So far this cycle, Donald Trump has been very generous with endorsements of candidates who claim he won in 2020, but has been extremely stingy about actually sharing some of the $100+ million in his big slush fund. Politico is reporting that it about to change. Trump's allies have launched a new super PAC, MAGA, Inc., that will dole out major contributions to some of the candidates he has endorsed. It could also become part of his campaign apparatus in a 2024 presidential run (though the legalities of that would be tricky).
The idea is to funnel large amounts of money into key races where Trumpist candidates are running, money is short and polling shows it is close. For the Senate, that describes all of the swing-state races except maybe Arizona, where it looks hopeless for Blake Masters, and possibly Pennsylvania, where Mehmet Oz is either well behind or completely cooked, depending on which poll you believe. Currently, the DSCC has twice as much cash on hand as the NRSC, so MAGA money will be very welcome.
The CEO of MAGA, Inc. will be Taylor Budowich, who was a senior adviser to Trump's 2020 campaign. The finance manager will be veteran GOP fundraiser Meredith O'Rourke. The chief strategist will be Chris LaCivita, who ran the biggest pro-Trump super PAC in 2020. Tony Fabrizio, who did Trump's polling in 2016 and 2020, will handle polling.
Putting all these senior, experienced people in top positions at MAGA, Inc., does have a downside. If the candidates lose anyway, it will be harder from Trump to blame the people at MAGA, Inc., since they are all experienced people he handpicked. It will also mean that other Republicans will get the message that sometimes Trump picks candidates, endorses them, funds them, gets them senior experienced advisers, and they still lose. So maybe Trump is not quite as all-powerful as he likes to act. Of course, if they all win, it sends the reverse message. Will Trump emerge from 2022 as a kingmaker or as an anchor? That could effect his future ambitions.
So far, this is just a report based on information from insiders. Trump is notoriously fickle and could change his mind at any moment. He also has to figure out how to handle candidates who scrubbed Trump from their websites after the primary.
Long experience shows that the candidate with the most money doesn't always win. If that were true, the Democrats would have something like 53 or 54 seats in the Senate now, because Democratic Senate candidates in half a dozen state outspent their opponents in 2020 and still lost. Nevertheless, more money is generally better than less money, despite Biggie Smalls' claims to the contrary. (V)
Democrats have long wanted to get dark money out of politics. Republicans, not so much. The Democrats wrote a bill that would require organizations that spend money on elections to quickly report any donations above $10,000. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) brought it up for consideration. Every Democrat present voted for the bill and every Republican present voted against it. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) were not present, so the vote was 49-49. It takes 60 votes to invoke cloture and break a filibuster, so the bill didn't make it.
A bill on this subject has been a top Democratic priority since the Citizens United decision in 2010 allowed outside groups to spend unlimited money on federal elections. It is clearly never going to pass unless the Democrats have the trifecta and enough votes to abolish or restrict the filibuster. Republicans don't want transparency because they benefit from huge donations from donors who don't want to be in the spotlight. The Democrats have many fewer billionaire dark donors. They do have billionaire donors, of course, but those donors generally don't try to hide what they are up to, unlike, say, the Kochs.
Of course, Schumer knew all this before bringing up the bill. However, the vote forced all the Republican senators except Crapo to go on record supporting unlimited dark money in politics. The voters of both parties don't like this, so Democratic ads from now until November can bring up the subject and say that Republican millionaires and billionaires are buying elections and Republican senators are just fine with that.
The poster child for their ads may be a shadowy billionaire, Barre Seid, who recently gave $1.6 billion to a political group controlled by Leonard Leo, the co-chairman of the Federalist Society. Leo can now intervene in any race he wants to with essentially unlimited funds and no one will know he was there. Making contributions to candidates public will not stop them, but the public relations pushback could be a real problem for some people and groups and could fuel demands to actually do something about the existence of so much money in politics. For example, it could lead Congress to create much more powerful schemes for public financing of all candidates for public office. (V)
Another bill the Democrats want to pass is one that updates the Electoral Count Act of 1887. Among other things, they want to have a law that specifically states exactly what the vice president's role is in counting the electoral votes (to dress nicely and say "thank you very much" when informed of the tally). They also want to raise the threshold of objecting to the electoral votes from any state from one senator and one representative to a much greater number, probably 20% of each chamber. That would make shenanigans during the Jan. 6 counting much more difficult.
A lot depends on the position of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). It now appears that McConnell is in favor of some sort of bill but is not taking an active role in writing the bill. He has indicated that if a bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans come up with a bill they can all support, he will support it as well.
His position may become clearer tomorrow when the Senate Rules Committee votes on a proposed bill. McConnell is a member of the Rules Committee and thus has a vote. It is possible that his vote may depend on the exact wording of the bill, as he is known to want to keep it as narrow as possible. However, he also knows that the person counting the electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2025 will be Kamala Harris. If there is no bill, she could interpret that to mean that Congress does not want to put any checks on the vice president's role in the counting. He certainly does not want that.
In contrast to McConnell, who is quietly for some kind of bill, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-CA) position is: "Whatever Donald Trump wants, I want." Last week, Trump chimed in on the bill, saying: "REPUBLICAN SENATORS SHOULD VOTE NO!" Since McCarthy is beholden to Trump far more than McConnell, what Donald wants, Donald gets. On the other hand, most Republican senators take their cues from McConnell, not from McCarthy. In fact, already 11 Republican senators are said to be in favor of the bill, although the devil is in the details. If it is narrow enough and McConnell supports it, it will probably pass both chambers and become law. (V)
At a festival sponsored by the Texas Tribune on Saturday, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) said about Donald Trump: "I'm going to do everything I can to make sure he is not the nominee. And if he is the nominee, I won't be a Republican." So apparently she will switch parties if Trump is the nominee. She didn't mention whether Dad likes this plan.
Then, Cheney went even further and said that she also strongly opposes 2022 candidates who support the lie that Trump won in 2020. In fact, she will actively campaign for Democrats this fall in races where the Republican is an election denier. One race where she will campaign is the Arizona gubernatorial race, where Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) is running against election denier Kari Lake (R). Cheney said: "I'm going to do everything I can to make sure Kari Lake is not elected."
However, when asked if she wants to see the Democrats hold the House, Cheney didn't give a straight answer. Clearly, her first preference is for sane Republicans. Implicitly, she is saying that given a choice between an election denier (R) and a generic Democrat, she'll go with the Democrat. But she also criticized Joe Biden, so she isn't switching sides. Her focus is on defeating Trump and his worshipers, not electing Democrats—except where that is a necessary evil to defeat someone who spouts the lie that Trump won in 2020.
This move makes sense for her. If she is out on the campaign trail as a high-profile Republican (with a solid Republican pedigree) actively helping Democrats, that is clearly "woman bites dog" news and will get her tons of media exposure. And when the Select Committee reconvenes and starts more hearings, that will get her even more PR. If she wants to run for president in 2024, all this publicity will clearly help. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is turning green with envy.
Cheney's decision to run in 2024 is obviously her own, but is going to be affected by circumstances beyond her control. Trump's legal woes are mounting. NY AG Letitia James has sued him for fraud in New York. Fulton County DA Fani Willis is very likely to indict him for multiple election-related crimes in Georgia by the end of this year. AG Merrick Garland may well indict him for violations of the Espionage Act and other crimes. All of these things increase the chances that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) will see Trump as badly wounded and will announce a presidential run early next year (assuming he is reelected in November).
What will Cheney do if DeSantis announces a run? Remember, she is not some sort of Democrat in sheep's clothing. She is a chip off the old block—a conservative Republican who happens to think Trump is leading the Republican Party off a cliff. She wants to salvage the Republican Party. Her chances of becoming president are practically zero, so if DeSantis jumps in, it makes sense for her to go to him early on and say: "I am potentially willing to give up a run myself and support you under the right conditions. By the way, I'm available if you run short of cabinet nominees. Do you think you will have any openings?" Being a loyal cabinet officer for 4 or 8 years in a DeSantis administration would probably make her acceptable to Republicans in 2032 when she will be 66. This is called playing the long game.
If DeSantis jumps in, challenging him makes no sense. Most Republican primaries are closed, so only Republicans can vote. Trumpish Republicans currently hate her and there aren't enough Trumpless (Trump-free? UnTrumped? DeDonned?) Republicans to win a winner-take-all primary. So jumping in against DeSantis would just split the anti-Trump vote and make it more likely that Trump wins by plurality in most states. That's the last thing she wants. So it will be interesting to see how she deals with DeSantis in the next couple of months. For example, does she support him on the issue of flying migrants to blue states? She's smart enough to know that DeSantis' plans certainly affect her, so there is no upside to annoying him and plenty of upside to making nice to him, even now. (V)
As we have pointed out many times, Republican donors are active up and down the ballot, funding races for state officials and also for members of the state legislatures. Democrats tend to focus on federal offices and governorships and ignore everything else. This leads to many purple states that have Republican-controlled state legislatures, even though half the voters or more are Democrats.
That may be starting to change. A Democratic group called the States Project is going to invest $60 million in state legislative races in (only) five states: Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maine and Nevada. In the first three, the goal is to flip one or both chambers. In the latter, it is keep the Democratic majorities. While it is better than nothing, trying to flip chambers in only three states is a very modest goal.
The Democrats were probably motivated by a case now before the Supreme Court, Moore v. Harper, that could give the state legislatures almost total power over elections (even excluding governors from the process). So, for example, a state legislature could pass a resolution that a presidential election is only advisory, and the legislature, not the voters, picks the presidential electors. In that case, controlling the legislature becomes of prime importance. Somehow, focusing the legislative efforts on only five states seems fairly weak, given the potential implications of this case.
One of the founders of the States Project, Adam Pritzker, said: "With the rise of the Tea Party and the balance of power dramatically shifting toward the right, the rest of us have been asleep at the wheel for too long at the state level. And now, this threat is truly off the charts."
The States Project is not going to run television ads or even digital ads. State Senate districts are too small for that and state House districts are way too small for that. Issues in state races are often hyperlocal, as in: "I will fight for funding to provide for better WiFi in the local high school." Consequently, what the group has been doing is carefully handing out money to Democratic candidates themselves in seats that look flippable and letting the candidates decide how best to use the funds. Also, if somebody else handles funding, the candidates can get out of their houses, off their phones begging for money, and spend more time meeting voters.
So far this year, Republican candidates for state legislative seats and outside groups supporting them have spent $39 million while Democratic groups have spent $35 million. Some of the Democrats' money has come from the States Project. The Republican State Leadership Committee raised $53 million in Q2, but it supports candidates for statewide office, as well as for the legislatures. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee raised just under $7 million in Q2, which is a record for it. This rather meager track record is what motivated Pritzker & Co. to bypass the DLCC and strike out on their own. (V)
When the Supreme Court issued the Dobbs decision in June, anti-abortion activists were ecstatic. They dreamed big. A constitutional amendment banning all abortions! Prosecuting anyone anywhere who aided an abortion! They immediately envisioned a federal law banning all abortions, even though the Court decision returned the matter to the states. What they didn't count on was a huge backlash that may badly hurt the Republicans in November. Thoughts of a national ban are definitely gone. When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) actually proposed one, none of his colleagues supported him.
So the action is now at the state level, as red state after red state passes draconian laws banning abortion, in some cases from early on in pregnancy, sometimes even from the moment of conception, when the soul apparently piggybacks on the lucky sperm to fertilize the egg. Now that the dust has settled a bit, it is becoming increasingly clear that such laws are going to be very unpopular. The much-respected Marquette Law School has released a new poll that clearly shows just how deep the opposition to draconian laws runs. Ninety percent of respondents say that victims of rape or incest should be able to get an abortion. This includes 81% of Republicans. Republican politicians who wan to ban all abortions are going to hear about it.
Also in the poll is that only 18% of respondents (and 25% of Republicans) want to bar a women to traveling to another state for an abortion. In addition, 76% of respondents (and 60% of Republicans) don't want states to ban women from getting abortion pills from out-of-state pharmacies.
The consequence of this strong public opposition to banning all abortions is that Republicans now find themselves divided. In a dozen states, all abortions are outlawed, but the trend is against that. Even conservative South Carolina backed off a law that had no exceptions for rape and abortion. No state has yet outlawed traveling to another state for an abortion.
Medical abortions are another problem. No state has criminalized getting an abortion, as the PR would be horrendous. Imagine the reaction if a 10-year-old girl was raped, got abortion pills and was then arrested and put in prison.The DA who prosecuted the case would have some explaining to do at his next election. Or at his tar and feathering. But criminalizing providing the pills is unenforceable since the prescribing physician and the pharmacy are always in states where that is legal. This puts Republican politicians in a real bind and they are divided on how to proceed. Just accepting that in practice abortions will always be available will anger their base, but making it illegal to get an abortion will have huge blowback. And as the Marquette poll shows that the problem is not going to go away by itself. In fact, it is getting worse. In May, 34% said abortion was a top issue. Now that is 61%.
The issue just popped up unexpectedly in Arizona when a judge ruled on Friday that a 1901 law that bans all abortions can now be enforced. This law dates back to before Arizona was even a state. The Trumpy candidates for governor, senator, and secretary of state are now going to be peppered with questions about this since they all oppose abortion.
The poll also asked some other interesting questions. For example, 59% support Joe Biden's cancellation of student debt and 40% oppose it. On the generic House poll, Democrats now lead 47% to 41%. Finally, Marquette asked how favorable the respondent looked on various public figures. The net favorabilities were: Donald Trump (-30), Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) (-19), Mike Pence (-17), Ron DeSantis (-12), Joe Biden (-11), Pete Buttigieg (-7), Liz Cheney (-6), and Anthony Fauci (+2). (V)
Last week, New York AG Letitia James brought civil charges against Donald Trump, his family, his executives, and his company. That left many people wondering why she didn't bring criminal charges. Good question.
There are three answers. First, as we mentioned on Saturday, she doesn't have the power to do that. New York State law says that violations of state law are prosecuted by the DA in the county where the crime was committed. There are only a few crimes the AG can prosecute on her own, including bid rigging and payroll violations. So if James tried to charge Trump, et al., with crimes, the charges would most likely have been thrown out in court. She knows that. Nevertheless, the AG can partner with a DA or U.S. Attorney's office and provide information and help. She chose to partner with the SDNY, which can prosecute federal crimes that occurred in New York. Bank fraud, insurance fraud, and tax fraud are federal crimes as well as state crimes.
Second, mounting a criminal case is much more difficult than a civil case. In a criminal case, all the jurors must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. All it would take to get a hung jury is one Trump supporter on the jury who says he or she is not absolutely and totally convinced. In a civil case, the standard is "preponderance of evidence." In other words, which side has the best case, For example, if James shows the jury a case in which Trump told the tax authorities that some property was worth $10 million and told the banks it was worth $50 million, he could argue that $10 million was the correct value, so there was no tax fraud. As to the banks, they should have been smart enough to make their own appraisals and not believe mine, so it was the bank's own fault. Against that argument, James could say to the jury: "Do you really believe that or is he full of it?" An answer of: "Yeah, that story seems pretty unlikely to me" is enough for a conviction in a civil case, but not in a criminal case. In other words, going for a civil case makes the case easier to win.
Third, members of a jury could be hesitant to send a former president to prison. Trump's lawyers would certainly encourage this hesitation by pointing out that one administration putting the previous one in the dock is Third-World-country behavior. In a civil case, James merely has to say: "Trump broke the law but we are not aiming to put him in prison. We merely want to hit him with a modest fine. He claims to be worth $10 billion, so $250 million is less than 3% of his net worth. Surely you agree with at least a small penalty for breaking the law?" That might work with a lot of jurors. Even some of his supporters might be OK with what they perceive as a slight slap on the wrist, whereas they would never vote to put him in prison.
Of course, the SDNY might well try to put Trump behind bars, but that would be a different trial and much later. If he is found guilty in the civil trial, that might make it easier in the criminal one, as the prosecution could say: "A jury already found him guilty. Surely you agree and aren't going to let him off this time?" (V)
As a PR stunt, Ron DeSantis has gathered up undocumented immigrants from Texas, made false promises of housing and jobs to them, and shipped them to Martha's Vineyard, with a short stopover in Florida to try to get around the problem that using state funds to ship them from Texas directly to Massachusetts would be illegal. Last Monday, we had an item about how Latinos in Florida are very angry about this and the stunt could backfire on DeSantis. On Friday, The Hill had a very similar story, and other publications have also run such pieces.
DeSantis isn't the only Republican governor doing this kind of stuff. He is just more wasteful with state money when doing so. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) beat him to it by shipping over 11,000 migrants to New York, Chicago and D.C. since April, but he sent them by bus. DeSantis shipped 50 people to Massachusetts by plane at a cost of $615,000 to the Florida taxpayers. Sending all of them first class on a scheduled United Airlines flight would have cost about $50,000. But the company whose plane DeSantis chartered has connections to big Republican donors. It's always about the grift.
The Ipsos poll shows that only 29% of American adults approve of this stunt. Among Democrats, it is only one in six and among Republicans it is about half. But Abbott and DeSantis are focusing on their base and nothing gets the base more excited than owning the libs. They probably weren't thinking about other voters, especially Latinos and independents, who are definitely not on board with these stunts.
The YouGov poll gives a somewhat different picture. There, 44% approved and 44% disapproved, with 12% undecided. But here as well, fewer than half approve. The main difference with the Ipsos poll is that in the YouGov poll, three-quarters of Republicans approved of the practice. The polls are quite different, which is somewhat alarming. It could be due to how the people were sampled or how the question was worded.
In any event, the country is badly split on immigration policy, as with so many other things. Republicans say that it is a crisis and Democrats don't think it is. (V)
There are basically two ways to predict how many House seats each party will have in January. The first way is to analyze the polling, fundraising, candidates, and district lean for each of the 435 districts and call a winner in each one. Then add them up. The second way is to make a mathematical model based on generic polls, the president's popularity, the Dow Jones index, the unemployment rate, the national committee fundraising, and a whole bunch of other factors. Then the model is fed the data for 2020, 2018, 2016, and earlier years and the factors and weights tuned to make it really good at predicting the past. Then it is let loose with the current data. Each approach has its fans.
CBS News has a model that has been eating data and spitting out results for months now. In July, it predicted 230 seats for the Republicans. In August it predicted 226 seats. Now it is predicting 223 seats. The margin of error here is ±13. If the Republicans keep losing 3 seats per month, it will be 220 on Oct. 25 and 217 on Nov 25. Interpolating, we get about 218 or 219 on Nov. 8. It takes 218 for control, of course. In January, anyone who suggested it might be close would have been laughed out of the room, but now the consensus view seems to be the Republicans will get control but with a very narrow majority.
In addition to releasing the new predictions from the model yesterday, CBS News also released a new YouGov poll conducted Sept. 21-23. A number of poll questions stand out. Among women, abortion is the top issue, with 71% saying they won't vote for a candidate who doesn't share their views on the subject (but note, some women are against abortion). Next come the economy (67%), immigration (62%), and Jan. 6 (59%). On the overturning of Roe v. Wade, 43% say this is more likely to make them vote Democratic and 26% saying this is more likely to make them vote Republican. Among all registered voters, 43% say that a Republican Congress will mean fewer rights for women and 18% say it will mean more rights for women. Among all voters, about half see members of the other party as enemies rather than just political opponents.
On the other hand, 81% of Republicans and only 40% of Democrats say immigration is very important to them. Also noteworthy is that a full 74% say U.S. democracy is threatened and only 26% say it is not. Unfortunately, the pollsters did ask why. Among Republicans 65% say being loyal to Donald Trump is important and 35% say it is not. Clearly his grip on the party is still strong.
Finally, we come to what is probably the most important question: Who will vote? Among Republicans 79% will definitely vote, among Democrats 74% will definitely vote, and among independents it is 70% However, the breakdown by age shows huge differences by age group. Among young voters (18-29), 47% will definitely vote. Among 30-44 year olds it is 62%. Then we get to 45-53 year olds, where that climbs to 82%. Finally, for seniors it is 91%. This gibes with more Republicans planning to vote than Democrats because older voters skew Republican. (V)
Twenty years ago, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira published a book entitled The Emerging Democratic Majority. It famously argued that demographic change would give the Democratic Party a permanent majority. The percentage of the population consisting of minorities was growing, so all the Democrats had to do was hang onto a substantial part of the white working-class while making inroads with college-educated whites. Demographics would do the rest.
The book was a best seller and shocked both parties. The other Nate (The New York Times' Nate Cohn) has taken a look at the book with 20 years of hindsight to see if the authors nailed it. Quick answer: No. Below is the map the authors predicted on the left and the average of the past five presidential elections on the right.
Judis and Teixeira were overly pessimistic about Colorado and Virginia and wildly optimistic about Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Florida. Basically, they got two things wrong. First, Democrats quickly began doing very well with college-educated white voters, a change Donald Trump greatly accelerated. This explains why Colorado and Virginia are now basically blue states. Second, they assumed white working-class voters would vote their economic interests. Instead they have consistently voted their antagonism to the Democrats' liberal ideas on just about every social issue.
How did they get these things so wrong? Well, Bill Clinton did keep the white working-class voters in the fold, and the authors assumed subsequent Democrats would do the same thing. But Clinton was an enormously gifted and charismatic once-in-a-generation politician. No other Democrat came close to that until Barack Obama who, unfortunately for the Democrats, was Black, thus driving many bigoted voters into the Republican column. Had he been white, he might have pulled off permanent change. As it is, the election of a Black man angered so many voters that it ultimately led to Donald Trump. Judis and Teixeira correctly foresaw the demographic change coming—even if they missed a Black man being elected president—but they hugely underestimated the white backlash to it.
The book also missed the huge importance of the culture wars. Half the country wants to go back to small-town America as it was in, say, 1850, when Black folks were in the cotton fields, women were in the kitchen, Latinos were in Mexico, and gays were in the closet. The other half is vigorously opposed to going back to that. That might be its biggest failing. But before writing Judis and Teixeira off as stupid, however, write down on a piece of paper what you think the election of 2044 will be about, squirrel that piece of paper away, and check it out in 2044.
Cohn feels the book's biggest shortcoming is that it assumed the transition from an industrial society to a post-industrial society would not be accompanied by any of the conflict, unrest, turmoil, and reaction to the change that the change from an agrarian society to an industrial one in the early part of the 20th century had. It assumed a peaceful, prosperous, and content nation where centrist Democrats would be able to win election after election by making incremental changes that everyone would accept.
Yes, demographic change is occurring, but the pace is slow and the reaction to it is swift. One part of demographic change that might drive the future is not so much race but age. The Republican base is old and the Democratic base is young. The Republicans will have to do something about that or they may discover that their real enemy is Father Time. (V)