Dem 50
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Ties 1
GOP 49
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New polls: UT
Dem pickups vs. 2012: AZ NV TN
GOP pickups vs. 2012: ND

Top Republicans Are Worried about the Midterms

Two top Republicans addressed donors at a closed-door meeting in New York over the weekend and discussed their fears about the midterms. Then an attendee leaked an audio recording of the meeting to the New York Times, which quickly published a report on it. Budget Director Mick "the Knife" Mulvaney pointed out the burning energy among Democrats, many of whom hate Donald Trump with a passion, and the 40 open Republican seats. He came about as close to admitting that the Republicans could lose the House as an administration official can do without being sent to the woodshed. He also suggested that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) could lose because he is not very likable. That is administration-speak for "the other 99 senators hate his guts and so do a lot of voters." When Cruz read the report, he blew off Mulvaney as "some political guy in Washington."

The other speaker was RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel. She agreed with Mulvaney's analysis, but said that with enough money (hear that, donors?) Republicans could fight back with better organizing prowess and financial supremacy. She certainly understands the latter point since the RNC has outraised the DNC $227 million to $116 million. She summarized her point by saying: "They have their energy. We have our infrastructure." (V)

Bring on the Lie Detectors

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) first proposed the idea. VP Mike Pence encouraged it, declaring that he and his staff would be first in line. And now Donald Trump, who thinks that every problem has a quick and easy solution, is getting excited about the possibility: lie detector tests for everyone in the executive branch, so as to identify anyone and everyone who may be part of the "resistance" within the administration.

As with many things, it is clear that Paul, Pence, and Trump really don't know what they are talking about. Lie detector tests aren't like pregnancy tests, they do not produce a clear "yes" or "no." What they do produce is a series of readings of the subject's physiological responses to questions—heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, etc. In the hands of a skilled practitioner, they do identify liars at a rate better than pure chance—around 85%, give or take a few percentage points. The problem is that 85% is not actually all that good, particularly when scaled to the number of people that work for the executive branch. Imagine that 500 people were tested, and 18 of those were part of the "resistance." Assuming that the lie detectors function about as well as usual, then Trump would get a report that correctly identifies 15 moles, misses 3 moles, falsely accuses 81 people of being moles, and correctly exonerates 401 innocent people. That would mean, in turn, that an accused mole is about five times more likely to actually be innocent than guilty.

Because of their less-than-stellar reliability, lie detector tests are generally not admissible in courts of law. Their primary purpose, in fact, is not to "prove" guilt, but instead to persuade gullible folks that they are about to be outed, and to cause them to confess voluntarily. Needless to say, this does not work so well on people who are clever enough to know how it actually works. Lie detectors are also particularly unreliable for people who are not embarrassed about fudging the truth—politicians, for example.

Perhaps one of the few people who still has Trump's ear will persuade him that this is a giant waste of time, and one that will serve only to heighten tensions within the executive branch. On the other hand, once he gets an idea in his head, it's hard for him to let go. The one thing we learn for certain from this story is that Team Trump isn't nearly as close to ferreting out the rebels within the White House as they claim. (Z)

The Time Trump Almost Started a War with Twitter

Bob Woodward is making the rounds right now, in an effort to gin up sales of his tell-all book about the Trump White House. And on CBS on Sunday, he related a hair-raising story about how the President nearly managed to make a de facto declaration of war against North Korea via Twitter. The tweet in question, which was never sent, announced that, "We are going to pull our dependents from South Korea—family members of the 28,000 people there."

One can only wonder why Trump thought it would be a good idea to send that out, and whether or not he realized how it would be interpreted. The good news is that folks at the Pentagon somehow got their hands on a draft of the tweet, and used back channels to confirm with the North Koreans how they would interpret that message. So, the crisis was averted. It's somewhat hard to understand exactly how that "safety net" worked, given that so many of the President's tweets appear to be sent spontaneously, but the world can only hope that any other potential nuclear wars are also forestalled in the same way. (Z)

Trump: Deal with Stormy Daniels Was Not Valid

Adult actress Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford) has sued Donald Trump and his former fixer, Michael Cohen, to get her out of a nondisclosure agreement in which she was paid $130,000 not to talk about her one-night stand with Trump. Daniels also sued Trump for defamation after he called her a liar, claiming the event never happened. Now all of a sudden, Trump has changed his tune and is now claiming that the deal was never valid in the first place (because he never signed the contract, only Cohen did). So please return the $130,000 and let's pretend all this never happened.

Getting the genie out of the bottle is a lot easier than putting it back in. Daniels' lawyer and one-man PR department, Michael Avenatti, thinks he has Trump on the ropes and so is in no mood to forgive and forget:

Avenatti loves publicity, both for his client and for himself, and is not about to give up the opportunity to depose Trump under oath for a piddling $130,000. Daniels would be the one to lose the $130,000 if the deal was voided, but in addition to wanting to sell her story, she is also smarting from Trump calling her a liar in public. Most likely she will not accept a deal unless he publicly states that she is not a liar and the affair took place just as she described it in an interview with Anderson Cooper. Since Trump has been claiming for months that the affair never took place, to suddenly say that Daniels has been telling the truth all along means that he has been lying all along. So if Daniels insists on Trump clearing her name, probably no deal is likely to be forthcoming.

Other than getting some satisfaction from staring Trump down and having him be the one to blink, it is not clear what Daniels plans to do if she becomes a free woman. She pretty much told her story to Cooper, so unless she withheld some important details, it is not clear any publication will pay her a lot of money for her story. Given her profession, maybe she wants to make and sell a DVD reenacting the event. Possibly costarring Alec Baldwin, who does a decent Trump impersonation, at least with his clothes on. Anything can still happen in this story. (V)

Endangered Republicans Don't Want a New Tax Bill

In order to get the tax bill passed under budget reconciliation rules, the Republicans had to have the personal tax cuts end after 2025 in order to make the corporate ones permanent. Top congressional Republicans have been pushing for a new bill before the elections that would make the personal tax cuts permanent, mostly to force the Democrats to take a tough vote (a vote for the bill could be attacked as exploding the deficit and a vote against it could be attacked as not wanting ordinary people to have a tax cut).

Now it appears that a group of House Republicans don't want to vote on such a bill either because it has the same downsides for them as for the Democrats and it has little to no chance of passing the Senate, which moves slower than the House and which is preoccupied with the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

The discussion of the bill in Congress could be brutal for the GOP, which had promised that ordinary Americans would see their tax bill slashed. In reality, few people have seen that, but a lot of people have read that many corporations have used their windfall to buy back their own stock, reducing the number of shares outstanding and increasing the price of the ones still out there. The result is that stockholders (many of whom are already wealthy) benefit and workers don't. The Republicans who are against a second tax bill do not want to have this discussion just before an election. So although the congressional leadership is planning on introducing a tax bill this week, it is likely to go nowhere and might well be counterproductive as it will allow the Democrats to say that all Republicans care about is tax cuts for rich people. (V)

Cruz Becomes a True Trumper (For a Couple of Months)

During the 2016 primaries, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump were basically sworn enemies and at each other's throats all the time. The enmity lasted until the bitter end. Cruz gave a major speech at the Republican National Convention and didn't even endorse Trump, let alone say a bunch of nice things about him, as would normally be expected. Trump, for his part, has constantly referred to Cruz as "Lyin' Ted." So, no great love either way.

But now that the most recent poll shows Cruz only a single point ahead of his Democratic opponent, Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), Cruz has suddenly seen the light and has gone full Trumper. He now supports pretty much all of Trump's policies, even those he vilified repeatedly in the past. It is an amazing change and is undoubtedly completely phony. If Cruz wins, he will revert to being the anti-Trump tea party conservative he has always been. But his problem is there are a lot of pro-Trump Republicans in Texas, and his opponent is breathing down his neck, so Cruz has to pretend he likes Trump and his policies until the election. He has even invited Trump to campaign with him, which will be awkward at best given that the two men hate each other. Trump doesn't really want to help Cruz, but he does want to keep the Senate Republican, so he will do it. Most likely he will make the same compromise that Cruz made at the convention: He will come to Texas, mostly ignore Cruz, and talk about himself. That is not going to win over any fence sitters, but the purpose of the visit would be to rile up the GOP base and get them to the polls. (V)

Trump May Well Draw a 2020 Primary Challenger

It is true that sitting presidents rarely draw serious primary challenges, especially when they remain popular with the rank and file voters of their party. It is also true that Donald Trump's approval rating among Republicans remains sky high. So, under normal circumstances, there is no chance that he would be challenged in the 2020 primaries. But what we have right now are not normal circumstances, and so many GOP insiders think that a serious primary challenge either is inevitable, or will be if the midterms are a disaster for the Party.

The key here—and the reason that the usual rules don't apply—is that the potential challenger's goal would not be to win the election, as much as to derail Trump and to make a statement that the "real" Republican Party still exists. Those operatives who are scheming along these lines see two potential scenarios: (1) A full-blown, frontal challenge to the President, or (2) A candidate who lingers in the wings, waiting to swoop in as the "savior" of the GOP.

Although nobody seems to be thinking quite this far ahead, it is entirely plausible that such a candidate could get large numbers of Democratic crossover votes from people who have no intention of voting Republican in the general election, but who would like to see Trump knocked off at all costs. Of course, all of this is a tad premature until we know for sure that Trump is still in office in 2020, and is actually running for reelection. (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Utah Jenny Wilson 19% Mitt Romney 59% Aug 11 Aug 27 Lighthouse Research

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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