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
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump's Approval Continues to Drop
      •  Trump Desperately Wants Credit for the Economy
      •  Rogue Billionaires Driving Both Parties Up a Tree
      •  Omarosa Plays Another Trump Tape
      •  Beto O'Rourke Is a Pain in the ... Bank for the Republicans
      •  House Races Are Tight in Bellwether Districts
      •  Florida Should Be an Interesting Case Study
      •  Today in Defamation

Trump's Approval Continues to Drop

The president's approval rating typically has a strong effect on the midterms. The better he is doing, the better his party does, and the worse he is doing, the bigger a hit his party takes. So it is not a good sign for the GOP that two polls released yesterday show Trump's approval dropping from the low 40s to the mid or high 30s. The Quinnipiac University poll has him down from 41% last month to 38% now. The CNN/SSRS poll has him down from 42% last month to 36% now. Needless to say, 36-38% approval is not a good place for a president to be, and could presage a GOP bloodbath in November. Perhaps most worrying for the Party: In the CNN poll, his approval rating among independents is just 31%, the lowest he's ever been among that group, and a staggering 16-point drop from a month ago.

In both polls, only 32% of the respondents say that Trump is honest. Quinnipiac also asked about Trump's other character traits. By wide margins, Americans think he does not have good leadership skills (-19), does not care about average Americans (-14), is not level headed (-35), does not share voters' values (-27), and is not fit to serve as president (-14). That last one could be important if the Democrats capture the House and impeach him. If a majority of the country feels he is not fit to serve as president, Republican senators are going to have to go out on a limb to snub the voters and vote "not guilty." (V)

Trump Desperately Wants Credit for the Economy

The United States' economy is doing quite well right now, at least by some measures (like the stock market). Donald Trump badly wants credit for this, for at least three reasons:

  1. He craves approval and praise of any sort, on any subject.

  2. To the extent that presidents are responsible for the economy, some percentage of the current boom times belongs to Barack Obama, and the rest belongs to Trump. Consequently, every extra bit of credit that the Donald gets is a debit against the hated Obama's total.

  3. As they prepare to make their midterm pitch, the thriving economy is about all Trump and the GOP have to show for their close to two years in power. There aren't exactly a pile of successes in the areas of, say, foreign policy, or healthcare, or infrastructure, or national security.

There may be other factors, but this list certainly covers most of what's going on.

In any case, as part of Trump's efforts to sell himself as the greatest economic steward the United States has ever had, he sent out this tweet:

This one was followed by half a dozen others, all of them making pretty wild claims, but this was the wildest. The first problem is that comparing GDP and unemployment is like comparing apples and rainbow trout; they are not really related to each other, and are never used side by side. It would be like saying "the average worker's salary is higher than the Dow Jones index for the first time in 100 years" or "the total capitalization of America's five most valuable companies is higher than the GDP of her five smallest states for the first time in 100 years." In other words, the comparison sounds vaguely impressive, but doesn't really mean anything. The second problem is that the "100 years" part is not remotely true. This last happened in 2006, which may suggest it's not actually all that great an indicator, given what happened in 2007. And in the past 70 years, it's happened in at least 62 quarters. In other words, it happens about once every year and a half, so it's nowhere near as "historic" as Trump would have you believe.

It appears that there's an upper limit to how much even Trump can bend the truth, because his staffers were compelled to admit on Monday afternoon that the tweet was false. They speculated that maybe it was a typo, and the President really meant "10" instead of "100." Possible, but not too likely, given the spurious claims he made in later tweets, like this one:

In fact, GDP was 2% in Q4 2016, and there has never been a president in U.S. history who could single-handedly swing 8 points of GDP, and turn -4% into 4%.

It also bears repeating that despite the strong economy—which Trump both deserves and receives some credit for—Trump's approval ratings are abysmal (see above). If you want a real comparison, no chief executive has ever managed to pair 4% GDP growth with a sub-40% approval rating. It's the political equivalent of the stagflation of the 1970s, those two things are not supposed to be able to coexist. One can only imagine what will happen if the market tanks and the economy goes into recession. (Z)

Rogue Billionaires Driving Both Parties Up a Tree

Billionaires tend to march to their own drummers and that is especially true of billionaires who spend freely on politics and elections. Sometimes they and their money are distinctly not welcome. Shipping supplies magnate Richard Uihlein has already dumped $24 million into GOP primary races, mostly backing hopeless losers, and may have even cost the Republicans a Senate seat by helping Roy Moore win the GOP Senate primary in Alabama last year. Even in races where Uihlein's horse lost, he has caused damage by forcing moderate candidates who could win the general election to the right and probable defeat in November. One shining example is his dump of $11 million in the Wisconsin Republican senatorial primary, in which he backed an extreme right winger, Kevin Nicholson, forcing opponent Leah Vukmir far to the right, a position she probably can't recover from. Charlie Sykes, a former long-time conservative radio host in Wisconsin, said that Uihlein single-handedly created the primary race by funding Nicholson, and will essentially be responsible when Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) beats the badly damaged Vukmir in November. But Uihlein's not done causing damage yet. He is pumping money into the candidacy of right-wing firebrand Chris McDaniel in the Mississippi special Senate election to replace the ailing Thad Cochran who resigned last spring. If McDaniel and Democrat Mike Espy finish first and second (in either order) on Nov. 6, it would be a rerun of last year's Alabama race, minus the pedophilia. If control of the Senate comes down to that December runoff and Espy wins, God help Uihlein.

The Democrats also have a rogue billionaire problem. In their case it is Tom Steyer loudly calling for Donald Trump to be impeached, something the Democratic leadership absolutely does not want to talk about until January because they know it revs up Republican voters more than Democratic voters. On the other hand, Steyer is not a complete loss to the Democrats. His SuperPAC, NextGen America, plans to spend $32 million in 11 crucial states, mostly mobilizing young voters (by telling them that voting for Democrats is voting for impeachment).

The real problem is that the parties have become so weak that large outside donors can effectively control the show with their money. That wasn't true before Citizens United, but that's how things are now. (V)

Omarosa Plays Another Trump Tape

Presumably, if Omarosa Manigault Newman had any other really incriminating recordings of Donald Trump, she would have already released them to get some more attention, because her book is going to be elbowed aside today by Bob Woodward's tome. So, it appears safe to predict that no bombshells are coming down the pike. That does not mean, however, that Omarosa's cupboard is completely bare, as she unveiled another recording on Monday while appearing on "The View."

To set the stage, Manigault Newman explained that Trump often gets bored, and wanders around the White House in search of meetings to crash. Once he does so, he takes over the proceedings, usually with a rambling monologue about...well, not much of anything. Monday's recording was an example of that, documenting what happened when Trump stumbled into a meeting of the White House press operation. In short, Trump rambled on about Russia and how the "real" story there is Hillary Clinton, then asked his underlings if they agreed that the whole story "seems to have turned around," and finally received affirmation from a yes-woman, namely Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who answered the President's question with an "Absolutely!"

This was nearly a year ago, so one can only imagine that the same basic scene has played out many more times since. And while the tape did not deliver any new revelations, per se, it certainly confirms that the private Trump is not all that different from the public Trump. (Z)

Beto O'Rourke Is a Pain in the ... Bank for the Republicans

Democrat Beto O'Rourke could ultimately lose to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in very red Texas, and yet save Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) in the process. The reason is simple. Republicans have now come to realize that O'Rourke is a spectacularly good campaigner and is pulling in tons of small donations, largely from out of state. Most of the Republican establishment despises Cruz, but they want to hold the seat, which means spending money—lots and lots of money—to save him. The reason is that Texas is a very expensive state. It has six of the top 100 media markets in the country: Dallas (5), Houston (8), San Antonio (31), Austin (39), Waco (87), and El Paso (92).

To make it worse, as of June 30, O'Rourke had $14 million in the bank to Cruz' $9 million, so Cruz might need $5 million just to get out of the hole, and every penny that goes into the Texas race is a penny that does not go into the Missouri or Indiana (or Florida or Tennessee or Nevada, or Arizona) races. In other words, having to spend a small fortune to prop up an unpopular incumbent in a very expensive state was not on the RNC's agenda. But is certainly is now. (V)

House Races Are Tight in Bellwether Districts

Monmouth University has run polls in eight bellwether House districts and published its findings. The districts are all over the map geographically and politically, which shows how things are doing in blue, even, and red districts. The districts are CA-48, PA-01, PA-17, NJ-03, NJ-11, OH-12, VA-10, and WV-03. Six are Republican seats and two are Democratic seats. Here are the main results:

  • Democrats are doing better in blue districts than Republicans are in red districts
  • Republicans' core bloc consists of blue-collar white men; Democrats depend on minorities and college graduates
  • Democrats are more fired up than Republicans
  • More people hate Donald Trump than love him

The pollster thinks that the election will be won by whichever party is better at turning out its base as the number of persuadable voters isn't very large. The small group of fence sitters tend to be white noncollege women and white college men. In the past, these groups voted Republican, but they are up for grabs now. (V)

Florida Should Be an Interesting Case Study

Everyone knows that Florida is the mother of all swing states. And political junkies know that there are two epic contests shaping up in the Sunshine State, namely Gov. Rick Scott (R) vs. Sen. Bill Nelson (D) for Nelson's Senate seat, and Ron DeSantis (R) vs. Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum (D) for the right to succeed Scott in the governor's mansion. And the different approaches that Scott and DeSantis are taking vis-a-vis Donald Trump should afford some interesting insights about whether GOP politicians in hotly-contested elections should hold the President close, or push him away.

Scott is the Republican who is pushing Trump away. There was a time when the Governor was among the Donald's most outspoken supporters, up to and including chairing the main super PAC that raised money for Trump's 2016 presidential bid. Now, however, Scott is pointedly avoiding any connection with his former buddy. He won't mention Trump's name, won't commit to having Trump stage a rally on his behalf, and instead is about to begin a series of appearances with Trump's nemesis (well, one of them), namely George W. Bush.

DeSantis, by contrast, is the Republican who is holding Trump close. He doesn't have a lot of options, since Trump effectively launched his candidacy, and since much of his media operation involves getting as much free publicity and as much appearance time as is possible from the Trump-loving Fox News. DeSantis is also running a commercial that could almost pass for a "Saturday Night Live" parody:

In it, the (former) Congressman teaches his two young children to worship Trump, including "building the wall" out of toy blocks, reading The Art of the Deal as a bedtime story, and dressing his infant son in a MAGA onesie.

Of course, candidates and issues matter. However, if one of the two Republicans does considerably better than the other—and again, they are both appearing on a statewide ballot in a very purple state—undoubtedly Republicans in other swing states will take note of the "correct" strategy in advance of the 2020 elections, not to mention any special elections in 2019. (Z)

Today in Defamation

Donald Trump's attitude toward women and his constant lying about it tends to get him sued regularly. Yesterday, we saw developments in two of the higher-profile cases. Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice," who alleged that Trump sexually assaulted her in 2007 and then lied about it, has sued him for defamation. Her lawyers and Trump's have now agreed that her lawyers will submit written questions to him, which he will answer under oath. In other words, if he lies in his written answers, that is perjury. For the time being, at least, Trump will not be cross examined in court.

The other high-profile defamation case was filed by Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford). She has sued Trump to get out of a hush money agreement. She also wants damages for Trump calling her a liar when she went public with the story of their one-night stand. On Friday, Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, made one last attempt to fix things by making an offer to Daniels that she could (and did) refuse: Just give back the $130,000 in hush money and we'll pretend the whole thing never happened. Yesterday, Daniels' made-for-TV lawyer, Michael Avenatti, filed court documents formally rejecting Cohen's offer. Avenatti wrote: "Defendants' sudden desire to escape having to defend this action without any meaningful consequence reflects a profoundly troubling reality—that Defendants have been shamelessly deceiving this Court and the American public for more than six months." Avenatti absolutely wants to depose Trump under oath because unlike Trump's television lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, Avenatti is actually a very good lawyer and has won major cases recently. He would make mincemeat of Trump on the witness stand. The judge has scheduled a conference between the opposing lawyers for Sept. 24. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep10 Top Republicans Are Worried about the Midterms
Sep10 Bring on the Lie Detectors
Sep10 The Time Trump Almost Started a War with Twitter
Sep10 Trump: Deal with Stormy Daniels Was Not Valid
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