Sunday, May 13, 2018

Last Call For The Year Of Mueller

The one-year anniversary of the Mueller probe rolls around on Thursday and according to the Village, the investigation is running out of time before Trump is able to turn the people against the special counsel.

The sprawling investigations amount to a political anchor as Trump leads the Republican Party into the fall midterm elections. Though few candidates see it as a decisive issue, the probe still sows doubt among some voters about the credibility of Trump’s election and about his conduct in office.

Public opinion surveys have found wide support for the Mueller investigation. An April Washington Post-ABC News poll found 69 percent of Americans backing the probe and 25 percent opposing it, though other surveys this spring have shown a modest decline from earlier polls in support of continuing the investigation.

Among the political class, there is a guessing game about whether the special counsel completes its work this summer — sufficiently in advance of the November elections — or presses well past it. The longer Mueller’s work continues, legal analysts said, the more difficult it may be for the special counsel to maintain public confidence, especially with Trump, Vice President Pence and other administration officials calling for the probe to wrap up.

You don’t have much longer than 18 months to 24 months to get to the heart of the matter and resolve the things that need to be resolved,” said Robert W. Ray, who served as independent counsel toward the end of the Whitewater investigation during the Clinton presidency. “That’s about the length of time that public sentiment is with the investigation.”

The Mueller probe has also brought about a national reckoning on the boundaries of presidential power. Trump is at war with the leadership of his own Justice Department and FBI, has threatened to defy a subpoena to testify and even toyed with ordering the firing of Mueller.

“We want to get the investigation over, done with,” Trump said last month. “Put it behind us.”

The notion that the investigation has to end soon or it will amount to undue interference in the 2018 elections is exactly what the Republicans want to press, and at least with the Washington Post, it's starting to work.  The piece is an outright warning to Mueller to wrap things up by this summer, by Labor Day at the latest.

Expect more pieces like this to start raining down as Mueller gets closer to the truth and the clock gets closer to the GOP.'s reckoning with angry voters.

Sunday Long Read: Orange To Blue

If Democrats have any chance of flipping the House in 2018, the road will have to go through California's last true bastion of Republicanism, the suburbs of Orange County.  It's here, the New Republic's Vauhini Vara argues, that Democrats will have to decide the path between left and center-left in order to win the districts here, and try to win the country back from Trump.

What, in the age of Donald J. Trump, should a Democrat be? It didn’t take long, after Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, for Democratic officials to descend into a desperate and often acrimonious argument about the future of the party. Did it still rest with white working-class voters in the Rust Belt—those factory workers and retail employees who used to form the core of the Democratic Party but have watched the American dream fall victim to globalization and automation? Would it be comprised of a diverse, urban coalition clustered around cosmopolitan, white-collar cities? And might it be possible—doubtful, perhaps, but possible—that both could be true?

With this fall’s midterm elections fast approaching, the Democratic Party has yet to resolve its internal conflicts or develop a coherent long-term vision. But it has identified a potential path back to power in the immediate term. In order to regain control of the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party must flip 23 Republican-held seats. To do so, it has identified 104 GOP-held districts as targets, the biggest number in more than a decade. It is zeroing in, especially, on Republican-held districts where Hillary Clinton defeated Trump: suburban areas near Miami, Denver, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, and, especially, Los Angeles, where affluent, well-educated white populations have been joined in recent decades by an influx of immigrants. If Trump’s success in Rust Belt states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania symbolized the Democratic Party’s growing rift with white, working-class Americans, his poor showing in the suburbs has presented an opportunity for Democrats to make inroads in places that, for decades, have been thought of as inexorably conservative. “The battleground is not urban America or rural America, it’s suburban America,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told Politico last year. Brian Fallon, a Democratic consultant who worked as a top Clinton aide, said that the path to a Democrat-led House “runs through the Panera Breads of America.”

The question that no one seems quite able to answer, however, is what kind of Democrat can win the Panera demographic
. Last June, when Jon Ossoff failed to capture the suburban Atlanta district vacated by Republican Tom Price—in what became the most expensive House race in U.S. history—some in the party argued that Ossoff, with his lack of interest in single-payer health care and taxing the rich, had alienated potential Democratic voters by being too moderate. To win, they asserted, Democratic candidates should tack further to the left, in the mode of Bernie Sanders. In March, however, following Conor Lamb’s narrow victory in a Pennsylvania district that Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points, pundits argued that Lamb’s careful, centrist positions helped win him the race—and that Democrats shouldn’t write off more conservative Americans as a lost cause just yet.

Going forward, there is no better place to witness the Democratic Party’s strategies play out—and no place where the stakes are higher—than Orange County, California. Wedged along the Pacific coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, Orange County is home to more than three million people, living in a maze of communities ranging from surfer towns to exurbs. Orange County doesn’t offer a sense of place so much as a sense of placelessness, and if it weren’t for the consistently balmy weather, much of it, with its six-lane freeways and big-box stores and strip malls and, yes, Panera Breads, could just as soon be in Illinois or Texas. The county’s orange groves are long gone; if you are in Anaheim, say, and find yourself craving an orange, you drive to Ralphs and buy one. When, on a recent visit, I asked a lifelong resident to take me on a tour, he brought me past his childhood home in a quiet neighborhood of low-slung ranch houses, a 7-Eleven, and a large shopping center.

For decades, Orange County—the birthplace of Richard Nixon, the Crystal Cathedral, and the “Real Housewives” reality-TV franchise—was one of the country’s proudest Republican strongholds. In 2016, though, Clinton beat Trump there by a nine-point margin, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the county since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second term.

It was a striking upset, but, to those who knew the county well, not an entirely surprising one. Republican sentiment has been eroding in Orange County for years. By 2016, fewer than 38 percent of Orange County residents were registered Republicans, down from 56 percent in 1990. Latinos and Asians now make up more than half the population, slowly replacing the white conservatives who flocked to Orange County in the middle of the twentieth century. “The generation of people who came here from the Midwest, attracted to the agriculture and defense industries, is really just dying out,” said Fred Smoller, a professor of political science at Chapman University.

It is here, in these suburbs, that the Democratic Party hopes to return to power nationally. Anti-Trump sentiment in Orange County runs high. The morning after Trump’s inauguration, more than 20,000 people turned out for the Women’s March in Santa Ana, one of the biggest protest marches in the entire state. And the county’s four congressional districts currently held by Republicans—Darrell Issa, Dana Rohrabacher, Mimi Walters, and Ed Royce—are among the 23 districts represented by Republicans that Clinton won nationally. The independent, nonpartisan Cook Political Report lists Royce’s and Issa’s districts as leaning Democratic (Issa won by only 1,621 votes in the last election), and Rohrabacher’s is a toss-up. While Walters’s district leans Republican, Clinton nonetheless beat Trump there by a five-point margin, putting it on the Democrats’ map. The party’s hopes soared in January when Royce announced that he would not seek reelection. Just two days later, Issa said he would be retiring as well.

Democrats have made Orange County a particular focus of their organizing and fund-raising efforts. Democratic enthusiasm has swept across Orange County, with more than a dozen candidates signing up to compete for its four Republican-held congressional seats. Last spring, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made the unprecedented decision to open an office in Irvine, in the center of Orange County, to oversee races in the western states, something it had traditionally handled from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. “It’s very important to us to win Orange County for the purposes of taking back the House,” Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from Torrance, California, who is the vice chairman of the DCCC for the western region, told me. Tom Steyer, one of the Democratic Party’s largest donors, is pouring millions of dollars into get-out-the-vote efforts in Orange County and told me he considers the region “critical” to regaining control of Congress. According to the Democrats’ arithmetic—which assumes that the districts where Clinton won are the ripest for flipping—the four Republican-held Orange County districts should be among the 23 easiest targets in the nation. If Democrats can’t win those seats, the path to retaking Congress becomes much narrower. But their investment in Orange County represents much more than a math problem. At a time when the Democratic Party seems lacking in direction, its approach in Orange County, and whether it is successful, could provide more precise answers about the party’s future than its leaders have been willing or able to provide.

The Republican Party has tried to downplay the threat that increased Democratic engagement in Orange County signifies. “It’s a Hail Mary play. It’s desperation,” Fred Whitaker, the chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, told Politico earlier this year. “Let the Democrats spend tens of millions of dollars here. Let them die on the hill in Orange County.” Still, in response to the DCCC’s efforts, the National Republican Campaign Committee has opened its own local campaign office in Orange County. And even Whitaker has admitted that retaining control of the county’s congressional seats will be difficult. “We understand what money can do,” Whitaker told me. “Certainly, if the Democrats are going to put money here, there are going to be challenging races.”

Yet even as political headwinds seem to be blowing in their favor, the chances of a Democratic sweep of Orange County are increasingly in question. Given its internal divisions, it has been unclear from the start whether the Democratic Party can harness the energy of its grassroots while also drawing in centrists and Republicans. On top of that, a quirk of California politics—a primary system in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of their party affiliation, advance to the general election—has raised the possibility that some of the Orange County districts will end up with two Republicans, and not a single Democrat, on the congressional ballot in November. What began as a murmur of self-doubt in Orange County political circles has intensified into one of the Democratic Party’s biggest nightmares: Even with all this momentum on their side, are Democrats about to blow their chance at retaking Congress?

That's the question we're about to find out the answer to.  Failure is always an option, but failure here means that GOP control of the House will survive, California jungle primary or not.  I don't buy into the doom and the gloom that the GOP has been pushing after barely surviving in Nevada last month, and I don't subscribe to the "blue wave is dead/special elections don't matter in November" idiocy from the press.  You shouldn't either.

But there are tens of millions of voters out there for whom the Democrats being the anti-Trump party just isn't enough, tens of millions of people who figure life will be fine for them with Trump and the GOP in charge.  They're still not convinced that the Democrats will make their lives better on a daily basis.

Cutting through the noise to make that case needs to be priority number one of the Dems, and so far, I'm just not seeing it. Ultimately the choice is up to us as voters.  But no two voters are the same.

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