Make them about kneeling football players. After all, that's the country's biggest problem, isn't it? Well, not all agree, but it might be a way to rile up Donald Trump's base and remind them of those ungrateful black millionaires in order to get them to the polls.

The issue divides entirely along partisan lines, with the vast majority of Democrats saying it is perfectly acceptable for sports figures to protest police brutality (which is what the kneeling is all about), and the vast majority of Republicans saying it is not. In other words, rev up the culture wars, especially since the Republicans don't have a lot of other things to run on.

Ads bringing up the topic are expected to be used by Republicans in rural areas, where the implicit pitch is: Our "American" values against their elitist values. It is less likely to work in affluent suburban areas where voters are much more tolerant and who don't see black football players primarily as ungrateful millionaires. (V)

Today's Senate Polls

As expected, Florida is going to be a real barnburner.

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Florida Bill Nelson* 49% Rick Scott 49% Aug 30 Sep 03 Quinnipiac U.
Indiana Joe Donnelly* 44% Mike Braun 41% Aug 26 Aug 29 Marist Coll.

* Denotes incumbent

Here is the graph of all the Florida polls this year.


Again, you can click on any state on the map to see all the 2018 polls for that state to see if there is a trend. Also, in these daily poll tables, you can click on the state name for the polls. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep05 We Are Going Live Today
Sep05 What We Have to Offer
Sep05 New Woodward Book Is Brutal for Trump
Sep05 Massachusetts Goes to the Polls
Sep05 Former Senator Jon Kyl Appointed to McCain's Seat
Sep05 Kavanaugh Hearings Even More Theatrical Than Expected
Sep05 North Carolina Will Use Gerrymandered Map in November
Sep05 Generic Poll: Democrats Up by 14 Points
Sep05 Today's Senate Polls
Sep04 Trump Lashes Out at Sessions
Sep04 Giuliani Is Already Well-Prepared for Mueller's Report
Sep04 Kobach to Be Investigated By Grand Jury
Sep04 New Yorker Tells Steve Bannon to Join, Get Lost
Sep04 Kavanaugh Hearings Get Underway Today
Sep04 GOP Candidates Hit Democrats on Tax Votes
Sep04 Democrats Hit Back on Pre-Existing Conditions
Sep03 Trump Proclaims Himself to be Pro-Labor, Labor Advocates Disagree
Sep03 Trump to Rally for Cruz
Sep03 Obama Gets Ready to Hit the Road
Sep03 New York to Sue Trump
Sep03 Mollie Tibbetts' Father: Stop Politicizing Her Death
Sep03 Nunes, Denham Can Call Themselves Farmers, Says Judge
Sep03 John McCain Laid to Rest
Sep02 McCain's Memorial Service Is All About Trump
Sep02 Steele, Ohr Tried to Flip Deripaska
Sep02 White House Denies 100,000 Pages of Kavanaugh Records
Sep02 Gillum Targeted by Racist Robocall
Sep02 This Week's Senate News
Sep02 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Kamala Harris
Sep01 More Russiagate Trouble for Trump
Sep01 More Polling Trouble for Trump
Sep01 Pat Cipollone May Replace McGahn
Sep01 Canada-NAFTA Negotiations Stall; Trump Makes Situation Worse
Sep01 Trump to "Study" Federal Pay Raise
Sep01 Let the Midterm Triage Begin
Sep01 Trump Administration Wants You to Know that Marihuana is Evil
Aug31 Trump Sticks It to Federal Employees, Again
Aug31 Trump to Cancel UN Funding for Palestinian Refugees
Aug31 Donald Trump's Legal Situation is Getting Grim
Aug31 Sessions Better Not Count on His December Paycheck
Aug31 Making Sense of the Florida Polls
Aug31 Cruz Looks Outgunned by O'Rourke
Aug31 Dirty Tricks Case Study: Abigail Spanberger
Aug30 Takeways from Tuesday's Primaries
Aug30 Florida Governor's Race Has Already Turned Ugly
Aug30 McGahn Will Soon Be McGone
Aug30 Sessions May Well Be Next
Aug30 Puerto Rico Death Toll Soars; Trump Remains Impressed with His Administration's Response
Aug30 Trump Administration Denies or Revokes Thousands of Passports for Mexican-Americans Living on the Border
Aug30 Trump Resumes War on Google