Dem 47
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Ties 2
GOP 51
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New polls: VA
Dem pickups vs. 2012: NV
GOP pickups vs. 2012: IN ND
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Manafort Flips
      •  Kavanaugh Letter Leaks
      •  The Primaries Are Over: What Have We Learned?
      •  CNN's New Ranking of the 2020 Democratic Field
      •  Avenatti: Time to Indict Trump
      •  Ohio's Wealthiest Person Isn't a Republican Anymore
      •  Texans and their Textbooks
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Manafort Flips

Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort got tired of waiting for his pardon and ultimately decided that he would be better off betting on special counsel Robert Mueller than on Trump. He was found guilty on eight charges in Virginia last month and was about to go on trial in D.C. with a much less friendly judge and a far less sympathetic jury pool, so cutting a deal was the only way to avoid going to prison for the rest of his life. The deal that Andrew Weissmann, Mueller's right-hand man, offered him was for him to plead guilty on two conspiracy charges relating to his work for a Russian-puppet regime in Ukraine years ago. All the other charges will be dropped if Manafort spills the beans.

At this point, Weissmann and Mueller know a lot about the campaign and contact with the Russians, but there are important details that Manafort can fill in for them. A key one is what exactly happened at the Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya in July 2016. Manafort was there. He knows very well if the campaign colluded with the Russians because he was the one who would have been doing the colluding. Trump has been saying since the investigation started that the campaign didn't collude with the Russians, but if his campaign manager says: "Of course we colluded and I was the one who did it," that would be the end of Trump. It is at least possible that the meeting really was about Russian adoptions, as Trump has claimed, but Occam's razor does not favor that explanation.

Manafort is not getting off that lightly. The government has seized four of his homes and some of his bank accounts. But Manafort won't be homeless. The government will provide free housing and free food for at least a few years based on the charges he pleaded guilty to. Also, the government will at least try to make sure there is no polonium in his tea, although that will continue to be a threat once he is sprung from prison, since he probably is going to have to come clean on what he knows about Russian billionaire and Putin crony Oleg Deripaska.

The seizure of Manafort's properties will render one of Trump's complaints about Mueller's probe inoperative: the cost. Trump has said the $17 million it has cost so far is a huge waste of taxpayer money. According to the values at, the value of the properties the government seized is $22 million. However, it is not known if Manafort owns them all alone and with no mortgage. Still, between the properties and the bank accounts seized, the government may have recovered enough money to pay for the whole Mueller operation. While the investigation was not originally intended to turn a profit, it might well end up doing so. Trump knew his presidency would be a moneymaker, he just didn't realize it would happen like this.

Trump hasn't tweeted about this yet, but Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a brief statement: "This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign." Depending on the meaning of "this," Sanders' statement is either completely true or an utter lie. If "this" refers to the charges Manafort pleaded guilty to, then indeed this is not Russia-related. But if "this" refers to the deal Manafort made, it is absolutely about Trump, the campaign, and Russia.

Trump's TV lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, also tried to put on a brave face, saying: "Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: The president did nothing wrong." Again, the plea is not related to Trump, but any beans Manafort has spilled are all Trump-branded beans.

Nevertheless, Manafort's decision does have an upside for Trump: No trial. A weeks-long trial would drive the news cycle every day in the middle of the campaign. Instead of talking about the economy and tax cuts, Republicans out on the trail would be forced to comment on whatever happened in the trial that day. Now that danger is gone. Still, the real importance of Manafort's decision is not known because we don't know whether he told Mueller anything of real value. (V)

Kavanaugh Letter Leaks

A week ago, only a few people in Washington knew about the allegations against SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But when Sen. Dianne Feinstein she sent a letter to the FBI on Thursday, a bunch more people joined the club. At that point, it was all but certain that the story would leak, sooner or later. Almost as certain was that it would be the New Yorker's Ronan Farrow who got it first. And so it is that both things came to pass on Friday afternoon.

The story told by the accuser, who remains anonymous, is that while they were in high school together, she was trapped in a room by Kavanaugh and a friend during a party. She says that Kavanaugh forced himself upon her, tried to remove her clothes, covered her mouth with his hand so she could not scream, and loud music was played so her cries would not be heard. Eventually, she says, she was able to escape through a bathroom, though she says she was compelled to seek treatment for injuries, and later to get psychological counseling. The woman currently does not intend to go public, but she has engaged counsel.

Kavanaugh, of course, says it didn't happen: "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time." The evidence at hand, however, suggests he is not being truthful. First of all, these sorts of allegations are rarely made up out of whole cloth—only 2% to 6% of the time, according to those who have studied the matter. Second, if she was some sort of operative trying to torpedo the nomination, this is not the kind of story she would have told. A fake story would likely have had less detail, and would have made Kavanaugh look guilty of worse. The details here, if true, are undoubtedly enough to send someone to prison for a nice, long stretch, but they aren't nearly as damning as they could be.

Perhaps most troublesome for Kavanaugh, however, is the response of the friend named in the story. Reached by Farrow, he said: "I have no recollection of that." This is, first of all, the exact response that people give when they don't want to turn on their friend, but they also don't want to risk getting in trouble for lying or for perjuring themselves. Second, if he cannot say unequivocally that it did not happen, then it means it is at least possible that it did happen. And if it is possible that it did happen, that reflects badly on Kavanaugh whether or not the accuser is being truthful.

Members of Team Trump are trying to circle the wagons, suggesting that this is a conspiracy since the accusations were not made until the 11th hour. The accuser has a pretty good response to this, however, namely that seeing Kavanaugh's name in the headlines, over and over, reawakened the trauma and motivated her to come forward. Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, a number of Democrats are irritated with Feinstein for keeping this to herself for so long.

There is no predicting, at this point, what the impact of all of this will be. On one hand, Clarence Thomas was accused of sexual misconduct by an accuser who had considerably more evidence to offer, and who was willing to tell her story before Congress, and yet he was still confirmed. On the other hand, that was 25 years before #MeToo, so there may not be quite so much tolerance for this sort of thing. The only thing we can say for sure is that these allegations give red-state Democrats, and even moderate Republicans, some cover if they would prefer to vote against Kavanaugh. We should soon know if anyone decides to use that cover. (Z)

The Primaries Are Over: What Have We Learned?

The primary season is finally over. The next election occurs in every state on Nov. 6. The New York Times has put together a list of things we have learned from the primaries:

  • Democrats have two paths in 2020: As we and others have noted many times, the Democrats have nominated older, white, experienced, moderate men in the Midwest and a more liberal and diverse collection of candidates elsewhere. For House elections, that works fine. A representative from Kansas doesn't have to match one from the Bronx. One thing that Democratic strategists are going to be looking at very closely on Nov. 7 is which group did better. If nominating moderate men can win back the Midwest, that is going to be a big boost to moderate Democrats like Govs. John Hickenlooper (CO) and Andrew Cuomo (NY). On the other hand, if young progressive women bring in new voters in large numbers outside the Midwest, that is going to boost the fortunes of candidates like Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

  • A New generation has arisen, led by women: A very large number of women won primaries this year. In fact, 197 women are running for the House and Senate as Democrats, nearly all of them younger than the Democratic leadership in Congress, most of whom are pushing 80. More than a dozen women are also running for governor. If many of the women win, that could change the face of politics enormously and would certainly reverberate into 2020.

  • Both parties have new rules: For Republicans, the only thing that matters is whether the candidate would take a bullet for Donald Trump. All the old Republican values, like the rule of law, free trade, a welcome mat for legal immigrants, opposition to deficits, etc. are irrelevant. Only loyalty to Trump matters now. For Democrats, the party has shifted appreciably leftward, with women and minority candidates leading the way.

  • Republicans are bleeding in the open seats: Republicans are defending a mind-boggling 41 open House seats. Open seats are much more vulnerable than seats with an incumbent running. A substantial number of these are not solidly Republican and the Democrats have decent candidates in most of them. Control of the House is likely to depend on how these open-seat elections go. History shows that it is not like flipping 41 coins, with each flip independent of all the others. It is likely that one party will win the lion's share. But which one? The energy is with the Democrats, but the Republican Party has a lot more money.

Also note that the battle for the Senate will be completely different from the battle for the House. The former will play out in deep red rural states with a Democrat trying to hang on for dear life. The latter will play out in swing districts, where moderate or progressive candidates will be making a pitch to college-educated suburban voters. (V)

CNN's New Ranking of the 2020 Democratic Field

Under the old rules, the presidential election didn't start until the midterms were over. Under the new rules, it starts the day after the voting ends in the previous cycle. With that in mind, here is CNN's new ranking of the 2020 Democratic field, with brief comments about the candidates.

  1. Elizabeth Warren: the party is moving left and her pitch (fighting corruption) could easily resonate with many voters
  2. Kamala Harris: Liberals, women, and minorities are on the upswing, and she covers all bases
  3. Joe Biden: Although he is old and white, he is very popular with many Democrats from all wings of the party
  4. Kirsten Gillibrand: She is biding her time to avoid taking a lot of arrows now, but make no mistake, she is running
  5. Bernie Sanders: Like Biden, another old, white man, but he built quite a following in 2016
  6. Cory Booker: His behavior at Kavanaugh's hearings will endear him to many Democrats who see him as Obama II
  7. Amy Klobuchar: She is more moderate than the others and from the Midwest and might turn that region blue
  8. Eric Garcetti: Running Los Angeles is like running the country in miniature and he is the son of immigrants
  9. Steve Bullock: No other candidate can boast he has twice won in a deep red state
  10. Beto O'Rourke: If he knocks off Ted Cruz, he will be seen as the second coming of Bobby Kennedy

Of course, few pundits would have predicted two years out that Donald Trump would get the Republican nomination, so take this with an adequate amount of salt. (V)

Avenatti: Time to Indict Trump

Michael Avenatti, who represents Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford) may be the only lawyer involved in Donald Trump's many scandals who (1) Doesn't work for Robert Mueller, and (2) Actually knows what he's doing. As an added bonus, he is also quite good on television—an equal to Jay Sekulow, and far better than Rudy Giuliani. This week, he penned a New York Times op-ed arguing that there is now more than enough evidence to indict Donald Trump with, and that the time has come to move forward with that, and to let the Supreme Court decide whether a sitting president is or is not indictable.

Special counsel Robert Mueller keeps his own, well, special counsel, and undoubtedly does not care one whit about what Avenatti has to say. So, the significance of the op-ed is this: Avenatti is doing an excellent job positioning himself as a leader (and maybe the leader) of the Trump resistance, something that will definitely need to be on the resume of the Democrats' 2020 nominee. Not coincidentally, he has also slowly been putting it out there that he may be interested in running. In the past, it would have been unthinkable that Americans might send someone to the White House whose primary skill appears to be going on TV and badmouthing the current president. However, we are now living in a brave new world, and so President Avenatti, while certainly not a likelihood, is no longer an impossibility. (Z)

Ohio's Wealthiest Person Isn't a Republican Anymore

The richest person in Ohio is Les Wexner, a self-made billionaire whose net worth is in the $6 billion range. In the past, he has been very politically active on behalf of Republican candidates, donating six figures to Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), among others. No more, though. This week, he quit the party, announcing that he "won't support this nonsense" anymore. Apparently, this move has been a long time coming, but the final push came in the form of a speech Barack Obama made in Ohio this week. "I was struck by the genuineness of the man; his candor, humility and empathy for others," Wexner said.

At the very least, the loss of such a juicy piggy bank in such an important swing state is a pretty serious setback for the GOP. And if more ultra-rich donors (the Kochs?) decide that there's more to life than just getting a few extra million in taxes back, it could be very painful for the Party, indeed. (Z)

Texans and their Textbooks

Texas is one of a handful of states big enough that when they tell textbook publishers to "jump," the publishers have to reply, "how high?" California, Florida, and New York can do it, too, but Texas is pretty much the only red state with that kind of pull. And so, they have been at the forefront of kooky efforts to rewrite the past to be more palatable to the state's conservative voters. For example, Thomas Jefferson was effectively stricken from the record because he wasn't really Christian and he argued for separation of church and state. Consequently, the Declaration of Independence was left to write itself, and Louisiana was left to purchase itself.

Anyhow, Lone Star State "educators" are at it again, and this time their target is...Hillary Clinton, who is likely to be erased from state curriculum. Which, if nothing else, is one way for Donald Trump to score that popular vote victory he so badly wants. After all, if he had no opponent, then he definitely got the most votes. Also on the chopping block is Helen Keller. The only surprising thing about that is that she's hung around this long. It's true that her perseverance in facing the challenges of being both blind and deaf allowed her to become an author, activist and a national icon. However, she was also an avowed socialist, and we can't have that.

The point of noting this story is not to make fun of Texans, though, nor is it to allow the resident historian (Z) to express irritation with people who rewrite the past to suit their needs. No, it's to reiterate a recurring theme, namely that in just about every area of life, Republicans are occupying one reality, Democrats another, and less and less often do the twain meet. (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Virginia Tim Kaine* 54% Corey Stewart 39% Sep 05 Sep 12 Princeton Survey

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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