This is where you can read our posts, listed chronologically. We hope you find them thought-provoking, informative and/or in some other way worthwhile reading.
This is where you can read our posts, listed chronologically. We hope you find them thought-provoking, informative and/or in some other way worthwhile reading.
Republicans still are recovering from a brutal midterm election, but one of the bright spots is that there will be pickup opportunities galore in the 2020 election.
Democrats this month flipped at least 39 seats in the House of Representatives, with two races still undermined. As a result, they will be in control of the chamber come January.
But the consequence of such a sweeping victory is that Democrats in 2020 will have to defend a number of districts that normally tilt Republican – in some cases, significantly so.
Assuming Democrats hold on to the undecided race where they lead and lose the one where they trail, they will have a majority of 235 seats. That would mean Republicans would need a net gain of 18 seats in 2020 to win back control.
This is not a prediction that Republicans will do that, or that they will flip any or all of these 18. Instead, it’s a look – an early look – at which ones seem most vulnerable. The national political environment, the presidential candidates and incumbent retirements all will be important factors. But for now, here are the 18 most vulnerable Democratic districts:
South Carolina 1st District: Democrat Joe Cunningham stunned Republican Katie Arrington by a whisker in a district that hugs the Atlantic Ocean. Democrats benefited from a GOP that was divided after Arrington upset incumbent Mark Sanford in the Republican primary. But it is a fundamentally Republican district. President Donald Trump won it by 13.1 percentage points in 2016, and the Cook Political Report rates its Partisan Voter Index at an R+10 based on its performance in the last two presidential elections. Cunningham will have his hands full.
Oklahoma 5th District: Democrat Kendra Horn knocked off incumbent Steve Russell in an Oklahoma City district that virtually no one thought was in play. Russell refused to run negative ads even as internal polls showed the race tightening. It’s unlikely the next Republican candidate will make that mistake. Trump won the district by 13.7 points, and it has a PVI of R+10.
New York 22nd District: Democrat Anthony Birindisi edged incumbent Republican Claudia Tenney by an eighth of a percentage point. He will have to work hard to win again. His district has a PVI of R+6, and Trump won it in 2016 by 15.3 points.
New Mexico 2nd District: In a race with no incumbent, Democrat Xochitl Torres Small won the race by less than a percentage point. The southern New Mexico district has a PVI of R+6, and Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by 10.2 points. Small will have the advantage of incumbency two years from now, but if Trump is running in the district as well as he did in 2016, she could be in trouble.
Utah 4th District: Republican incumbent Mia Love lost in a race so close that it took weeks to settle. The PVI is R+13. Trump underperformed in Utah, but he still carried that district by 6.7 points. Democrat Ben McAdams benefited from a base in the heart of the district in Salt Lake County, where he was mayor. Love hails from the less populous Utah County. A strong candidate from Salt Lake County and a better national environment could lead to a different result.
New York 11th District: Democrat Max Rose beat incumbent Dan Donovan by 6 points in a district dominated by Staten Island. But it has a PVI of R+3 and was particularly pro-Trump in 2016; the president carried it by 9.8 points.
Virginia 7th District: Democrat Abigail Spanberger upended incumbent Dave Brat by 2 points in the Richmond suburbs and benefited from Trump’s unpopularity and Virginia’s hard turn to the left in recent years. But it has a PVI of R+6, and Trump won it by 6.5 points. In addition, House Freedom Caucus member Brat may have been a little too far to the right. A more mainstream Republican might have a better shot.
Maine 2nd District: Democrat Jared Golden beat Bruce Poliquin, eliminating New England’s last congressional Republican. But it has a PVI of R+2, and the largely rural district was set up perfectly for Trump, who won it by 10.3 points. One wrinkle: Maine now uses ranked-choice voting, and Golden – trailing after the first round – overcame Poliquin after the voters’ second choices were accounted for.
Maryland 6th District: With the boundaries that existed this month, this is not a prime pickup opportunity. Democrat David Trone won the open-seat race with almost 58 percent of the vote. But an appeals court has upheld a federal judge’s ruling that Maryland Democrats illegally gerrymandered the district, breaking up a Republican-leaning district by connecting red western Maryland with the Democratic suburbs outside of Washington. Barring a Supreme Court intervention, this would become a prime GOP target.
Michigan 11th District: Democrat Haley Stevens won an open seat in this suburban Detroit district by 6.2 points. But it’s an R+4 district that Trump won by 4.4 points.
Michigan 8th District: Much like the neighboring 11th District, this is Republican-leaning territory that the GOP ceded this month. But while Stevens won an open seat, Elissa Slotkin won her race in the 8th against an incumbent. On the other hand, it has a PVI of R+4, and Trump won it by 6.7 points.
Minnesota 7th District: The district covering most of western Minnesota has become increasingly Republican. While 2008 GOP nominee John McCain beat Barack Obama by 3 points and Republican Mitt Romney beat him by 10, Trump bested Clinton by 30.5 points. It has a PVI of R+12. But Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson has been in office since 1991 and has managed to win close elections. Should he decide to retire, this district would move to the top of the list.
Illinois 14th District: Democrat Lauren Underwood beat incumbent Randy Hultgren by fewer than 2 points in a district on the outskirts of the Chicago metropolitan area. But it has a PVI of R+5, and Trump won it by 3.9 points.
Virginia 2nd District: Republican Scott Taylor was another victim of the GOP’s Virginia debacle, losing to Democrat Elaine Luria by 1.1. points. But the Hampton Roads district has a PVI of R+3, and Trump carried it by 3.4 points.
Iowa 3rd District: Democrat Cindy Axne unseated David Young by 1.5 points. She might have a tougher time if the political environment is more favorable to Republicans in 2020. Trump won the district by 3.5 points in 2016. Its PVI is R+1.
Georgia 6th District: The Atlanta suburbs clearly have become more Democratic in recent years. Republican Karen Handel barely won a special election here last year, only to lose by a point in this month’s election to Democrat Lucy McBath. Although it has a PVI of R+8, Trump only carried it by 1.5 points. This will be a dogfight in 2020.
New York 19th District: Republican incumbent John Faso fell to Democrat Antonio Delgado by nearly 3 points. But Trump won it by 6.8 points, and it has a PVI of R+2.
New Jersey 2nd District: New Jersey was another debacle for the GOP in the midterms. When the dust settled, the state’s delegation was left with only one Republican representative. But New Jersey still has a lot of Republican voters, particularly in south Jersey, where Democrat Jeff Van Drew captured an open House seat. It has a PVI of R+1, and Trump won it by 4.6 points.
This story from the San Diego Union-Tribune on Nov. 25 ought to have caught the eye of anyone following the immigration debate: U.S. Border Patrol agents responded to about 100 border crashers with pepper spray.
Scenes such as this have sparked outrage among immigration advocates as President Donald Trump's administration has tried to stop illegal immigrants who traveled from Central America in a throng that the media have dubbed a caravan.
Only this Union-Tribune story was not from last week. It was from 2013.
It’s remarkable how differently similar government actions have been portrayed. Then, as over this past weekend, Border Patrol officers were responding to dozens of border crossers throwing rocks. Then, as now, government officials defended their reaction in the name of safeguarding the agents.
But Trump’s critics shrilly describe efforts to enforce immigration law as monstrous and unprecedented — the actions of a cruel, totalitarian regime. Some said they are ashamed to be American.
The contrast to 2013, when Barack Obama ran the federal government, is stark.
Immigration advocates at that time expressed concern over the incident, but it was rather subdued compared with the overheated rhetoric of today. Christian Ramirez, the human rights director for the Southern Border Communities Coalition, told the newspaper that the Border Patrol should release more information about its use-of-force policies.
“Because of the growing instances in which Border Patrol has been involved in this sort of use-of-force that it’s important for the agency to be transparent,” Ramirez said. “To report to the public exactly what went on and to report what weapons were used.”
But advocates also acknowledged the “restraint” shown by the agents deploying pepper spray.
Compare that to the Southern Border Communities Coalition’s reaction to the current clashes at the border. Vicki Gaubeca, the group’s director, blasted Trump in a news release this week.
“This hate-fueled narrative is not only harmful and violent, but morally reprehensible,” she stated. “We need a hemispheric humanitarian response to address the spiraling violence and poverty that is driving people to leave their homes, not further militarization of the border.”
Pedro Rios, a steering committee member of the organization and director of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S./Mexico Border Program, harshly criticized the Border Patrol in the same release.
“It is unconscionable that Border Patrol would violently repress migrants who have expressed a desire to petition for asylum in the United States,” he stated. “Shooting men, women, and children with tear gas is reprehensible behavior.”
Another thing missing from the coverage of that 2013 incident in San Diego — vitriol over physical barriers along the border.
It’s hard to remember now, but it wasn’t long ago that America had a broad national consensus that an effective way to block foreigners from rushing across the border was to erect barriers along the international boundary.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006, which called for 700 miles of double-layered fencing, passed the House of Representatives on a 283-138 vote and the Senate on an 80-19 vote. Sixty-four Democrats in the House and 26 Senate Democrats supported it. Voting “aye” were then-Sen. Obama of Illinois; Sens. Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer of New York; and Joe Biden of Delaware.
Congress never followed through with enough funds to complete the project. But illegal border crossings plummeted dramatically in the San Diego sector, where the structures did go up.
The Union-Tribune, in its coverage of the 2013 incident, alluded to the efficacy of those barriers and to structures built earlier. The publication noted how rare such confrontations had become.
“This type of rush on the border has not been seen since the late 1980s and early ’90s, when groups of border-crossers would run into the U.S. while agents tried to apprehend as many people as possible,” the paper reported. “The practice mostly disappeared after Operation Gatekeeper began in 1994 and brought with it tall fences, walls and more agents.”
But in the era of Trump, the idea of dividing the border with walls has become racist in the eyes of the left.
Buried behind the close races for governor and senator in Florida was a ballot measure in the Sunshine State that could have changed the outcome of both elections.
Florida voters agreed to automatically restore the voting rights of most convicted felons after they finish their sentences or terms of parole and probation. In a state famous for nail-biting elections, Amendment 4 passed in a landslide — by better than a 2-to-1 margin.
The Sentencing Project estimates that about 1.5 million Floridians have criminal records, although the changes will not benefit people convicted of murder and felony sex offenses. Even if just a small fraction of those ex-felons actually vote, it could be enough to swing elections. Republican Rick Scott won his race for the U.S. Senate by a little more than 10,000 votes, for instance, and Republican Ron DeSantis topped his opponent by just 32,463 votes in the governor’s race.
That's where Stephen Nodine comes in. The former Alabama politician-turned-felon, who moved back to his native Florida after finishing his sentence, recently founded an organization dedicated to organizing the felon vote.
Nodine envisions an influential voting bloc that candidates would have to reckon with and that could leverage its influence to win support for laws to ease the transition from prison to respectable society. Even if only 300,000 of those who are eligible registered to vote, he said, it could determine the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
“That’s a helluva voting bloc,” he said.
Nodine speaks from personal experience. He was a Mobile County commissioner when his girlfriend died from a gunshot wound in 2010. Prosecutors brought a murder charge, despite indications that the woman committed suicide.
A jury failed to convict Nodine of the murder, but he spent time in prison on a federal charge related to possession of firearms by a drug abuser, based on his use of marijuana. He also pleaded guilty to a perjury charge related to incorrect information about his personal finances that he supplied on a form requesting a court-appointed lawyer.
Nodine’s nascent organization, Florida’s Second Chance Voters, already has received some national attention.
Nodine, a lifelong Republican, said he also hopes to change the attitudes of people in his party. The GOP historically has been lukewarm to reforms designed to increase voting rights of people convicted of crimes.
When explaining Republican opposition to a 2003 bill that would have made it easier for ex-felons to restore their voting right in Alabama, Marty Connors — who then was the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party — was blunt.
“As frank as I can be, we’re opposed to it because felons don’t vote Republican,” he said at the time.
(Ironically, Connors could be in a position to personally benefit from a reform to automatically restore voting rights; he faces federal bribery charges.)
But Connors had a basis for his gut feeling on the issue. There is evidence that felons who win the right to vote tilt Democrat.
A 2014 study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University, examined the effects of an executive order in Iowa that automatically restored voting rights to people who had committed crimes.
Of people with misdemeanor convictions who registered to vote after getting out of jail from 2002 through 2007, 38.7 percent were Democrats and 16.3 percent were Republicans. The rest registered independent or as members of minor parties. Those with felony convictions released during those years skewed even more heavily Democrat — 42.1 percent versus 14.1 percent Republican.
On the other hand, ex-cons tend to vote in much smaller numbers. A 2009 study found that only 5 percent of ex-felons released in New York’s Erie County before the 2004 presidential election voted in either that contest or a 2005 statewide election. Another study by the authors of the Iowa study estimated 10 percent of recently enfranchised ex-felons voted in New Mexico and North Carolina in the 2008 presidential election and New York in the 2012 presidential election.
Yet another study estimated ex-cons who recently had regained their right to vote in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri and North Carolina did so in the 2008 presidential election.
The Penn-Stanford study found that 14.6 percent of felons in Iowa, and 23.4 percent of those convicted of misdemeanors, voted in the 2008 presidential election.
Even if a similarly small number of newly eligible Floridians vote, Nodine said, there is a “multiplier effect” from the families of former prisoners.
And given the closeness of many Florida elections, politicians will have no choice but to court the new bloc, Nodine said. He noted that Scott had been skeptical of felon voting.
“With a 10,000-vote victory and 1.5 million new voters on the rolls, I seriously think he’s gonna rethink giving felons a second chance,” he said.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a new voting bloc changed the behavior of politicians. Former Alabama Gov. George Wallace gained infamy for his race-baiting, segregationist campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s, and his "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever” declaration.
But by the time he ran for an unprecedented fourth term in 1982, Alabama blacks had the right to vote in more than name only. Wallace renounced his segregationist ways. “I was wrong. Those days are over, and they ought to be over,” he said during the campaign.
Wallace won about a third of the black vote in the Democratic primary and then won about 90 percent of African-Americans in the general election.
Nodine said both parties may be wrong in their assumptions about the felon vote.
“It’s really ironic Democrats assume they’ve got these voters in their back pocket,” he said.
Nodine said that many prisoners find religion while incarcerated. Many have conservative values, he added. He said there is no reason why Republicans could not appeal to them.
“Republicans need to re-educate themselves on who’s really in prison,” he said.
BILOXI, Mississippi — I’ve covered President Donald Trump’s rallies and speeches in person a half-dozen times or so, but Monday was my first as a civilian.
I took my 13-year-old son to Trump’s campaign rally ahead of Mississippi’s runoff election to settle the last undecided Senate race of the 2018 cycle. We trudged up to the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and climbed the stairs to the upper deck of the arena.
The view is much different than from the media gallery.
It is easy to understand why Trump’s critics and even many in the media find the president’s campaign rallies so intimidating. From the media tables at ground level, or even watching at home on TV, those raucous crowds seem menacing.
Especially to reporters who hear roars from the rafters when Trump calls them out, personally, as “fake news.” Especially when throngs wearing red hats shout “Lock her up.”
But from where I sat Monday night, the crowd didn’t seem nearly so threatening. Those folks had smiles on their faces when they chanted, “Build that wall.” They were laughing. They were having a good time. They seemed to enjoy being part of the theater, not preparing to grab pitchforks and tear things down.
Of course, whether you are high up or on the floor at a Trump campaign event, these things have a familiar ebb and flow. First, Trump relives in great detail his surprise victory in 2016 – a victory that now is more than two years old.
At some point, he introduces the candidate whose election contest ostensibly brought Trump to town. In this case, it was Mississippi’s appointed Republican senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith. But the candidate du jour usually serves as little more than a prop. It’s all about Trump.
Hyde-Smith’s election against Democrat Mike Espy on Tuesday does not really seem in doubt. What little public polling there has been suggests she has a double-digit lead.
And then there are the exaggerations. Trump is famously loose with facts and details, and Monday was no exception. Here is a sampling:
The midterm elections. Trump pronounced the results of this month’s balloting “fantastic,” adding, “We got very little credit from the fake-news media.” He said that if Hyde-Smith wins Tuesday, it would give Republicans 53 senators. “And nobody can believe it,” he said.
Calling the midterms a good result for Republicans is pure spin. Democrats won control of the House of Representatives, picking up the most seats they have won in any election since Watergate. Democrats also had a net gain of seven governor’s offices and won control of several state legislative chambers.
As for the Senate, far from “nobody can believe it,” it was the consensus view of most experts that Republicans would gain seats given how many seats Democrats had to defend and how few Republicans did.
Midterms Part II. Trump also suggested that Republicans came close to pulling off multiple upsets. “And I have to tell you, we had three seats — even four seats — that were so close,” he said. “We almost won in areas that a lot of people say, ‘Don’t bother even contesting.’ We almost won in four states that a lot of people said, ‘Don’t bother. You can’t win.”
It’s unclear which states Trump was referring to. None of the closest four races that went to Democrats were in places where Republicans were overwhelming underdogs. Democrats won in Nevada and Arizona, both places that had had Republican senators. And while Democratic incumbents won narrowly in West Virginia and Montana, both were top GOP targets. None of the other races won by Democratic Senate candidates was particularly close.
Trump on his promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. “So, the wall has started — very, very substantially,” he said. But it mostly hasn’t. The administration has used $1.6 billion to repair and upgrade existing fencing. Congress has thwarted Trump’s efforts to appropriate more money to build new structures — so much so that the president has threatened a government shutdown.
On the U.S. $800 billion trade deficit in goods. “We’re stopping that. We’re turning that,” he said. However, the $807.5 billion trade deficit in goods in 2017 — Trump’s first year in office — was a 7.5 percent increase over the previous year. And the goods trade deficit is running ahead of last year’s pace.
Perhaps, the revamped North American Free Trade Agreement that Trump negotiated with Canada and Mexico will cut that deficit. But even if Congress approves it, the combined goods trade deficit with Mexico and Canada represents only about 12 percent of the total deficit in the trade of goods with foreign countries.
Trump’s boast that no other president has ever accomplished as much in his first two years. Even my teenage son fact-checked that one: “That’s not true. James Polk took over Mexico.”
Of course the Mexican-American War did not end until Polk’s last year in office, so maybe Trump’s first two years stack up pretty well.
But fact-checkers tie themselves in knots trying to keep with Trump, while complaining in exasperation that the people at his rallies seem impervious. What they don’t understand is that Trump’s supporters go to his rallies because they have an emotional connection to him.
They recognize that Trump misstates details and sometimes get the facts flat wrong. They factor that in. They don’t expect that from him. Instead, they respond to Trump’s ability to make them feel that he has their backs.
And to voters, that is more important than facts and figures.
In 1978, a young college professor — after two failed tries against an incumbent — capitalized on an open seat to win election to the House of Representatives in Georgia’s 6th District.
Suddenly, Georgia had a historical rarity — a Republican congressman. The 6th District, which at the time stretched from the Atlanta suburbs all the way to the Alabama line, never had had a Republican representative.
After his election, Newt Gingrich was the only Republican in the House or Senate delegation in a state still thoroughly dominated by Democrats. The state to that point had elected only three Republicans to the House since Reconstruction.
The story was similar throughout most of the South, but the region was on the cusp of dramatic political change, and it would begin in the suburbs.
Four decades later, Democrats are making inroads in the South in those same suburbs where they first started to lose their grip on the region.
Consider Georgia. The future speaker of the House paved the way for a slow-but-sure Republican takeover that eventually led the GOP to take control of both houses of the state legislature, the governorship and every U.S. House seat except for four in majority-black districts.
But the growth of the Atlanta metropolitan area and the increasing weakness of Republicans in the suburbs have given Democrats an opening not unlike the one Gingrich seized. Democrat Lucy McBath knocked out Republican Rep. Karen Handel to win Gingrich’s old district. And Republican Rob Woodall barely hung on in the neighboring 7th District.
The same year Gingrich won election to Congress for the first time, the GOP made some dents in the South. In Texas, Republican Ron Paul defeated an incumbent Democrat in the 22nd District, which ran from the Houston suburbs to the Gulf Coast. And Republican Tom Loeffler defeated a Democratic incumbent in the 21st District, which including the San Antonio suburbs and a chunk of rural West Texas.
Paul and Loeffler doubled the Republican House delegation — to four.
The prior year, Bob Livingston won a special election in Louisiana’s 1st District in the New Orleans suburbs to finish the term of a Democrat who been convicted of buying votes.
There are plenty of signs that those suburbs now are swinging the other way. The gains Democrats made in Georgia were not limited to the Peach State.
Other suburban districts in Southern and border states went Democratic this year or nearly did. Oklahoma Republican Rep. Steve Russell, whom virtually no analyst considered vulnerable, lost his 5th District seat based in Oklahoma County.
Kendra Horn will be the state’s only Democratic U.S. representative. It has been in Republican hands since Democrat John Jarman switched parties in 1975. At the time, he was the only Republican in the delegation.
In 1978, Republican Larry Hopkins won the 6th District in Kentucky, which included a big chunk of the Lexington suburbs. This month, Republican incumbent Andy Barr beat back a too-close-for-comfort challenge from Democrat Amy McGrath.
Democrats also won a pair of House districts in Texas, both of which are centered in the suburbs. Democrat Collin Allred defeated incumbent Republican Pete Sessions in the 32nd District outside of Dallas, and Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher beat incumbent Republican John Culberson in the 7th District outside of Houston.
And in Virginia, Democrat Jennifer Wexton beat incumbent Republican Barbara Comstock to end the GOP’s presence in the Northern Virginia suburbs.
Meanwhile, Democrat Abigail Spanberger defeated Republican incumbent Dave Brat in the 7th District, which is dominated by the Richmond suburbs.
It remains to be seen if Democrats can build on their newfound success in Southern suburbs and reclaim formerly blue districts outside of metro areas. But Georgia offers an indication that Democrats can compete statewide in places where the urban-suburban share of the population is big enough.
Democrat Stacey Abrams came within 1.5 percentage points of Republican Brian Kemp in the Georgia governor’s race despite carrying just 29 of 159 counties.
It’s been an up-and-down year for conservatives that hit a sour note this month with a massive Democratic victory in the midterm elections.
But this Thanksgiving, there are plenty of reasons conservatives should be thankful.
Here are five:
The booming economy: Really, all Americans should be thankful for this. Attention liberals: That doesn’t mean you have to endorse everything President Donald Trump does or even credit him for the economy. But denying and denigrating prosperity comes off as petty.
And rarely has the economy been this strong. Consider:
The unemployment rate held steady last month at 3.7 percent, the lowest since 1969. The economy grew at 3.5 percent in the third quarter after clocking in at 4.2 percent during the previous three-month period. That’s the fastest six-month stretch since 2014 and a welcome departure from the anemic gross domestic product gains that mostly have plagued the economy since the end of the Great Recession.
The economy has produced so many jobs that America literally is running out of workers. The government reported this month that businesses in September had 7 million job openings but only a little more than 6 million jobless people looking for work.
Wages, too, are finally beginning to show some positive movement, growing by 3.8 percent in October, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
So, say a little prayer of thanks for the economy before chowing down on turkey and stuffing.
Brett Kavanaugh: For conservatives, the most significant long-term development in 2018 almost certainly was the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Democrats know it, too. It explains why they fought so ferociously to defeat him — even before uncorroborated allegations of sexual assault came to light.
Supreme Court justices sometimes surprise or change over time. But the best guess on all sides is that Kavanaugh will solidify an originalist majority on the high court for the next generation.
That does not mean conservatives will win every case, and they may well be disappointed if they expect a quick reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
But it does mean progressive overreaches are more likely to be swatted down. Fundamental freedoms like free speech, the freedom to worship without government interference and the right to bear arms likely are safer.
Republicans kept the Senate: As gloomy as Election Day was for the GOP, the bright spot obviously was the Senate. Republicans gained two seats to expand their majority to 53.
Republicans would have preferred to keep control of both houses, but if they had to choose, the upper chamber clearly was the most important priority.
With the majority in the House of Representatives, Democrats will use their committee chairmanships to harass the Trump administration with subpoenas and investigations. But they could have done that just as easily if they had won the Senate instead of the House.
Trump’s legislative agenda is dead, but the requirement that most legislation pass with 60 votes in the Senate means that few bills become law, anyway.
By keeping the Senate, Republicans crucially keep judicial confirmations on track. And with a bigger majority, Trump can be even more aggressive — he can afford to lose up to three Republican votes and still win confirmation fights.
And judicial nominations are one of the few issues that unite the whole party, from NeverTrump conservatives to Make-America-Great-Again Trumpsters.
Nancy Pelosi is the face of the Democratic Party: With the rebellion within her ranks all but quelled, Pelosi is set to reclaim her old job as speaker of the House,
For Republicans, that’s the one silver lining in this month’s electoral defeat.
Polls show that the California Democrat is the most unpopular Democratic member of Congress. Republican candidates have been using Pelosi effectively to tar and feather their Democratic opponents for an entire generation.
To be sure, the Trump administration will be playing defense when it comes to the House for the next two years. But having Pelosi as a foil will make those fights a little easier.
“Last Man Standing”: Conservatives don’t exactly have a lot of TV choices in the popular culture. Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing” is a rare exception of a show featuring an openly conservative character.
Fans were stunned when ABC decided to cancel the show last year after six seasons.
Conservatives smelled political bias since the program drew the third-most viewers of any scripted show in the network’s lineup.
Vox offered some compelling reasons why politics might not have played an important role in the decision. Disappointed fans, nonetheless, can be thankful that Fox decided to pick up the show.
“Last Man Standing” is not only still standing but is winning its time slot on Friday nights.
From The New York Times, we learned Tuesday the latest revelation involving President Donald Trump’s norms-busting presidency — that he wanted to order the prosecution of a pair of political rivals.
The paper reported that Trump told his White House counsel, Donald McGahn, that he wanted criminal investigations of vanquished 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey.
McGahn, according to the Times account, pushed back and, ultimately, presented the president with a memo indicating that he lacked the authority to order such investigations. The memo reportedly delved heavily into the political ramifications and warned that the Department of Justice might ignore an order; that judges might dismiss charges brought under such circumstances; and that voters might toss him from office.
As a political matter, the memo is spot on. It is ill-advised for many reasons for the president to involve himself directly in specific criminal matters — particularly when it covers conduct by the president’s political rivals. The optics are all kinds of bad. It smells of the shenanigans in Third World dictatorships.
It would open a predictable cacophony of abuse-of-power criticisms. And it may well lead judges to dismiss indictments.
But unconstitutional is not a synonym for “bad idea.” There are plenty of truly awful ideas that, nonetheless, do not offend the Constitution. Those are better defeated in the political sphere.
And this may be one of them.
Proponents of the “unitary executive” theory of the Constitution point to Article II, Section 1 of the founding document: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”
The statement is elegant for its simplicity and directness. All of the powers of the executive branch are placed in the hands of the president. Not a committee. Not underlings. Not Cabinet secretaries. Not the sprawling bureaucracy.
The president — personally and individually.
The powers conferred to a single person are awesome. It is one of the reasons why there are so many strong checks on the powers elsewhere. But when it comes to running the executive branch, the president — and the president, alone — is in charge. Everyone else who works in the executive branch exercises power on his behalf.
This makes sense from a constitutional standpoint. The Justice Department, itself, is not mentioned in the Constitution. Congress created it by statute in 1789. So the attorney general and the vast array of lawyers the department employs are not free agents. They work for the president.
The president cannot order his government to take unconstitutional actions. But any power granted to the executive branch is implicitly granted to the president.
So, if the attorney general can determine that Clinton’s handling of classified emails deserves another look or that Comey’s conduct as FBI director was somehow improper, then by definition, the president can reach the same determination and order his underlings to launch an investigation.
Again, this is not to argue that it is wise for the president to do so. There are many good reasons for insulating the president from the day-to-day decisions of the career officials at the Justice Department. They have the professional knowledge and expertise that he lacks. Direct involvement by the president in specific cases is bad politics. Beyond that, it erodes public confidence in the justice system, and that consideration ought not be underestimated.
Some conservative and libertarian scholars have rethought their position on the Constitution in the Trump era. Ilya Somin, a professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, argued earlier this year that the executive branch over the years has taken on such enormous powers not originally contemplated by the founders that it makes sense to disburse and diffuse the president’s individual power.
“If the executive branch still wielded only the relatively narrow range of powers it had at the time of the Founding, the case for the unitary executive would be very strong (at least on originalist grounds),” he wrote. “Unfortunately, however, the current scope of executive authority goes far beyond that.”
Somin makes a reasonable case for amending the Constitution to limit presidential authority. But the originalist view of the Constitution is that it means the same thing in different times and different circumstances. Its meaning does not change just because circumstances or the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. do.
The framers seemed to agree. During debate over whether the president could remove a Cabinet officer, James Madison argued that the president must have that authority if he is to be able to carry out his constitutional obligations.
“If the duty to see the laws faithfully executed be required at the hands of the Executive Magistrate, it would seem that it was generally intended he should have that species of power which is necessary to accomplish that end,” he argued.
If the president can remove an executive branch officer, without the advice and consent of the Senate, surely he can instruct that same officer to carry out an executive action.
And what is to prevent a rogue president from tossing his political enemies in prison as in tinpot dictatorships? The genius of the Constitution. An independent judiciary, free from the control of the executive, would stop prosecutors from filing charges without merit.
And if a judge did allow such charges to go forward, there is the most important check in the justice system — the jury, comprised of regular citizens with no stake in the outcome of the case they decide.
So Trump seems to have the power to order up a criminal investigation if he wants one. But that doesn’t make it a good idea.
Now that the final disputed Senate race has been called — finally — it is worth noting that the Republicans had a pretty darned good election in the upper chamber.
GOP challengers knocked off four Democratic incumbents. To understand what an achievement that is, consider that is equal to the total number of losses by incumbents running for re-election when the other party controlled the White House in all midterm elections from 1982 through 2014.
The GOP’s net gain — two seats, assuming the heavily favored appointed incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith wins a runoff in Mississippi — was modest. But that is because all of the Democratic incumbents up for re-election decided to run again, while three of the nine Republicans chose to retire, creating open seats. And open seats are exceedingly easier to flip.
In addition, the Republicans confronted extraordinarily stiff headwinds — an unpopular president, great fundraising and candidate recruitment by Democrats, and the historic trends that run against the party in the White House.
Those are the reasons why Democrats had a really good election night this month, picking up nearly 40 seats in the House of Representatives, seven Republican-held governorships and seats in state legislatures.
Given that, picking up two seats is not as ho-hum a result as it may seem, even though the Democrats faced a historically high number of seats to protect versus Republicans — 23, plus two independents who caucus with Democrats, compared with just nine Republicans.
Five incumbents lost re-election, and four of them were Democrats — Bill Nelson in the just-called Florida race; Claire McCaskill in Missouri; Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota; and Joe Donnelly in Indiana.
If not for the terrible political environment for Republicans, Democrats might have lost even more. But losing four incumbents is pretty bad in any case. The fact that all of the Democratic incumbents decided to run for re-election led some experts to predict that Republicans would not pick up many seats.
“Republicans would need to oust incumbent Democrats, and it’s extremely difficult to beat an incumbent senator in a midterm when his or her party doesn’t control the White House,” Harry Enten wrote for FiveThirtyEight in May 2017.
He was right. Incumbents of the party that does not control the White House who run for re-election in midterms almost always win. All 11 Republicans who ran for re-election in 2014, when Democrat Barack Obama was in the White House, won. From 1982 through 2014, 114 senators ran for re-election during midterms when the other party controlled the White House. Only four of them lost, for a re-election rate of 96 percent.
Indeed, incumbents in the president’s party tend to have a much harder time because of the same dynamics that tend to drag down their counterparts in the House. From 1982 through 2014, the re-election rate for incumbent senators seeking re-election when their party controlled the White House was just 80 percent — 103 of 128.
Against that backdrop, it ought not be a surprise that 2018’s most vulnerable Republican senator — Dean Heller of Nevada -- lost his race.
But the success of Republican challengers has been under-appreciated.
It is true that three of the four incumbent Democrats who lost their races this month represented states that overwhelmingly backed President Donald Trump in 2016. But senators in that situation have survived in past years — including those very same senators.
All four Senate Democrats who lost this month ran significantly ahead of Obama in 2012. McCaskill and Donnelly won their races by 15 and 6 points, respectively, even though Obama lost their states by 10 points. Obama lost North Dakota by 20 points, yet Heitkamp managed to squeak out a 1-point victory over Republican Rick Berg in an open seat race.
And while Obama carried Florida by less than a point, Nelson won his re-election bid by 15 points.
So, credit Republicans with knocking off four incumbents and picking up a net gain of two Senate seats in an otherwise-disappointing year. It was a bigger deal than it seems.
Despite winning more seats than at any time since Watergate, Democrats still would be at a disadvantage if none of the 2020 presidential candidates won an Electoral College majority.
The chances that the 2020 election would be thrown to the House of Representatives are small, but it is far from an implausible scenario. If it happened, especially given distrust of the Electoral College and even of the Senate, such an outcome likely would drive liberals absolutely berserk.
First, some background: In their anti-majoritarian zeal, the founders left us with a presidential electoral system that is not truly a single election at all but 50 individual state elections. Each state casts votes in the Electoral College, with the number of votes determined by each state’s population.
To win the election, a candidate must amass at least 270 votes in the Electoral College. Although it has not happened in more than a century, failure to do so triggers a vote in the House.
Could it happen in 2020? Given the difficulty for third-party candidates to win states, the likeliest trigger scenario would be that Trump and his Democratic opponent tie with 269 votes. The odds are better than you might think.
It would require Trump to win all the states he won in 2016 except for Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and the 2nd Congressional District in Maine.
That would give Trump and his Democratic opponent 269 Electoral College votes each. Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin all went narrowly for Trump in 2016. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin had not voted Republican in a presidential race since 1988, and Iowa had done so only once since then prior to 2016.
Or, perhaps Trump loses Michigan but wins Iowa, Colorado and gets a vote from the 2nd District in Maine. That would also result in a 269-269 tie. A tie also would result from Trump winning his 2016 states except for Michigan and Wisconsin, and also losing Arizona.
So what? Surely, now that the Democrats control the House by a healthy margin, a tie would go to the Democratic challenger.
Under the Constitution, each state delegation — not individual members — gets one vote. That means the single representative from Wyoming has as much influence as the 53 representatives from California put together.
So, despite a majority of anywhere between 27 and 39 seats depending on the outcome of races still in dispute — Democrats still would fall short. Taking results of the election into account, Republicans will have the majority in 26 states, while Democrats will be the majority in 22. Pennsylvania and Michigan, meanwhile, will be evenly divided.
Of course, an Electoral College tie would not be settled in the House until the next Congress elected in November 2020 and seated the following January. So there still is a chance Democrats could wrest the majority from Republicans in closely divided states like Florida and Wisconsin to tip the balance.
And there is no guarantee that a candidate would win all of the delegations where his party had a majority. Representatives might feel compelled to vote the way their states or districts did in the election.
But Democrats would be at a disadvantage. The Democrats’ problem is the same one that makes it harder for them to win the Electoral College despite winning the popular vote. It’s the same reason they won the House majority this month but fell short in the Senate.
The party’s support is concentrated in a handful of states and in densely populated metropolitan areas. Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump in the 2016 election, won by huge margins in the cities and in states like California and New York. But winning by 30 percentage points did not yield her any more Electoral College votes than if she won by 3 points.
Trump, on the other hand, won a string of states by narrow margins because his support was more efficiently distributed.
The same phenomenon was at work in the House races. While Democrats won the majority, all those extra seats that they won in California, New York and New Jersey — where they already had congressional majorities — did them no good in the event the House needs to pick the president.
The same goes for pickups in deep red states like Texas and Oklahoma.
When then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was pushing to change California’s electoral system to a “jungle primary” followed by a runoff of the top two vote-getters, he promised it would encourage moderation.
So why hasn’t it happened?
The 2018 U.S. Senate campaign made a mockery of Schwarzenegger’s prediction, racing so far to the left that it gave more than 1 million Californians literally no one to vote for.
Under the theory advanced by Schwarzenegger and other reformers in 2010, extremist candidates would be pushed to the side and successful contenders would win by appealing to the broad middle. It would eliminate the common scenario in other states where far-right or far-left candidates win low-turnout primaries dominated by the most ideological voters and then coast to victory in noncompetitive general elections.
“Proposition 14 will change the political landscape in California, finally giving voters the power to truly hold politicians accountable,” Schwarzenegger said while campaigning for the ballot initiative.
Voters passed the measure, but California has not exactly embraced the middle since then.
Schwarzenegger’s premise was put to the test — again — in this year’s Senate campaign. The free-for-all primary produced a runoff between two Democrats — incumbent Dianne Feinstein and Kevin de León, the state Senate president pro tempore.
Feinstein began her career — under California’s old system — as a moderate Democrat but has tacked left along with the rest of her party as the state has grown more liberal. GovTrack ranked her 2017 voting record as the 15th-most liberal in the Senate — more liberal even than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
In the general election, one might have expected de León to campaign as a moderate unifier — a candidate for all Californians who would bridge the partisan divide. But he did the opposite. He ran as the true progressive, winning the endorsement of the state Democratic Party, and kept it up through the election.
He blasted Feinstein for being part of a deal to allow the confirmation of 15 Republican federal judicial nominees in exchange for a recess allowing members to campaign during the midterms.
“That shows the contrast of our values, of who we are,” he told Mother Jones on the eve of the election. “We may be Democrats, but we are decisively very different individuals in the way we view the world, and how our views are shaped and the sense of urgency that we have inside.”
Faced with what they likely considered an unpalatable choice, many California Republicans appear to have skipped the race. There was a drop-off of nearly 1.1 million votes from the California governor’s race — which featured a Democrat against a Republican — and the Senate contest.
No other state came close to such a gap. Texas actually had 26,809 more votes in the Senate contest compared with the governor’s contest. The drop-off from the governor's race to the Senate race in Ohio was 19,523. In Florida, 34,953 fewer Floridians cast ballots for senator than governor.
And on and on.
The gap between votes in the California Senate and gubernatorial races was most pronounced in Republican-leaning counties. The difference in ultra-liberal San Francisco County, for instance, was just 3.5 percent. It was 5 percent in neighboring Alameda County.
But in Lassen County, which backed Republican John Cox by better than a 3-to-1 margin in the governor’s race, a quarter of the people who cast ballots in that contest skipped the Senate race.
For all of de León’s efforts, he got trounced in California’s large, Democratic strongholds. He kept the race close — ironically — by winning the Republican counties. In the 30 counties that Cox carried in the gubernatorial election, de León beat Feinstein by 87,467 votes. He lost the rest of the state by 858,043 votes.
It is unclear why super-progressive de León did so well in Republican counties. Some experts contend the Republicans who did participate cast protest votes against Feinstein. But what is clear is that the million-plus voters who left the race blank exceeded Feinstein’s 770,576 winning margin.
Perhaps a Democrat running as a moderate could have pulled off the upset. But de León wouldn’t even try. He told Mother Jones that it was “very strange” that Republicans might support him and said Feinstein was as close “as you can get to” being a Republican.
Mining Republican votes hasn’t proved effective for other Democrats. Two years ago, then-Rep. Loretta Sanchez openly appealed to Republicans during her general election campaign for the Senate against fellow Democrat Kamala Harris. She ran ads touting her record on small business and national security, as well as opposing the 2008 Wall Street bailout.
Sanchez also criticized Harris, who then was the state attorney general, for creating a program to help rehabilitate prisoners that ended up giving jobs to illegal immigrants.
It did Sanchez no good. Harris took 61.6 percent of the vote and won nearly every county.
“Reformers promised more moderate candidates and more competitive races,” San Jose State University political science professor Larry Gerston wrote in a 2016 op-ed. “Instead we've got something that looks like one-party rule.”